Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Final Assault on Navy Pier

I am back in Birmingham. On the drive home yesterday and at work today I thought about what I would say about the final day of the trip. I decided instead of getting philosophical about the trip I would just lay out the challenges, decisions, and fate of the last day.

The background is as follows. This trip was not a pushover no brainer trip at all. It took months of preparation. But because we were relying on web sites for CNG filling locations that may or may not be accurate we were taking a leap of faith that all the stations would be there when we needed them. They were not. Did we build in a safty net? Yes we did. Not only did we have the 30 gallon capacity in the Chevy pickup truck to refuel the GTO, we also stashed an identical setup of tanks in the front of the trailer that matched the GTO configuration of a 9 gallon and a 7 gallon dual tank. These were intended to not be touched and were a fail safe if plan A did not work. Little did I know what was in store for these duplicate fueling tanks.

First let me divulge that the trip was not as smooth as it appeared from the fun Tweets and Facebook posts. In Gallup, New Mexico the GTO basically baked its battery. We pulled off to refuel from the CNG Hummer's 50 gallon capacity and the ignition switch would not even turn the car over. The battery was dead. Not only that, it was almost too hot to pickup out of the car. The cells were completely dry. It was a 5 year old battery, but that was not the failure point. A new battery purchase and the GTO cranked just fine. We thought we were home free. But of course thats when we discovered the CNG Fusion had a slow leaking front right tire. The only place in sight was Bozo's Garage. Yes, from the name you can tell it was an experience. But one of the best experiences I have ever had at a locally owned garage. Bozo, his nickname, had his chief mechanic take the tire off and locate the puncture. Of course it was in the sidewall. This tire had already been plugged by my good friend Mark at Goodyear in Birmingham. So now the tire could not be helped since it was in the sidewall and a new tire had to be purchased. Bozo had one "1" tire left my size. Thank goodness. I quickly agreed and while it was being mounted Bozo talked about all of the hot rods and muscle cars he had in his Route 66 museum in Gallup. We had just left the museum so the memories of purple 70 Road Runners and Gremlin X's were fresh in my mind. He took us to see a current project which was a panel van custom hot rod painted John Deere Green. It was a fantastic work in project. Bozo gave me a great deal on the tire and we asked him to look at the CNG GTO. It was Bozo who noticed that the brand new battery had acid on top. He told us immediately that the voltage regulator was overcharging. Thanks Bozo, again. When we got to Tulsa, it measured 19 volts output. That is far over the 13.6 necessary to keep the battery charged. Tom Sewell fixed that regulator for us. Thanks Tom.

So you see that the mechanical and fueling on this trip was no cakewalk. Now with that mindset in place, when we got to Tulsa OK, we thought that the long stretches of wasteland and lack of fueling stops were behind us. I relaxed and so did Mark. Mark had pulled a heroic overnight drive from Flagstaff down to Phoenix to refuel the pickup truck tanks to bridge Flagstaff. We didnt think it could get any worse. Our new friends from Salt Lake City, John and Steven Mitton, provided a crucial fillup of CNG from the CNG Beast of a Hummer in Gallup NM. Randy Oldham provided a critical transfer in Amarillo and provided access to a private Apache CNG station that the general public would not have had. With all of this going for us we relaxed. Then the panic set in. From Tulsa to St. Louis, it became apparent that we were short AGAIN. Jack Mitchell with assistance from Mark McConvilles dad got a head start on the GTO and drove the refueling truck to St Louis, refueled and headed back to meet the GTO wherever it ran out. That trick got us to St Louis.

At our breakfast meeting on July 4th the reality set in. A critical filling station in Springfield that was in operation when we made our plans was NO LONGER IN SERVICE. It was on our planned map at but was gone from What happened? We found out from Tom Sewell that the station was there but not being used. Our hopes of finishing the last day of the trip were dashed. I heard Mark tell Libby that she could go ahead and get ready to turn around and head back to Birmingham. I was sitting there in a tired kind of shock thinking about what we did wrong. How could we face everyone that helped us make it that close if we failed? What can we do outside the box to save the trip? Mark has a tremendous network of friends because of this. He was on the phone constantly. It was Sunday. It was July the 4th. We had enough real life data on hand to calculate that even if we had access to a public CNG filling station that a full fullup of every tank would not make it for us. Then Mark announced that someone with Laclede Gas Company was waiting at their pumps to fill us up. That would get us tantalizing close to Chicago, but still not enough.

When the CNG pumps fillup your tank, they check the pressure and the temperature. The pumps do a calculation and fill your tanks to a "safe" level allowing for expansion. This practically means that on our 16 gallon GTO tanks, we would get about 12 gallons of usable fuel.
But Tom Shultz at Laclede made something magic happen. He called his chief CNG mechanic Lee at 7 am on Sunday July 4th and asked him to come in and help us. Thats insane. Lee agreed. And with him came the knowledge and experience that we never dreamed of. He filled every one of the 6 tanks we had on the trip to exactly capacity. He overrode the automatic calculation and if the container said it held 9 gallons, then 9 gallons it got. It was the first time these tanks had ever been filled over 70% of their rated capacity. Of course it was completely safe to fill them to 3600 psi. We had been to the factory and witnessed pressure tests of 8000 psi.

And with that stroke of genius, we had a hope of making it to Navy Pier. We made it to Pontiac IL that night on the CNG in the GTO tank and one refuel from the pickup. EVERYONE we knew discouraged us from going to Navy Pier on July 4th night because of the 2 million people watching 3 fireworks shows. We held back and woke up early Monday morning July 5th for the final assault on Chicago. It was almost ritualistic the refueling that morning. We took every scrap we had learned about CNG and put it in work. The final refueling. Thirty miles from the finish line. The GTO had lost an oil ring either on the drive up from St Louis or with the celebratory triple donut after getting slammed tanks in St Louis and was smoking heavily out of the left tailpipe only. So we poured in a bottle of Bardhal Smoke Stop. And we began the ritual of the cascade fill. If you dont know what it is, look it up. We filled the GTO off the first tank in the pickup till it whined like a really high pitched baby. We shut it down with 1500 psi. We filled off the other pickup tank and it squeeled up to 1750 psi. Then to the trailer. The 9 gallon tank that was maxed out barely squeezed in another bit to get us to 1900 psi. Finally the 7 gallon small tank to top off the ritual. It almost got us to 2000 psi. Whew, it felt good to have that to make it into Chicago.

Mark and I rode the last 30 miles together in the car. We got off 55 North and turned north on Lakeshore. When we passed Jackson Street we both were relieved to know that technically we had driven the whole way. But we promised Navy Pier. It was up ahead. There was no fanfare like in Arcadia OK with AP and the TV stations. Because of the last minute change and near calamity of not having fuel, we didn't have time to arrange press. Thanks to the Fourth of July hangovers, there were no fireworks spectators in sight and we rolled right into the front gate, and parked the GTO in a gated driveway 25 yards from the security guard shack. We had no permits or paperwork. We were just there. The caravan was parked and we bailed out with cameras snapping that wonderful moment of success. I have some video and so does Libby with her video camera but we have not downloaded it yet. The Birmingham news is covering us with an update on Friday July 9th. The journy of 9 planning months and 2400 un-airconditioned miles was done. We made over a hundred serious new friends on the road. We spread the word about CNG and the potential future for a better America. But the real question is, did we inspire anyone?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Friday Update

Friday in Tulsa OK.

Friday started out in Tulsa with the largest press conference so far. We had a live broadcast on local Tulsa tv for two minutes. The camera crew spent three hours with us filming different aspects of the Goat Gas Project. Our camerman took a personal interest in the car and the story. It was his idea to mount a Hi Def camera on the hood of the car facing Mark. They drove the car from the site of the press conference at the historic Blue Dome filling station out to Tulsa Gas Technology offices. Just like Pops in Arcadia, Michael Wallis made an empassioned appeal to the huge group to get involved in Alternative Fuels and using Route 66 as the corodor for the testing. The whole group moved across the street to Dilly Deli and had a wonderful lunch together. Special thanks to Meredith Weber with Clean Cities Tulsa who made this whole wonderful event happen.

After replacing a broken voltage regulator and refueling the Goat at Tulsa Gas Technology, we hit Route 66 for a guided tour by local experts. We met at Rainbow Bridge for a photo shoot and hooked up with another fan who also has a Red 66 GTO. The two Goats traveled down Route 66 until we got to Four Ladies of Route 66, the home of the real Tow Mater. The owners are working so hard to keep the history of Route 66 alive and have started a Young Route 66 Association on Facebook. We followed the Route and our last stop was Gay Parita Sinclair Gas Station. We met Gary and had the best time exploring this amazing station. It is fully restored and has the most wonderful memorbilia. Gary gave us a Route 66 Pictorial and signed pictures of the station for all of us including each kid. Gary is a excellent example of the fact that Route 66 is really about the people you meet along the way.

We ended the day staying at the Rail Haven and eating at Georges Resturant next door.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday Update

Thursday Morning started with breakfast at the Big Texan. We were given a tour of Amarillo's art mall by Crocodile Lile, local Route 66 expert. He gave us a guided tour thru Route 66 in Amarillo in his white 64 1/2 Mustang. We had to hit the road hard to be in Oklahoma City so we could enjoy our big event at Pops. Thanks to Ronny Oldham who left home at 3 am in order to meet us in Amarillo to refill us with CNG since Amarillo doesnt have a single CNG filling station. Ronny also worked out a fill for us at a private station owned by Apache Corporation. Thanks to everyone at the Apache station that made our fillup quick and efficient. We stopped by Cactus 112 a gas rig and met the supervisor and learned about how companies drill for natural gas. This well was just on the side of Route 66 and it was awsome to think the CNG that can turn our economy around is right here abundantly in our own country.

After a wide open last hour of pushing towards Pops in Arcadia OK, we pulled into the parking to a huge crowd of people. It was the largest we had seen so far on the trip. The Associated Press had a staff there to cover the story as well as the local tv station. The interview went well and will be forwarded to Chicago for the editors to review and publish this weekend. The official program at Pops included the famous Michael Wallis as the main speaker, the mayor of Arcadia, and Mark and I were able to address the crowd and fire them up for taking action to end our dependence on foreign oil.

If you have never seen Pops, then plan a trip immediately. It is the most amazing stop on Route 66 so far. Thanks for all that the media department at Chesapeak did to make our stop at Pops the biggest and best yet.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

CNG Hummer

In Gallup New Mexico we were refueled by our new friends from Lancer in Salt Lake City Utah. See twitter for the pictures of this awsome CNG Hummer that drove 600 miles to meet us in Gallup to refuel the GTO. Check out to see the web site.

Tuesday Wednesday Update

Tuesday Morning

Our days are falling into a pattern of waking up, doing a great breakfast at a local Route 66 resturant, driving to a series of classic Route 66 stops, meeting so many nice people that we just cannot tear ourselves away, eating lunch? at 3 or 4 pm, refueling the GTO from the fueling truck on the side of the interstate, making our destination city by 10 or 11 eating dinner at midnight and crashing for the night. It doesnt get any more action packed than that.

Tuesday Morning we met our long time internet supporter Dave Clements and his whole Natural Drive crew. We displayed Phill and two other CNG compressors on site at the Super Walmart. Lots of trailer signing and pictures made it the perfect morning. The travel during the day led us across the Arizona and New Mexico landscape to Albuquerque. In New Mexico we were welcomed by a huge party at Kellys Brew Pub just after dark and NBC was there to shoot a spot about us crossing country for the 10pm news. We owe Kellys Brew Pub a huge thankyou for the tremendous hospitality, the right out front parking spots, the delicious food, and for putting our story on the TV in the resturant. We stayed at the Hiway Inn right behind the resturant.

Wednesday morning we woke up and headed down the street a block to Mannys for breakfast. We made several trips to the Clean Energy station at the Will Rogers Airport to make sure every single tank was topped off. Our first order of business was to take everyone to the top of Sandia Mountain on the tram. If you have never experienced this place you owe it to yourself to go see it. The view is amazing. It was 10,000 feet and 45 cool degrees up top. We got down and headed towards Amarillo to see so many Route 66 sights they all started to run together. The CNG Fusion developed a slow leak in the right front tire and when we left the Route 66 Museum we stopped at Bozo's Garage. They jumped right on it and found the hole which was on the sidewall. Luckily he had one tire the exact size we needed and they put it on. We had a blast looking at the hotrods that Bozo was restoring while the tire was changed. Probably the highlight of the day was in Tucumcari New Mexico at the Safari Motel. The owners rolled out the red carpet treatment for us and we met tons of new friends. The trailer signing went artistic here with our first skull by a tattoo artist from Outlaw Tattoo's shop. We got pictures of the owners 1963 Galaxy 500 with the GTO. We took tons of pictures for twitter. We rolled into the Ambassador Hotel and ate at Fridays in the hotel at 11 pm.

I am up early on Thrusday morning to get the crew to meet Crocodile Lyle? in Amarillo.