Tractor Work Resumes

by Ben N on June 6, 2021

After a long hiatus, I’m working on the Electric Tractor Conversion again.
This past year was a bad one, with COVID, a couple of deaths in the family, and other issues.

One of the most difficult for working on the tractor was probably the fact that I was cut off from my typical resources for working on such a project. For example, I don’t have my own lathe or mill. I typically would use such equipment at a cooperative workshop, like the Milwaukee Makerspace, but that was essentially shut down for a year.

Likewise, I’m always trying to learn, and that usually means meeting up in-person with friends who are more skilled than I am in welding, machining, electronics, whatever it is that I need some advice or direction on while working on a project.

10.5″ diameter drive motor from a Nissan brand forklift.

I’ve decided that the best approach for the tractor is simply to use forklift parts. Forklifts are very common electric vehicles and the components are based on simple 36 and 48V DC battery systems. A tractor and a forklift also both have similar speeds, duty cycles, and expected levels of abuse.

Drive motor, test fit in approximate location.

I pulled the 10.5″ diameter series-wound motor from my “wheelie Tractor”. That motor is pretty much the maximum size which will fit in the tractor, both in terms of diameter to the faceplate of the transmission AND length, if I want to have enough room for a hydraulic pump. I originally bought this motor at a rummage sale, pulling it from a scrapped forklift the seller had, and used it in my Electric Geo Metro.

Forklift pump and motor.

Likewise, I located an electric motor and hydraulic pump from a forklift. After a little searching, I figured out that it’s considered a 6 gallon per minute pump. The electric motor spun fine when powered by my dumb multi-volt battery charger, and I was able to test it for proper rotation. After that, I tried running fluid through the pump to actually measure the flow rate. (I used water, knowing I’d make a mess, and the cleaned out and oiled the pump afterwards.)

At 24V, this pump CRANKS!
Watch the video about the electric pump

At 12VDC, the pump ran about like the flow from a garden hose, pumping 5 or 6 gallons a minute. When I tried running the pump at 24V, it really WAS twice as powerful… At least for about 10 seconds, before I blew the fuse on the battery charger. This was with an unrestricted output. At this point, I don’t know exactly how the pump will perform when it is instead pushing a hydraulic cylinder. I would imagine that the pump would slow down considerably. If needed, I COULD always add a speed controller for the pump.

Using my engine hoist, I was able to move the drive motor over to the tractor and roughly position it next to the transmission. It looks like a good fit. Of course, EXACTLY how far the motor will be spaced away depends on the hub which will connect the motor to the flywheel, as the flywheel needs to be in the same location as it was when mounted on the engine.

I was also able to wrestle the hydraulic pump and motor into approximate position. (I slid a stool under the tractor as a stand for it.) That motor might still be able to be mounted a little lower. That would allow for a nice rectangular area ABOVE the drive motor and pump for the battery pack. There’s only a small amount of space between the two motors and between the pump motor and the radiator. As long as I don’t have to move the drive motor out too much, I think it should be just about a perfect fit!

I’ve also been thinking about the machining that’s required for the motor mounting plate, the motor shaft to flywheel, and even how to connect the hydraulic pump to the tractor.

The tractor originally used hard lines all the way from the hydraulic reservoir to the engine-mounted hydraulic pump. I need a way to connect hoses from the new pump to the body of the hydraulic reservoir. I think the best approach is to machine a piece that matches the end flange on the hard-lines. It’s a relatively simple shape – just 3 bolt-holes and a hole for each of the send and return lines. That could easily be made with a mill and a drill-press. Alternatively, I could just CUT the hard lines, but I would still need to do at least a little machining to the ends of the pipes to adapt them. Since I’d have to do some machining anyways, I’d rather not damage the original hard lines and sell them to somebody else who is trying to keep their classic tractor running.

Flange end of the hydraulic hard lines which bolts to the tractor hydraulic reservoir.

I also spoke on the phone last night with a friend of the family. A few months ago, he was in the hospital with a life-threatening case of COVID. Now, he’s back out and doing well. As a semi-retired machinist, he has a lifetime of experience designing and machining custom parts. He offered to let me use his mill and give any tips and training I might need. I also consulted with him on creating custom splines, so that I could make a component which would properly slide onto the splined shaft of the drive motor. He told me that he has access to an EDM at his shop and that would be an ideal way to cut precision splines.

I feel like the ball is finally rolling again on the tractor conversion. I’m glad folks are getting vaccinated, and that we can “get back to normal” again, or at least something like it!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson


February Solar Electric Bill

by Ben N on March 7, 2021

Watch the Video!

How much did electricity cost me this month when I have solar panels? And how long do they take to cover their own cost? Find out in this video!

What does this month’s electric bill come to? February is a dark month. We still have many days of solid gray clouds, although not as much as we did in January. I was also running a fair amount of electric heat, including during a stretch of weather that was -20℉ at night.

A big jump up in electric use from the same month last year.

We ended up using 1,191 kWh of electricity. That’s about a third more than the average U.S. home, but about DOUBLE what we typically use! Thankfully, all the electric heat use was during off-peak electric cost at $0.06/kWh, while what little sun we had was during peak rate times valued at $0.20. Our actual bill came to only $47.46. We already had a credit with the power company of $194.33, so our payment just came out of that. That still leaves us with a credit of $146.87!

Existing credit easily covers our bill this month.

So far, the economic value of electricity we have produced is worth about $3,598. The cost of the solar system, after incentives, was right around $6,500. Dividing the two gives us .5536. Or, in other words, the solar array is 55% of the way to paying for itself. We commissioned the system in June 2017. Since we produce more power in summer than in winter, we can NOT use the number of months the system has been in use to estimate the simple economic Return On Investment. We need to calculate it based on complete solar years. I’ll run some complete numbers once we get to June. So far, my estimates typically work out to 6.5 to 7 years ROI.

Keep in mind that’s a SIMPLE ECONOMIC ROI. It does NOT include factors such as how I also have to pay sales tax during part of the year nor does it include that I would otherwise have to pay income tax to earn the money to just pay an electric bill.

Solar + Electric Cars = LOVE! (And Savings!)

Other things to consider are my savings with electric cars. I can’t DIRECTLY include those savings with the solar, as I COULD simply have an electric car and NOT a home solar system. However, for those with grid-tie solar who earn a lesser credit on “over-produced” solar energy, adding a plug-in car can INCREASE the value of the electricity from their solar system and thus reduce the time of ROI. No matter how you calculate it, solar is a win.

Until Next Time, Stay Charged-Up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: A few time lately, people have been asking about getting a check from my Utility. Frankly, just being able to bank my credits is every bit as good as getting a payment, and it saves paperwork! There was never any mention of “payouts” in my agreement and one limitation with my utility is that they don’t want you to build an array larger than what would provide for your annual energy use. I’m “gaming the system” by making use of the Time Of Day plan to export high-value electricity during the day, and using low-value electricity at night. I’m still a net USER of electricity, but I’m coming out ahead on the cost. There are utilities that will write a check if you are ahead at the anniversary of your system commission date. For me, that would be in June. Mine is a small, local utility. Frankly, I’m far more concerned about a policy change due to me getting “too good of a deal” than getting a check for a couple hundred dollars!


Towing a camping trailer with a Tesla

by Ben N on February 20, 2021

When I was at Fully Charged LIVE, one of the more interesting displays was a private owner of a Tesla Model X and Casita travel trailer showing off his rig.

Mike Zuteck gave me a tour of his towing setup. As he’s in the aeronautics industry, he was especially interested in modifying his trailer to minimize wind resistance.

The tow vehicle is a Tesla Model X 100D. The trailer is a Casita, weighing in at 2,200 lbs.

Mike said that he’s towed the trailer as far as 193 miles on a single charge, but that doesn’t really count, as it was “downhill with a tail-wind.”

Typical towing range would be 120-150 miles. However, Mike says that what he likes to do is only tow 80-120 miles. The reason is that it takes advantage of the SuperCharger network. High speed DC charging is fantastic, but slows down greatly above around 80%.

Charging a bit more frequently, but NOT to a full charge actually REDUCES total charging time.

Some other people have also realized this and have used it to reduce travel time on long-distance trips. Our friend, Benswing Rich, used the same technique to drive over 500 miles a day in his Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model X 100D with Casita trailer

The trailer itself is a single-axle fiberglass trailer, complete with a full kitchen and bathroom. This little home-away-from-home includes full hook-ups, plenty of storage space, and an aerodynamic shape reminiscent of Airstream trailers.

Of course, the trailer isn’t stock on the outside. It’s been modified with a rear “Kammback“, built from corrugated plastic and a solar panel. Placing the solar on this rear wing helps prevent heat build-up in the roof and also acts as a sun visor for the back window, both important for Texas heat.

The sides of the trailer feature “Vortex Generators” – triangular shapes that force the air to swirl, speed-up, and wrap around the rear of the trailer.

Vortex Generator

Of course, the wheels have flat plastic aerodynamic hubcaps and the wheel wells are closed up Honda Insight style.

Up in the Model X, Mike showed me a few of his creature comforts.
He has an electric cooler which plugs directly into the 12VDC jack in the back of the Model X. This means no spending money on ice, lugging it around, and then just having it melt. No more soggy food!

He also has a dedicated ice machine. While it could be run off an inverter, Mike instead just plugs it in when at a camp-ground. The machine produces a pound of ice an hour, and more than keeps up with the requirements for a round of margaritas.

“Real-World” towing energy information – click the graph for high-res version.

As any good engineer would, Mike has kept detailed records of his travels. The chart shows shows mileage, range, energy used, and the wind and road conditions.

If you are considering towing with an electric vehicle, take a close look at this data. In this author’s experience, towing with any trailer in general cuts EV range in half. But that’s not as bad as it sounds if you start with a vehicle with a good sized battery pack AND have access to a solid charging system. At this point, Tesla is far ahead of the pack on both counts!

A big thank you to Mike Z. for the tour and sharing his experience with us.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: I recently heard from Mike as Texas was hit with a terrible winter storm. Like many people, he was without water, heat, and power at his house. The car and trailer were able to act as a life-boat, with heat, light, and electricity. Nothing quite like being prepared!


Massive DC Forklift Motor

by Ben N on December 1, 2020

Forklift motors have been popular for a long time in DIY Electric Vehicle Conversions. They tend to be Series-Wound DC motors, which offer tremendous torque at low speeds and are common enough that that can often be found at junk yards.

A few years ago, my friend, Tom, and I scrapped out a 6,000 lb capacity forklift. At the heart of that lift was a hefty DC motor. We pulled it out and set it off to the side for a future project.

The motor weighs about 250 lbs. It’s a 12.5″ diameter beast with a 1-3/8″ 21 spline driveshaft and a 1 to 1-1/8″ tapered tail shaft.

The brushes are a half inch wide by 1 and a quarter inch across. There is a PAIR of those brushes at each of the four locations around the commutator.

The commutator itself has 100 bars. It looks to be in good condition, with minimal corrosion or scorching. With the brushes pulled out, the rotor spun smoothly with little resistance.

I decided to test the speed of the motor, and I did so by connecting it up to a common 12V automotive style battery. The motor easily spun up. Using an optical tachometer, ( I measured the speed at 1200 RPM. The only time a series-wound motor should be powered up without a load is only at low voltage for testing. Doing so at a higher voltage can make the motor spin incredibly fast and destroy itself.

Speed is proportional to voltage on a motor like this, so in theory, it might spin at up to 3600 RPM on the forklift’s original 36V system. (But that would only be in a low-torque/low resistance situation) The reason why I mention this is that I’ve been slowing working on converting a tractor to electric. Tractors like that typically run at low engine speeds, about 2,000 – 2,500 RPM. Under load, this electric motor at 36 or 48V is probably a very good match for the speeds required by that tractor.

Having a splined driveshaft could be a problem. It’s usually easiest to mate up a motor with a round driveshaft of a common size diameter. Splines might mean some custom machining, which can get expensive fast. After measuring the shaft and counting the splines, I did a web search. It turns out that size is NOT and uncommon PTO connection on a tractor. I wasn’t sure if I had the measurements exactly right or not though. I went to my local farm store and bought the one part they had with a female 21 spline connection. When I tested it on the driveshaft, IT FIT! It looks like I should be able to find a standard component to connect the driveshaft to whatever else I want to connect to.

The DOWNSIDE of this motor is that it’s perhaps TOO big! Measuring the front of the tractor’s transmission, there’s as little as only 13 inches across between two frame members. Measuring from the transmission shaft center down to a support at the BOTTOM of the transmission is only 6 INCHES. The edge of the motor might hit there. On the other hand, if it’s spaced back from the transmission a bit, perhaps it won’t.

It looks like the only way to tell for sure would be to actually hang the motor from an engine hoist and push it into the tractor to check for mechanical interference.

I’d love it if this motor could work for the tractor project. The motor could easily run at 48V. That’s a VERY common system voltage, so it would be easy to get motor controllers, chargers, DC/DC converters, and anything else I would need. 48V is also easy to achieve with lithium batteries such as Nissan Leaf cell modules in a 7S configuration.

Lastly, the tail shaft offers a simple way to power the tractor’s hydraulic pump.

Check out future updates for if this motor actually fits the tractor or not.

Until then, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson


August Solar Electric Bill

by Ben N on October 1, 2020

Today, I opened my August electric bill. It was NOT what I expected!

So, I’m a little late. I got my bill nearly a month ago. However, personal and family matters have kept me busy from making videos lately. So, the bill sat until now, when I finally got a chance to open it on camera.

I had to confirm that, YES, this was my HIGHEST ELECTRIC BILL EVER!
And by Highest, I mean the highest amount the power company has owed me!

I had a credit of $64.72! I needed to go through my old bills and confirm that I’ve never earned this much in a single month before. This summer, I had a couple of months of credits in the $50+ range, but never above $60.

It looks like the main reason why I earned such a good credit is because of being on a Time of Use Plan. I found that by being on that plan, not only did my electricity COST more during the day, but I would also be CREDITED at that higher value for power I export during the day!

My bill stated 520 kWh of electricity exported during peak times for a value of a $104 credit.

Not only did I earn a good credit this month, but my total ROLLING CREDIT I’ve earned this summer is looking pretty good too!
Currently, the power company owes me $270.04!

I also did a check-in on the basics of my simply economic Return on Investment. So far, I’ve produced 23.5 MWh of energy. Multiplying that out of the $0.13/kWh typical of my area gets me an economic value of $3055. Seeing as my system cost me $6,500 after incentives, that means my solar system is 47%, or nearly HALF paid off.

The real math is actually a little more complicated than that. The Time of Use plan makes my electricity MORE VALUABLE. That means the system will pay for itself FASTER, but the math behind it is more complicated as well!

Also, most people never seem to forget other factors in the value of solar. For example, paying for electricity often has sales tax on it. (In my state, we pay sales tax in the summer, but not in the winter, as electricity could be considered a heating fuel.)
Likewise, a person has to EARN money, pay INCOME TAX, on it, and then pay for the electric bill and other expenses on the money that’s left over. Accurately calculating the value of taxation gets complicated, but it’s easy to see how making your own electricity actually saves MORE money than you might think.

For now, let’s just say that I’m plenty happy with my solar!
My $270 credit should really help get me into winter WITHOUT paying a bill. It will be interesting this year to see WHEN I have to pay a bill, instead of earn a credit. Think we can make it until January? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson


CHRGET Universal Mobile Charger

June 13, 2020

I was recently contacted by the folks at CHRGET. They said they were coming out with a new EVSE, and asked if they could send me one for review. Of course, I said yes! *Full Disclosure – Why would they send me one for free? Well, they would want the advertising, as they are doing […]

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Liquid Cooling for Nissan Leaf motor

May 24, 2020

I’m getting ready to bench test the Nissan Leaf motor, but both the motor and inverter use LIQUID COOLING! I doubt the motor and inverter will make much heat at all when bench testing. However, since I have to figure this out sometime anyways, I thought I would get it taken care of right now. […]

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April 2020 Electric Bill

May 15, 2020

At this time of year, it’s always fun to open my electric bill, to see how much money the power company OWES ME! Last month, I had a credit of over eleven dollars. This month, we have had more sunny days, and the sun is getting higher in the sky. So, I expect even better […]

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Welding frame rails / Rolling the Tractor

May 13, 2020

Converting this International Harvester 300 Utility tractor to electric has had a few challenges. One of them is that the engine is structural and connects the front axle (and everything connected to it) to the transmission. I found a relatively quick and easy answer when I discovered that some other tractors have frame rails that […]

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Nissan Leaf Transmission Tear Down

March 17, 2020

I recently disassembled a Nissan Leaf driveline. That was essentially just taking apart the main components of the charger, inverter, motor and gearbox. After doing that, several viewers requested seeing inside the gearbox. I was also interested in seeing inside and was curious if I could use part of it to mate with the motor […]

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Nissan Leaf Electric Motor from Junk Yard

February 19, 2020

Pretty excited that I just picked up a Nissan Leaf Motor! Yesterday, I drove to Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin to Diamond Auto parts to pick up not just a motor, but also the gearbox and inverter for a Nissan Leaf. The Leaf motor packs quite a bit of power into a small package, and they […]

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Suzuki SV650 Electric Motorcycle

February 9, 2020

One of the joys of going to FULLY CHARGED LIVE (Feb 1 & 2, 2020 in Austin, Texas, USA) was meeting people in the real world who I otherwise only knew via the internet. Robert Powell is one such person. We met up with him before the event opened and got a chance to see […]

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Chevy Volt Dent Repair

January 3, 2020

After installing the new doors on the Volt, it was road-worthy, but I still didn’t like the dent in the back fender. There were a few dings above the rear door as well. So, I set to work to figure out how to pull out the dents. I had already played around a bit with […]

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Fixing a Crashed Chevy Volt

December 28, 2019

I just purchased a Chevy Volt!While I’m excited about that, the only reason I got it was because it was cheap. And it was cheap because it needed a bunch of work… Not long ago, an acquaintance of mine was driving his 2012 Chevy Volt when a deer hit him. (No, he didn’t hit the […]

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Prepping to remove the Loader

November 20, 2019

I removed the sheet metal “Hood” of the tractor to get a quick look at the engine. Pretty simple under there, but both the loader arm AND the loader frame really block working on it. Clearly the loader has to come off right away. In the front, the loader is bolted to the tractor with […]

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Tractor Arrives!

November 15, 2019

Today’s excitement is that the tractor arrived!When we went to look at the International Harvester 300 Utility tractor, one of the appealing things about it was that the seller offered to be able to deliver it.So, today, I’m waiting for the tractor to show up on a gooseneck trailer. The seller, Wayne, showed up right […]

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Winter Projects

November 13, 2019

Winter hit hard and fast here in south-eastern Wisconsin, with 6 inches of snow in October and it’s 6℉ as I write this in early November. So, that means it’s time to button down our winter projects! CRASHED MITSUBISHI IMIEV AUCTIONIn the last video update, I mentioned a crashed Mitsubishi iMiEV that was up for […]

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October Electric Bill and Time of Use

November 12, 2019

I just got my October electric bill! Let’s look inside and see what it comes to. Since I have solar on my garage, my electric bill is far less than it used to be. I typically look forward to getting my bill and taking my best guess as to what it will come to. Overall, […]

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Ford 8N Tractor for Electric Conversion?

October 29, 2019

Today, I stopped over at a friend’s farm property to check out a couple of tractors. I’ve recently been researching which tractors might make good candidates for an electric conversion, but what I really needed to do is just go out and see some. A family friend, Linda, had two old tractors on her property. […]

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DIY Teardrop Trailer Tour

October 9, 2019

About 15 years ago, I built a teardrop trailer. At the time, I never dreamed I would tow it with an electric car! But here we are, living in the future! A teardrop is a retro style of camping trailer with a shape, you guessed it, like a teardrop. These were popular after World War […]

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Tesla Implant!

October 1, 2019

I recently met up with John Olson. He implanted himself with an RFID chip which would allow him to unlock and drive his Tesla Model 3 just by holding his hand up to his car! I met him at the Milwaukee Makerspace for a video interview. One of the reasons we met there was that […]

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Solar Savings – August 2019

September 9, 2019

I just got my electric bill for this past month. Let’s open it up and see what it comes to! August was relatively cool, so we didn’t use the air-conditioning much. That’s important, as what I PAY for electricity is simply the difference between how much I make with the solar and how much I […]

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Wheelie Poppin’ Tractor for Junk Parade!

September 2, 2019

This year, I made it. I got my overpowered piece of junk electric tractor into The World’s Greatest Junk Parade! Last year, I took this old GE Elec-Trak frame and added a forklift motor and 6 Nissan Leaf Cell Modules. The driveline was a little complicated, and I didn’t get it working in time for […]

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Lithium Battery Communications

August 26, 2019

I just got my laptop to communicate with the Valence lithium batteries in the Ford Ranger EV pickup truck! The truck’s instrumentation is pretty basic – just a “Miles to Go” and “Percent Charged” meter, which were designed to work with lead-acid batteries. I wanted to be able to communicate directly with the lithium batteries […]

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Electric ATV Repair and Upgrade

August 11, 2019

Not long ago, a neighbor was cleaning out his garage. Among the things he was getting rid of was an old kids electric ATV. It was in poor condition, but looked like a fun “fixer-upper”! My daughter is also now eight-years old and has outgrown her Solar-Powered PowerWheels. So, a Razor brand ATV looked like […]

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Electric Truck Lithium Battery Upgrade

August 10, 2019

I upgraded the Electric Ford Ranger to Lithium Batteries!The truck had Group 24 Lead-Acid batteries in the bed. The batteries pulled from the Smith electric truck are Valence brand Group 27 batteries designed as 12V replacements. So, the logical thing to do was simply pull out the lead and put in the lithium in it’s […]

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July 2019 Electric Bill

August 8, 2019

I just got my July electric bill. Time to open it on camera so that you and I get to see what it is at the same time! In July, we finally started getting some nice summer days! (June was surprisingly rainy and cloudy!) But along with the sun was HEAT. We used our central […]

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Battery Pack Disassembly

April 18, 2019

Once we finally made it back from North Carolina, we needed to unload the batteries. While we had a forklift to LOAD the batteries, we didn’t have one at my place and had to resort to an engine hoist, furniture dollies, and finally, steel pipes. Getting 2,000 pounds of batteries off the trailer was no […]

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Removing the Batteries from the Smith Electric Truck

April 15, 2019

Well, it’s been an adventure so far…I was originally asked by my friend, Seth, to accompany him on a road trip to buy a commercial electric truck. The Copart auction had already taken place. He just had to drive 900 miles to get the truck and drag it back home. In the highlight of the […]

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Building a Solar Trailer, Part 1

August 1, 2021

Recently, I had a day or two available to work while waiting on things for other projects. For some time, I had the idea of a “Solar Trailer” in the back of my mind. I had seen a number of commercially-built solar trailers go up for auction, but at prices more than I could afford!So, […]

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Ryobi 13″ 18V Lawn Mower Review

June 6, 2021

About two years ago, I purchased a Ryobi 13″ battery powered electric push mower. At the time, I thought I’d shoot a review, but then I decided I wanted to really get some use out of the mower first so I could have a good honest opinion on it.Here we are, two years later, and […]

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Mitsubishi iMiEV front end damage

November 19, 2020

I took the front end off the salvaged Mitsubishi iMiEV.This is what it looks like. The bumper is dented, but the radiator and other components are fine. It looks like it’s just bent metal that needs to be repaired or replaced. If anyone knows where to get a replacement bumper cover from, please let me […]

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October Solar Electric Bill

November 14, 2020

I just opened my October electric bill. Since I have solar, my bill is usually SIGNIFICANTLY reduced. In the summer, I even get a credit. What will it be this month? Let’s open it up and find out. Even though it’s getting late in the year, I STILL managed to earn a CREDIT this month! […]

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