Blind World Magazine


"I'm sure it would be pretty scary to suddenly have my sight and see what I've done."





October 09, 2005.
Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, IA. WATERLOO -- Steve Ehlers bounces around from pirate to pirate, first checking on the bar scene, then in the ship. He checks the positioning of each statue and feels the wires the make them move. It is Sept. 28 and Tilt, the arcade in Crossroads Center, is about to open with still much work to be done. The pirates must react the right way when the "gunshot" hits the sensor, from the drunken pirate who falls out of his chair to the one who moons the crowd. Everything must be right in Ehlers' shooting galleries. It is the determination that defines the 60 other galleries he has installed around the country. Ehlers, 63, feels the costumes on each of the pirates. He trusts the colors are exactly what he wanted. He has to trust his crew. He can't see the colors, nor the individual pirates, nor the display. Ehlers, president of Ehlers Shooting Galleries, is blind, the result of some horseplay in his younger years. To design his galleries, Ehlers envisions the gallery, then does clay sculpting or has artists who he has worked with for years map out what he wants. Whether the actual product matches Ehlers' vision is anybody's guess. "I'm sure it would be pretty scary to suddenly have my sight and see what I've done," Ehlers said. Ehlers' visions are based largely on his set designing work prior to going blind. While in college, Ehlers was hired by his speech professor to design and build a set for a production of "The King and I." The building bug took hold, and Ehlers continued building sets, working his way up to Hollywood. He worked on sets for shows with stars such as Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. "It's exciting to be in Hollywood, and to have Johnny Carson be close to you," Ehlers said. With the Hollywood life came the parties, and it was at one such party where a friend of Ehlers' came in showing off a loaded gun. Ehlers doesn't remember much of that night. "All I remember was my friend saying, 'This is bad.' The next day I couldn't see a thing," Ehlers said. The next few years were difficult for Ehlers, to say the least. When the accident occurred, Ehlers continued on his design job for a while, but eventually quit as he entered a depressive cycle. "I wanted to find a gun myself and leave this world," Ehlers said. He slowly began to work through his new disability as he spent time at the Braille Institute, learning how to read Braille and to use his guide dog. He met up with some of his old contacts and began working on sets for road shows with Disney and Hanna Barbera. His work with the road shows got him hooked up with a circus act in Europe. One of the act's owners asked Ehlers about designing a traveling shooting gallery. "I didn't give it much thought after that," Ehlers said. In 1979, Ehlers and a partner decided to give the shooting galleries another try and found themselves at an International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention. The two designed two shooting galleries for their booth. "Two things happened: We won the award at the convention for outstanding design and we sold the galleries," Ehlers said. Seeing a market for his product, Ehlers began designing and building the galleries full time. To date, he has done about 60 galleries, and about 10 for Nickels & Dimes, which owns Tilt, Crossroads' new 24,000-square-foot arcade. Tilt held its grand opening Saturday. Jennifer Heller, Crossroads' marketing manager, said watching Ehlers work has been a privilege. "I don't think I've ever met anybody like him, and I don't think I ever will," Heller said. Judy Bowerman, the company's art designer, has been working with Ehlers for about 10 years and said he is a positive influence on her work. She said it has been an adjustment in working with Ehlers. "We try to understand what it's like to live in Steve's world," Bowerman said. This includes making sure tools and other items are put back exactly where they were before. Otherwise, Ehlers can't find them. Danny Zepeda, the company's installation technician, has been working with Ehlers for about 12 years and said remembering to put tools back has been the most difficult adjustment, because it isn't something he would usually think about. "It's not normal to you and me," Zepeda said. When something has been misplaced, the staff is reminded almost immediately. Bowerman said nothing seems to escape Ehlers, whether it's a misplaced tool or an insignificant detail on the gallery. "It's not like we can build it and say 'He'll never know.' He always knows," Bowerman said. Contact RC Balaban at (319) 291-1418 or rc.balaban@wcfcourier.com. Source URL: http://www.wcfcourier.com/articles/2005/10/09/news/metro/34bfda7c873627048625709500109261.txt.




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