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Belleville cane maker steps toward success with leg-bone design

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BELLEVILLE — The canes that Robert W. Parow has invented are so hip, he needs to brace himself when he takes one out in public.

“My advertisement has been pretty much just walking around to restaurants and Walmart,” Mr. Parow said. “I sold three of them one night at Ponderosa while I was eating dinner.”

Mr. Parow established My 3rd Leg Inc. in 2009, several years after he began carving his whimsical canes designed to look like a human leg bone, complete with hip ball (femoral head) for a handle.

His first canes were carved out of maple. Now, most are made out of polycarbonate resin through a gas-assisted, injection-molding process, although he still does carve a few out of wood — chinaberry and jempinis — upon request.

“The business is growing exponentially because if I sell one cane, I’ll get another 10 customers because they see it and love it,” Mr. Parow said.

Mr. Parow, a Long Island native, spent four years in the Navy, from 1964 to 1968, after graduating from high school. He then went to SUNY Oswego, where he graduated in 1973. He taught technology for 30 years at Sauquoit Valley Central Schools in Oneida County before retiring in 2005. His wife, Sharon Remington, is a native of Belleville. Mr. and Mrs. Parow came to the north country from Sauquoit in 2009 to help care for Sharon’s mother, Margaret M. Remington, who died at 94 in August.

My 3rd Leg Inc. has its roots in a visit Mr. Parow made to his doctor in 1997 when he was experiencing minor back pain. The doctor told him his back was fine but he would eventually need to have his hips replaced.

“He recommended I get myself a cane to put the pressure off my hips, and my back would feel better and my hips would last another two or three years, which they did,” Mr. Parow said.

He used a 4-foot-long “walking stick” that he made from a branch from a spruce tree. He used the cane more frequently as his hip pain increased.

He had one hip replaced in 1999 and the other in 2000. Shortly after the second surgery, he began thinking of designs for an out-of-the-ordinary cane.

“I didn’t want to have an old-man cane,” he said. “I wanted to have something a little bit different.”

His search came up empty.

“So I decided to design my own,” he said.

The first few “weren’t anything special,” he said. But then he recalled all the diagrams he’d viewed as he readied for his hip replacement surgeries.

“I saw the leg bones, and I said, ‘Gee, that has a handle on it, where the ball is, and it looks like it’d make the perfect cane.’”

He drew his design with AutoCAD (Automated Computer Aided Drafting) and put the pattern on top of a piece of wood. Twenty hours of sculpting later, he had his first cane.

“I cut it out, and that’s how it all started,” Mr. Parow said. “I didn’t do that with the idea of going into business. I did that just for myself.”

Besides the quirky design, his canes have other other benefits, Mr. Parow said. His knowledge of physics showed him that “most canes are almost an assault on people’s hands and wrists.”

On his website, Mr. Parow notes that the handles of his canes have a 19-degree angle, allowing a user’s wrist to remain much straighter and more comfortable, and that the conical-shaped handle “may reduce the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome.”

On the first day Mr. Parow used the original cane he crafted, a cane collector came up to him at a restaurant in Sauquoit. When he found out Mr. Parow had made the cane he was toting, he asked if Mr. Parow would make one for him.

“He said he’d pay whatever I wanted,” said Mr. Parow, who agreed to make one for $200 after some heavy persuasion. He arrived at the figure from his $10 an hour labor. But he didn’t give the buyer a time-frame, only that it would be completed within the year.

“I did it a few weeks later,” Mr. Parow said. “It was the first cane I sold, and in my mind it was the only cane I was going to sell. I didn’t realize it was going to be so popular.”

chance meeting

In 2001, Mr. Parow was checking out of a hotel after visiting his son at SUNY New Paltz. A woman stopped him in the lobby and asked to see his cane. She said she was a medical model maker and an engineer. Fascinated by Mr. Parow’s cane, she eventually assisted him in getting a patent for its design.

“To run into this woman was an amazing thing,” Mr. Parow said.

After Mr. Parow received the patent, his son told him he should list one of the canes on eBay to see what would happen. It had a starting price of $200. It sold for $348.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Parow said. “And the person who came in second on the bid, at $343, I ended up making one for him too.”

He said it was then that he realized the potential hit he had on his hands. He put off pursuing his business plan until he retired in 2005.

“I refused a lot of people, but by the time I retired, I had carved and sold 138 canes,” Mr. Parow said.

However, Mr. Parow said, he didn’t want to spend his retirement in a shop “breathing sawdust and paint fumes” as he crafted wooden canes. Also,the woodworking equipment he considered purchasing was too expensive.So, in 2009, he contacted a plastics engineer and emailed him a picture of one of his 3rd Leg canes.

The engineer liked it and told Mr. Parow about an upcoming plastics convention in New York City that he should attend. Though the convention was for established businesses only, the engineer pulled some strings so Mr. Parow and his wife could attend.

“It was finding the right people — things happened,” Mr. Parow said about creating his business.

At the convention, Mr. Parow talked to a couple of dozen people who gave him manufacturing recommendations. He eventually contracted with Precise Plastics in Fairview, Pa. to have his canes manufactured. Mr. Parow paid $37,500 for the mold which Fairview Plastics uses when orders are received.

Mr. Parow said he was told at the convention that he could have had the mold manufactured for $16,000 if he had established an off-shore contract.

However, he said it was important to him that his canes be made in the U.S.A.

“I’m a veteran, live near Fort Drum and knew I was going to be selling to soldiers and I didn’t want to have a cane made in another country,” he said.

custom canes

Mr. Parow calls Precise Plastics with his orders. He has six lengths. Standard canes are 34, 36 and 38 inches. But each of these can have an inch cut off of the bottom to create the three other sizes, he explained.

The costs of his canes range from $79.95 for a basic “bone white” version to $159.95 for a dipped cane. The “dip” process applies printed patterns. A hand-carved collector cane is $199.95.

The canes are shipped back to Belleville where Mr. Parow spends about 30 minutes finishing work on each one in his Route 289 shop.

“They are kind of rough with tool marks and parting lines (where the two mold pieces combine) on them,” he said.

Since 2009, Mr. Parow has sold approximately 750 canes. Already this year, he has sold more than 220 of the walking sticks.

Upon request, Henderson artist Garrett L. McCarthy will paint designs on the canes. Many have been personalized with pictures of grandchildren, vehicles, pets and hobbies.

Mr. Parow said one cane made recently has an Irish theme, combined with breast-cancer-awareness art. It was designed so its owner could pass it down to her daughter as a family heirloom.

“It has shamrocks, with a vine wrapped around the femur, and fades as it goes down; then Garrett integrated gold-leaf paint with the vine and put breast-cancer ribbons every so often,” he said. “It’s beautiful.”

On the web
Mr. Parow also can be contacted by phone at 796-2263.
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