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 trip, we were able to get it to run and drive. After that, we transported it over to a local business where we could work on it.

The first thing we did was take a LOT of measurements – total height, width, wheel-base, etc. We also didn’t know the exact weight of the truck. (It appears that commercial trucks just list their GROSS weight, not the weight of the vehicle itself!)
Based on the size of the truck, the size of the trailer we had with, and the advice of the professional auto transporter whose place we were working at, we decided that we could NOT tow the truck home.

Of course, this was a major disappointment.

We threw around a lot of ideas, none of which were ideal. Every option we could come up with was less than perfect in one way or another. We also still had to get home soon. We were on a tight budget and schedule.

In the end, we decided the best course of action was simply to REMOVE the batteries. The truck could be stored at that location temporarily until we could return and transport it properly, or at a minimum, dismantle all the EV components.

Out comes one of the two 1,000 pound batteries.

The batteries themselves are inside two large black cases, one on either side, in the approximate location where a diesel fuel tank would otherwise be. Each one weighs about 1,000 pounds for a total of a literal TON of batteries.

To remove them, we had to undo the stainless steel straps that wrapped around the cases. We applied penetrating oil to the screws that tensioned the straps. On a few of them, we were able to loosen the screws pretty easily. Others were rusted in place and even the head was filled in with rust, so that we needed to use vice grips to get them to budge at all.

Once the straps were unhooked, we disconnected the electrical. On the side of each box is a mechanical manual disconnect. This opens the circuit inside the battery box, and makes sure all power at the cables is dead. Some of the wires were easy to remove. The BMS cable simply unscrewed. On the other hand, some of the high-voltage power cables just went right through the side of the box. There’s a weatherproof strain relief there, but NOT a quick disconnect. That meant we would have to simply cut the cables.
As terrible as that sounds, it’s just cable, and new parts are available in the welding supply aisle of my local farm and truck store.
*Snip* *Snip*

A view of the High Voltage cables at the master battery box.

Next, we had to physically remove the battery boxes.
One of the reasons we moved the truck to a local business to work on it was that they had a forklift there. (OK. Technically a tractor with a forklift attachment…)
Using the forklift, we could gently lift the box and then slide it OUT from the sides of the truck. We put the batteries on the trailer and strapped them down.

After that, there was nothing left to do except make the long return trip home. Our plans had certainly changed from the start to the end of the trip, but at least we didn’t leave empty-handed. We had 80 kWh of working lithium batteries.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben

{ 0 comments }

Future of Transportation in Wisconsin

by Ben N on April 27, 2019

Yesterday, I attended a conference about the future of transportation in Wisconsin. The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership hosted the event at “The Garage” space at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.

Unfortunately, the trip from my house, to the event and BACK, is just a little further than the available range per charge on my modest electric car. So, I threw my bicycle in the back, with the plan to charge my car down the street from Harley while I attended. After arriving at Potawatomi Casino to use one of their charging stations, I biked the rest of the way to Harley.

Pulling in to the event, I met the only other bicyclist there, who came in on his electric cargo bike. Seemed like a good start to the event!

Once the conference actually started, it was a series of panels. The main focus was on FUNDING state transportation. Wisconsin has NOT properly funded roads in a LONG time! One of the reasons why is that “Indexing” of the state gas tax was repealed in 2006. That means that the tax has NOT followed inflation in well over a decade. The other means of funding roads has been from vehicle registrations, which have also remained flat. (Likewise, the Federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 25 years!)

Wisconsin has instead chosen to continuously BORROW money to pay for roads. (The politicians call it “Bonding”. But call it what it is – borrowing from the future to pay for something now.) The Department of Transportation has been so dependent on borrowing that 20% of the budget is simply to make payments on the bonds! The DOT is 5.7 BILLION dollars in debt.

DOT Deputy Secretary, Paul Hammer, gave an overview of the proposed Tony Evers budget. That would include reinstating inflation indexing of the gas tax, an 8 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, and a 27% increase in heavy truck registration fees.

Bob Poole, a proponent of tolling, liked the increases in funding, but said that it didn’t go far enough. “We need to replace the per gallon fuel tax for the long term.”
Mr. Poole gave an excellent brief presentation on the merits of modern electronic tolling and how it COULD be used to completely fund certain sections of Wisconsin roads.

The overall feeling I got during the discussion of FUNDING transportation in our state is just how poorly we HAVE funded it in the past, and how heavily we have relied on DEBT! Jerry Petrowski, State Senator (R) from the Wausau area said “We pay $800 Million….. in debt payments. Imagine what we could do if we didn’t have to pay that!”
He also spoke about a proposal to use sales tax from auto parts and related items to help fund roads. The downside is that those funds would then no longer go to the General Fund, which pays for everything from schools to healthcare. Petrowski continued “What we have to do is simple,” referring to increasing revenue for the DOT. “Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

In an upbeat section of the program, two University of Wisconsin faculty presented about their research. Jie You spoke on Mobility as a Service – new ways to get around using emerging technologies and social changes. Think Uber on steroids.
Michael Schlicting spoke on smart cities and future transportation planning. While the Foxconn development has dramatically changed, Mr. Schlicting used it as an opportunity to research Smart City design.

Next was a surprise visit by former governor and namesake of the group organizing the event – Tommy Thompson himself. He spoke brief and passionately about transportation in our state. “I’ve never seen a Republican road or a Democrat street… If there’s one issue that needs bipartisan support, it’s transportation!”

Former Governor Tommy Thompson

WI DOT Secretary, Craig Thompson, gave the lunchtime keynote. It was great to hear about transportation in this state directly from the top. Secretary Thompson reiterated the challenges of budgeting and the need for changes in how we fund. He spoke of variables in the future that we simply can NOT accurately plan for, including Electric Vehicles and Autonomous Vehicles. He also warned against the folly of debt. “Debt service is clearly NOT a sustainable solution.”

After the presentation, I was able to get a few words in edgewise with the Secretary of Transportation. I specifically asked about funding for Electric Vehicle Charging Stations and was told “Yeah, it’s in the budget.”

After lunch, a panel spoke about FREIGHT in Wisconsin. Teresa Adams is a University of Wisconsin Madison Professor of Engineering and a former Director of the National Center for Friegth and Infrastructure Research and Education. Her presentation asked how we will need to design our infrastructure for Climate Change, including how we will need to raise bridges and deal with worsening freeze/thaw cycles. She also spoke about tractor trailer aerodynamics and how semis will save energy in the future by safely drafting. Trucks will do this using LIDAR, adaptive cruise control, and other technologies already available in many passenger cars.

I’m very glad I got to attend the conference.
The overall feeling is that we have some MAJOR challenges for transportation in the State of Wisconsin. Budgeting is the single largest one, but that can be dealt with by proper political willpower and perhaps tightening our belts a bit. I also enjoyed the NON-PARTISAN feel of the event. It felt like people were there to help find solutions, rather than to find others to blame.

Transit, freight, bicycling, ports, and more were also talked about at the event, although this would be a long article if I focused on all of those as well. (Although many of those DO tie in to jobs and the economy!)
One bit that caught my notice was a presentation about “The Last Mile”. This refers to getting to and from Transit. Even in places with excellent bus and train service, riders still need to get from them to the job. I felt a bit of this myself because I couldn’t charge my electric car at Harley. Instead, I biked from where I could charge it. In many places in Wisconsin, a worker may have a 90 minute commute by a combination of bus and other transportation just to get to their job.

Have you been following what’s going on in the Wisconsin State Budget? What would you like to see happen in regards to how Plug-In Vehicles are treated by the DOT? Let us know!

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: I also got to see the LIVEWIRE electric motorcycle on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum. Of course, I rode a friend’s electric Harley to the release event for the LiveWire a few years back. See that HERE.

{ 0 comments }

Briggs & Stratton 6-Wheel Hybrid

by Ben N on April 25, 2019

I was doing some work at Briggs & Stratton – an engine producer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when I stumbled on an amazing car! It’s a vintage 6-wheel hybrid!

Briggs & Stratton has a great museum at their main building. It tells the history of the company and showcases its roots in automobiles all the way up to modern lawn and garden equipment. There’s a fantastic display of go-karts and even the “Flyer”, the least expensive car ever made!

The Briggs & Stratton Hybrid

In a back corner of the museum is the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid. The car caught my eye because of the bright yellow color scheme and the fact that it has 6 Wheels! What was even stranger was that I instantly recognized the car! I’ve read articles about it before. About ten years ago, I built my first electric motorcycle using a Briggs & Stratton Etek electric motor. So, I was also researching the company and electric motors at that time.

Vintage home video of the Briggs & Stratton Hybrid.

Briggs built this car in about 1980, the golden age of jean-shorts. The body was fiberglass, the transmission from a Ford Pinto, and windshield and dash from a Volkswagen Scirocco. The overall look was designed by Kip Stevens, son of Milwaukee industrial designer Brooks Stevens, and the man responsible for the Excalibur. (I highly recommend reading INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH DESIGN. Great book! https://amzn.to/2UXoJu0 https://amzn.to/2UXoJu0)
The Stevens design studio also gave us the Oscar-Mayer Weinermobile, The Miller Beer logo, and most of the appliances in your parent’s and grand-parent’s kitchen!

Dual rear axles of the Hybrid.

But back to the car…. Although the hood was down, I was able to find some information about the drive system. The Briggs engine was an 18HP twin. That model was new at the time, and the car was in many ways a publicity stunt to show off the new engine. The electric motor was an 8HP Baldor. The two were connected by a Borg-Warner “Duo-Cam” automatic clutch. This allowed both the engine and motor to be used alone or together.*

The car’s engine, motor, and four-speed transmission are under the hood with a driveshaft connecting to the FRONT of the two rear axles. Only the front axel is driven. The rear axle free-wheels and is built as part of the battery box. The idea being that the entire battery box can disconnect, and easily roll-away, be replaced, or batteries hot-swapped! I wasn’t able to find any more information about the rear-axle battery swap. As far as I know, a second box and axle for battery swapping was never built.

It was a blast to get to see this vehicle in person. I wish it was featured more prominently and was better lit! It would have been great to see under the hood as well. For more about this car, please take a look at some links to existing information about it on the web.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

*How Stuff Works Article https://auto.howstuffworks.com/1980-briggs-and-stratton-hybrid-concept-car1.htm

Jalopnik article: https://jalopnik.com/the-company-that-made-your-lawnmower-engine-also-made-t-1789444149

Consumer Guide: https://blog.consumerguide.com/briggs-stratton-hybird/

{ 0 comments }

Electric Truck Charging Adapter

by Ben N on April 22, 2019

While it’s pretty cool to have a classic factory built electric truck, one thing I don’t like is it’s NON-standard charge port. So, I set out to build an adapter so that I could charge in public and more conveniently at home.

The Ford Ranger EV uses an AVCON “claw” charge connection. When I first got the truck, I really didn’t know what to expect for charging on it. I knew that the GM EV-1 and the Chevy S10 Electric both used inductive paddle chargers. The Ford’s AVCON was new to me. I did some research and quickly found that it was just an early version of J1772 – the standard that all electric cars in the U.S. use today! Because of that, it would use the same signaling system. In theory, it would be EASY to build an adapter!

AVCON charge connection plugged into Ford Ranger EV.

Using parts I already had, I threw together an adapter. I previously salvaged a J1772 inlet from a flood damaged Mitsubishi iMiEV. I used that to build an adapter for charging my electric motorcycle from public EV Charging Stations. Taking that old project apart provided me with the inlet I needed to build the adapter for the truck.

On the other end, I’d need an AVCON connector. When I got the truck, it included a bulky and heavy “Charging Post” EVSE with one AVCON cable on it. The post looked like it was originally designed to hold two cables. Separate from that was another cable, going into a generic circuit breaker box. I think somebody was trying to build a “portable” EVSE, but didn’t know about the proximity and pilot signals that are also involved with such a thing. I pulled the cable off this box to build my adapter.

J1772 Circuit Diagram

I double-checked the circuit diagram on Wikipedia to make sure I had the pins right. The heavy duty pins on the J1772 inlet are pretty obvious – two current-carrying “hot” wires, and a ground wire. The two smaller pins are Pilot and Proximity. The proximity connection is mostly to keep a person from starting and driving off in an electric vehicle while they are still plugged in.

In the Ford Ranger EV, the earlier style connection did NOT have a conductive pin for checking proximity. Instead, there is a magnet right in the male connector. In the female port of the truck is a magnetically activated switch. When the cable is plugged-in, the magnet activates the switch and signals to the truck, preventing it from being turned on or driven. Since this system is already in the truck and AVCON connection, I did NOT have to do anything with the proximity pin in the J1772 inlet.

“Pilot” is the signal that communicates between the Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE, sometimes just called a charging cord.) Because the truck used an earlier version (ASE J1772-2001) of the same protocol we use now (ASE J1772-2009) all I needed to do was simply connect together the wire from the inlet to the matching wire on the AVCON cable!

The pilot signal communicates between the vehicle and the EVSE. With it, the vehicle is able to determine the maximum available charging current, and then charge based on what’s available. This prevents cars with high-power chargers from melting wires or blowing fuses on lower power charging stations.

With the inlet and AVCON claw connector cable, all I needed to do was use wire nuts to match each wire up with it’s mate and make a secure electrical connection. This is just temporary, as I’m simply testing if it works at all! The inlet I have is only rated for 20A. The truck can draw more than that, so I’ll want to get an inlet with a higher current rating before finishing the project and properly closing it all up.

I tested the adapter and…. It worked great!
I tested it with both a 16A and 32A EVSE and monitored the current draw. Sure enough, the truck drew no more than what was appropriate depending on the EVSE.
By completing this project, I’ll be able to drive this truck in public and charge at ANY modern electric car charging station!

If you want more details on J1772 protocols, start with the Wikipedia entry page. It’s interesting stuff and not too terribly complicated.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: Why did I actually do this? I could have removed the truck’s charge port and installed a J1772-2009 connection there, but that would have been modifying a CLASSIC Electric Vehicle! I also got an AVCON EVSE with the truck, but it’s HUGE and clunky. It’s kind of a pain to use to charge the truck. Much easier just to use the EVSE I already have and use every day for charging my car!

{ 0 comments }

Electric Truck Road Trip

by Ben N on April 13, 2019

The other day, I got a call from my friend, Seth. He said he was considering driving from Wisconsin to North Carolina to buy an electric box truck. I asked when he was thinking of doing it. He replied “Later today….” So, that’s why I’m near Charlotte, North Carolina, RIGHT NOW.

The crazy plan was to drive overnight, haul a huge trailer there, buy the truck, load it up, and drive home.

Video of our trip to North Carolina to buy the truck.

We left as soon as we could, heading south-east towards Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY, to not far from Charlotte, NC. It was a LONG drive. I ended up taking a shift driving in the wee hours of the morning. At 6:30AM, we parked in a Kroger parking lot and got about an hour sleep in the cab of the truck.

Driving into the Smokey Mountains on the way down.

After that, it was just keep on driving.
When we stopped at a gas station, I got a little worried, Seth was on the phone way too long with the bank. He had sent a Wire Transfer to purchase the truck the day before, but it looked like the there was an issue with it. I drove the truck so that Seth could just make arrangements. Seemed like the entire day that he was on the phone with the bank, had multiple issues, but eventually figured it out.

Once we finally got close to our destination, it started raining, hard. What should have been the last hour of our trip, took nearly two and a half. Eventually, we arrived at Copart, the auto auction salvage yard.

When Seth got to go to the counter, the wire transfer STILL had not gone through. He spent some more time on the phone, furrowing his brow. We did get to go out into the yard to see the truck, even though the payment hadn’t come through yet. Fortunately, it finally stopped raining. Plenty of gravel in the lot meant it wasn’t a complete mud-hole.

There were multiple trucks. All Smith Electrics used by Staples for local deliveries. Overall, the trucks looked good! The cabs on some were worn more than others, but the parts were all there. Some of the trucks even had paperwork inside – the truck manual and other information from Smith. The cabs were open, so we could turn the keys. None of the trucks had working batteries, so they couldn’t be turned on to check the digital odometer readings. I brought a multimeter and checked the house batteries on several trucks, they were all dead.

We got to go into the yard to check out the trucks.

On the box, there’s a roll-up rear door AND side door. Neither had outside locks. In the cab, I found a pair of switches that worked the doors. They were electric roll-up! But with dead batteries, we couldn’t operate them!
The trucks looked like all the EV components were there in place. Knocking on the big battery boxes, one could hear that they were solid. No dodgy scrap-yard guy had pulled the cells out from the box.
The cargo boxes on the trucks are almost 18 feet long. Based on the outside measurement, inside ceiling height must be at least 7 feet. So plenty of headroom for even a taller guy to stand. The box would be amazing for an RV conversion, mobile classroom, or Maker-Mobile!

Back in the office, the bank wire transfer FINALLY went through….to the broker Seth used for the transaction. When he called the broker, their accountant was out of the office, but was assured she would be back in before 5 PM. Of course, Copart closes at 5 PM and has NO weekend hours. On top of that we were told that Copart would NOT use their giant forklifts to load the vehicle (even though we saw lots of other vehicles being loaded up exactly that way!)

It was time to come up with a contingency plan. No matter what, we would have to hire a tow truck driver. Whether to help us get the truck on the trailer, haul it somewhere else, or otherwise, we’d have to pay for some professional help. So Seth again hit the phone, this time calling local towing companies and small repair shops. He hit gold when he found a owner/driver willing to not only haul the truck, but let us park it at his shop.

The clock was ticking! Would the broker pay in time!? Would the truck fit on the trailer?!
The tow truck driver was already in back, moving one truck out of the way to get at the one we purchased. He then got it hitched up and pulled it out front to the main loading area.

I could see Seth getting more disappointed as the clock kept ticking. Everything was done and ready accept for the payment from the broker coming through. The electric truck was hitched to the tow truck.
5 o’ clock PM came….. and went.

The office was closed, the yard was closing down. Seth had a talk with the driver. The truck pulled back and disappeared into the fenced-in area. We pulled out, empty-handed, and a yardman closed the gate behind us.

At 5:48, Seth got a text saying the payment had gone through and everything is complete and ready.
Copart has NO weekend hours. The truck is inaccessible until Monday.

So now what’s the plan?
It turned out the truck is a little bigger than we thought. It probably WON’T be able to go on the trailer, but that’s still not out of the picture yet. Seth wrangled a deal the the truck driver that we could park the truck at his shop, use his tools, strip all the EV related parts, and then trade the rest of the truck salvage rights to him in exchange for his work.

We won’t be able to do that until Monday. A couple more days I hadn’t planned for. Good thing my wife told me to pack an extra pair of socks. My clothes were soaked from the rain. We are at the hotel now. I asked if they had a laundy room. “Sure, just only the dryer doesn’t work right now!”

I still feel damp.
In terms of making lemonade from lemons, I have some relatives in the area that I’m hoping to meet up with. Charlotte also has a MakerSpace which would be fun to visit and get a tour.

We are also still running the numbers trying to figure out what makes the most sense in terms of buying salvaged electric trucks and putting them back onto the road, reselling them, making motors and batteries available to other DIY’ers, or how economically we can save trucks or at least make a little money working with them. It might be possible to buy more than one truck, sell parts from it, and then use the profits to fund resurrecting the best of the trucks.

For now, I’m just damp in a hotel room in Charlotte, a little disappointed that we aren’t driving home right now with an all-electric box truck, but the big picture is still interesting.

Until next time, stay charged up!
-Ben Nelson

PS: The hotel lobby computer didn’t work with my phone, which I used to take many of the photos. I’ll add more photos to this post later.

{ 6 comments }

LED Headlight Fail!

April 10, 2019

One of the upgrades I made after purchasing my Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car was to install LED headlights. Well, today, the second of the two LED headlamps failed! I had to take a look at my blog to remember when I actually DID install the headlights. Turns out it was just over three years ago. […]

Read the full article →

Manthini e-bike

April 6, 2019

This past Saturday, I got to meet up with a couple of local guys who have been working on a neat e-bike design. We met up at the VeloCity bike shop in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Cal, John, Avi, and two other friends, neighbors, and co-workers have designed a 2-wheel drive electric bike. It’s their prototype bike, […]

Read the full article →

February Electric Bill

March 8, 2019

I just got my February Electric Bill!But how much will I save with my solar? February not only has short days, but it’s been terribly cloudy all month as well! At least the days are slowly starting to get longer! I got my electric bill and opened it up. Drumroll please….. $72.71! Yipes!I’m charged for […]

Read the full article →

THERMAL VIDEO – Charging a Tesla Model 3 in the Cold

January 27, 2019

The other day, a Tesla Model 3 driver stopped by to top off his charge while visiting some nearby relatives. It was VERY cold out (-20℉ when I woke up…) The car charged at 40 amps, and I thought I’d film some THERMAL VIDEO of the car charging out in the cold! I’m on Plugshare, […]

Read the full article →

Clearing Snow from Solar Panels – Is it worth it?

January 20, 2019

We finally got our first really good snow-storm of winter! Five inches of thick, fluffy snow blanketed our driveway AND our photovoltaic solar panels. Should I clear the snow off the solar panels? How much more power will the panels produce? Is it worth it? Waking up on a Saturday morning, the whole driveway was […]

Read the full article →