Monday, February 21, 2011

Boys and Their Toys...

Since I bought my first truck when I was 15 years old, I’ve been fascinated by anything with wheels. I sat down and made a silly list this morning – all the cars and trucks and trailers and tractors and motorcycles that I’ve had in my 45 years and the total is well over 60. Yes, 60. As you might imagine, there are a number of favorites. Ford pick-ups, Volkswagen diesels, BMW motorcycles, and Airstream trailers top the repeat offender list. T
here are also some strange notables, including a Subaru Van with a 360CC 2 cylinder engine, a beautifully restored 1953 Willy’s pickup, an un-restored vintage Studebaker Lark VI Wagon (never got as far as installing new windows in this car so we had to drive it with goggles), and my beloved but cranky and ancient Farmall tractors, as well as our current biodiesel-powered Sprinter vans and Volkswagens.

Many of these vehicles were (unfortunately) used well past their expected life. Years ago, my grandfather gave us a canary yellow Datsun pickup that underwent his special form of renovation. He did not want to be seen in a foreign made vehicle so he applied Bondo, like frosting a cake, over the “Datsun” insignias and then spray painted the frosted areas with a sort-of corresponding shade of yellow spray paint. The passenger door latch failed and we used a rope between the door pulls to keep it closed. The issues with this set-up are myriad and serious, possibly none as much so as driving this truck on a first date. You figure how well that went.

My interest in things that roll has morphed from just having a cool ride when I was in high school to fuel economy, limited emissions, and alternative fuels in the last decade. We’ve been using a biodiesel blend for many years to power our diesel vehicles for reduced emissions, because it is renewable, for better lubricity, and because it is harvested in America. Biodiesel stations are becoming more plentiful, Piedmont Biofuels just set up a station in Saxapahaw for example, but years ago when we started to use biodiesel we had to install our own tank to supply our vehicles. Our latest fleet fueling interest and option is compressed natural gas (CNG). Like biodiesel, CNG is a classic cart before the horse story. For example, the Honda Civic NGV (natural gas vehicle) is nearly zero emissions, arguably the greenest car in America, made in America, and powered by inexpensive and plentiful fuel harvested in America. But the fueling stations are not widespread enough to be comfortable driving one. In fact, no public station exists in Durham, our home base. So, to make a CNG fleet a possibility, we have to build a fueling station to supply our small fleet. While not insurmountable, this is a significant barrier. We intend to figure this out for a cleaner fleet that aligns our operations with our products. We’ll keep you posted.

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