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Friday, January 11, 2013

He;s riding high on low water

Dwight Smith stands beside his invention, Dockstairs, at the Union Hall dock of his brother.

Photo courtesy of Dwight Smith

Dwight Smith stands beside his invention, Dockstairs, at the Union Hall dock of his brother.

Low water levels may be a burden to some, but it's a boon for one Bedford mechanical engineer.

Dockstairs LLC, provides a solution to potentially hazardous climbs between stationary and floating docks, according to owner Dwight Smith. His product, a specially designed ladder, can be fastened to a stationary dock and extends to a floater. As the lake's water level increases or decreases, the slope of the ladder automatically adjusts while the stairs remain level. When stairs are not needed, a mechanism allows the ladder to be converted into a ramp.

"Right now, it's just a moment of opportunity," Smith said. "We have an opportunity that is just prime."

Smith, a Michigan native, and his wife, Natalie Martin-Smith, a technical recruiter, moved to Bedford in 1993 and constructed their Union Hall cabin in 1999. A mechanical engineer for nearly 20 years, Smith started Contract Engineering Services in 2002. He designs and creates about 20 to 30 products a year on a contractual basis for entrepreneurs; products range from the simple, such as cellphone accessories, to the complex, such as a treadmill and attached desk workspace.

Dockstairs, however, is a personally motivated enterprise, Smith said.

In 2001 and 2002, Smith Mountain Lake fell more than 6 feet below full pond. In 2003, Smith began designing a ladder system to accommodate the low water levels, an idea he tabled for nearly a decade because of manufacturing shortcomings.

The recent extreme weather conditions, and a revision in the fabrication process, was the impetus to revisit the design this year.

"I said, ... 'If the water's going to be low all summer, I'm going to bring this out of mothballs.'"

Dockstairs ladders are available in two sizes: an 8-foot ladder, which can accommodate water levels of more than 6 feet below full pond, and a 10-foot version for water levels more than 8 feet below full pond.

The aluminum unit has 30-inch-wide stairs that can accommodate one person at a time.

There is a safety mechanism, Smith said. During periods of flooding, a latch will automatically release the Dockstairs from the stationary dock to avoid causing damage.

"I've seen really low and really high [water levels], and this product is designed for both conditions," he said.

A working prototype is installed at the Union Hall dock of his brother, Bill Smith.

The company is ready to receive orders, Smith said.

Pricing is $1,695 for the 10-foot ladder or $1,495 for the 8-foot version. Smith will deliver and install the units for an additional $100.

"There's nothing out there that does what these do," said Smith.

For more information, visit dockstairsllc.com or call (434) 661-7258.