Knee-deep in inspiration

Californian Staff Writer

Dexter Meadows is a bit of a news junkie. He tunes two televisions in his Oildale home to CNN. When war broke out in Iraq, he recorded 40 tapes of footage. He noticed something while watching.

"Look at the soldiers next time and see where their kneepads are at," said Meadows, the 52-year-old owner-operator of Dexter Meadows Enterprises. "They're not protecting their knees, they're protecting their ankles."

Because they find conventional kneepads uncomfortable, soldiers often slip kneepads around their ankles, Meadows said.

With that in mind, Meadows is now aiming sales of his own clip-on kneepads at soldiers.

This month he shipped 1,000 pairs of the pads, which are made at a plant in Taiwan, to Brigade Quartermasters Ltd., a military equipment supplier in Kennesaw, Ga.

The company will route them to around 30 supply depots primarily in Iraq and Kuwait, said Mitchell WerBell, president of Brigade Quartermasters. The pads retail for $29.95, Meadows said.

WerBell's company supplies a range of gear -- from combat helmet sweatbands to plates of body armor -- to customers such as soldiers and SWAT members.

WerBell says he's seen a sharp increase in demand for such products from soldiers. The increase started just before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

"There's been a huge demand and huge increase," WerBell said.

Meadows is trying to get a piece of that business.

Since 1996, Meadows has been selling the clip-on kneepads he invented while working on a floor construction project.

Finding the kneepads he wore uncomfortable, he decided to make his own.

He clipped clasps from his suspenders and attached them to knee pads so he could clip them to his pants. The Clip-On Knee-Pad was born.

Meadows says they're more comfortable because no straps irritate the skin behind the knee. They also don't slide down, he said.

Standard military kneepads are uncomfortable, wrote Ben Zweibelson, a captain in 173rd Airborne Brigade currently stationed in Italy.

"I have never worn kneepads that were not uncomfortable," Zweibelson wrote in an e-mail. "They cut off circulation, they make you sweat and since you hardly bathe, your dead skin, sweat and irritation render most knee pads unbearable."

Zweibelson tried the clip-on knee pads while deployed to northern Iraq. He was impressed, he wrote.

Meadows hopes to build the buzz about his pads in the military. For years he concentrated on selling the pads to roofers and contractors through deals with retail hardware stores.

Now he sells primarily over the Internet and through military vendors.

"This is a whole new venture getting hooked up with the military," Meadows said.

Pursuing new business is part of what Meadows likes about being an owner operator. It fits with his creative cowboy character.

"I've been a cowboy all my life," Meadows said. "A cowboy who likes to invent."

He looks the part. For a recent interview at his home office, he wore jeans and a denim shirt, a black cowboy hat and almost grapefruit-sized belt buckle.

Kneepads aren't his first invention. Meadows says he developed tools for masonry work and windshield wipers that cut through ice.

In the 1970s he invented something he called a "Pole Tote" that allowed skiers to carry their poles more easily on chair lifts. It was his first business venture, and it didn't catch on, he said.

Now Meadows sees the military as a key to the success of his current business.

He's developed new colors of knee pads for military use, including "Desert Tan."

And when he looks at the television tuned to CNN he sees the potential users of his product.

He keeps an album in his office with pictures of soldiers, some using his kneepads, others without them.

"Look where they're at," said Meadows, flipping through a series of pictures of soldiers in Iraq. "They're down around their ankles."

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