Story and Photos by Paul Clark
From left: Lizzie Haworth, Jonathan Pierce, and Wesley Hufstader are watched over by the truck’s creepy baby-doll mascot.
Warren Wilson’s Auto Shop Crew has turned a hulking piece of junk into an electric vehicle that can serve the college for years to come.
Using grant money from the N.C. Clean Air Coalition and working under the direction of Jonathan Unger, crew supervisor this past year, the 12-student crew converted a 1.25-ton diesel truck into a zero-emission, electric short-haul carrier that the Carpentry Crew will use to transport lumber and other heavy material and equipment.
“It’s all about being sustainable,” said crew member Lizzie Haworth, a psychology major from Lynnwood, Wash.
Sustainable, yes; easy, no. The truck, a retired CUCV military support vehicle, hadn’t run in a while. Its last owner, the Forestry Crew, needed starting fluid to get it to turn over. The coolant tank was a Gatorade bottle. The truck finally wheezed to a stop and was stored, taking up space, when Unger targeted it for conversion.
In fall semester 2012, Unger and the crew pulled the diesel motor, the truck’s heavy transmission and its 30-gallon gas tank. They bought 12 heavy-duty 8-volt batteries and mounted them on an old TV stand and built the battery box from an old dolly. They made mounting plates from scrap iron lying around the shop and built the new chain-driven transmission, aligning it perfectly with the transfer case so that there is no undue wear on the parts.
Jonathan Pierce, a psychology major from Greer, S.C., did most of the wiring. Wesley Hufstader, an art major from New York City, built many of the plates. Both were in the shop with Haworth recently, explaining their work while underneath the truck on a lift. There was a definite “this is so cool” excitement in what they’d done, despite the difficulties involved.
“We had a lot of problems,” Haworth said. “It was one of ‘those’ vehicles.”
And they had a self-imposed deadline: the annual Work Parade on campus. The day before, with everything seemingly in place, they stood around the truck – nearly everyone holding a fire extinguisher – and cranked it up. It turned over, the students cheered, people piled into the bed and they drove up the hill from the shop, where it promptly died. The batteries weren’t fully charged, and Unger had left the emergency brake on.
But on parade day, the crew was ready. They strung Christmas lights (powered by the batteries, of course) around the truck and dressed up like Orcs, from “The Hobbit.”
Wesley Hufstader at the wheel.
“We looked like crazy Scottish people,” Hufstader said.
The truck performed admirably, carrying a bed load of Orcs around campus and coasting downhill to recharge its batteries. And it wouldn’t need an auxiliary charge for weeks.
“Now it’s the best ever,” Haworth said of the truck. “You can’t get more sustainable than this.”