420 Miles in the Red Beastie – pt 2

Beginning to pull the hill, I again let the Beastie slow down and resisted stepping down on the accelerator pedal. The current draw climbed again towards 200 amps, but I modulated the pedal to keep it closer to 180 amps or so. But just as with the grade near Woodland, the Beastie made up for its thirstiness during the climb of the hill by picking up speed on the other side. In fact, I cruised along for many miles afterwards at 65 mph or better with very little current draw at all.

After pulling a few mild hills, I passed by the towns of Toutle and Castlerock with sixty-one miles having elapsed. I thought about how the community around these small towns had been devasted by the eruption of the Mt. Saint Helens volcano, back in 1980. It was awesome to think I had traveled this far in an electric vehicle that wasn’t beginning to even break a sweat yet.

I was filled with pride for Dick, and decided to give him another call. Although it was past 10:30 at night, he was still awake and he answered right away. Together, he and I shared in the excitement that the Beastie was still rolling along in the night, on its way to the ultimate destination of Seattle. Dick sounded like he was getting pretty tired, and we decided that I would call him in the morning to report if I had made it to Tenino on one charge. Hanging up the phone, I switched on the stereo to a low volume just for a little something to listen to in the background.

At sixty-five miles, the Emeter’s two orange indicators went out, and only a single red one remained lit, indicating that there was less than 40% battery capacity left. I encountered another big hill, but I had begun to get used to the routine by now and didn’t fret about the high current use as I knew that on the other side things would get better again. Leveling out after the hill, I checked the Ahr situation and at this point, I had sucked 168 Ahrs from the battery pack….so far, so good.

At seventy-one miles I was crossing the Cowlitz River and was again on level ground. It had been raining the last few miles and I had been using the wipers. I again thought about the DC to DC converter under the hood as it kept the Beastie’s 12 volt electricals running perfectly…the lights were still nice and bright, the fan was still bringing in fresh air, and the stereo was still playing quietly. As it began to rain harder, I thought about the Heavy Metal Garden Tractor riding in the bed of the Mazda and I was glad that Lou and Bruce had made sure that it was securely covered and waterproofed for the trip. The Beastie’s Emeter was still showing a single red LED, but there seemed to be lots of power left in the traction batteries.

At seventy-seven miles I had passed the towns of Vader and Ryderwood, and began pulling a continual climb towards higher ground again. The Emeter showed a draw of around 150 to 180 amps for the next five miles, and I was getting concerned about having enough juice left to make it all the way to Tenino. Even so, the Beastie was still running and performing great, and I could not feel any weakness or loss of throttle response as of yet.

At eighty-two miles, as I finally crested the five-mile-long grade, I passed a road sign that read, “Chehalis 9, Olympia 36, Seattle 96″. There was no mention of Tenino on that sign, but I knew that the exit came somewhere after Chehalis and that it was at least 10 miles South of Olympia. I again selected the ‘Ah’ function on the Emeter and it showed that I had used 234 Ahrs….yikes!!…those hills were really eating up my range! This put me into the ‘really concerned’ mode, with the knowledge that I still was more than twenty miles away from Tenino. I also remembered that on the trip to Hood River, the Beastie had pretty much depleted its pack after going 85 miles. Still, I remembered that in the first part of this trip, I had used 47 Ahrs to go 20 miles, so another 20 miles would use about 50 Ahrs more, putting me at 274 Ahrs, and at that point, I would only be a few miles out of Tenino….fingers crossed mode now, but still having a ball!

I went past Chehalis at 55 mph and the Beastie had traveled eight-nine miles since I left Portland…still no sign of a Tenino exit! For the first time, I thought I could sense that the Beastie was feeling a little weaker than it had, and I also had to push the accelerator down a little further to maintain my speed. The final segment of the Emeter’s bar graph was now flashing red, indicating that less than 20% of the battery capacity was left, so I checked the ‘T’ function to see how much longer I could sustain 55 mph. Oh, Oh!…17 minutes left! I eased back a little on the throttle and dropped the current consumption a bit, knowing that things were getting tight.

Now cruising at around 50 mph, I had traveled ninety-four miles and was passing the town of Centralia…rain still coming down. The red LED was angrily flashing at me, and there was definitely a noticeable lack of power at this stage of the game. Still, the Beastie was able to maintain 50 mph as the road had thankfully, stayed flat.

I crossed the Skookumchuck River, and at ninety-six miles, saw another sign that read, “Olympia 22, Tacoma 51, Seattle 82″. I knew I was close to the Tenino exit, but I could also see that the road was beginning to get steeper, and I was worried about making it. I was filled with tenseness, and I wanted so badly to make it to Pat’s place on one charge, and yet, there was no doubt about it…the Beastie was getting pooped-out, and was slowing down on the small grade. I didn’t want it to end like this, and I fantasized in my mind about the guy who trods aimlessly for miles on end in the parched desert trying to get to water, only to collapse a few hundred yards from the water hole! Yes, that’s how it was going to end…the Beastie was going to slow down to a crawl, then die from thirst alongside the interstate…so close to that oasis of Pat Sweeney’s place!

I had traveled nearly one hundred miles, when like an omen from the Gods of EVs, I saw the reflecting letters ‘Tenino’ and an arrow pointing towards the exit…YES!! Taking the exit, I allowed the Beastie to coast up the ramp to a stop sign. I knew that Pat’s place was about five miles down the road, and I wasn’t sure if the Beastie could make it that far. Turning right, the road actually went downhill and I carefully let the Beastie gather speed, and eventually got up to about 35 mph. The main battery pack was very tired, and yet, the DC to DC converter was still cranking out 14 volts, keeping the headlights bright as they illuminated the dark countryside.

A few miles farther, I was thrilled to see Gibson Road, and I took that final turn that led to Pat’s house. As I rolled into his driveway at 11:35 PM, I was filled with a great sense of accomplishment. The Emeter showed that the Beastie had used a total of 285 Ahrs to travel the one hundred-five miles from Portland to Pat’s house in rural Tenino. I jumped out of the Beastie, and was greeted by another Beastie….’Woofus’, Pat’s Rottweiler guard dog…good thing she remembered me from the previous week’s first meeting! Marshall and I were ecstatic and as we were talking a mile a minute, Pat came out to welcome us.

The first order of business was to get the Beastie on charge (the truck, not the dog), so that it would be hopefully fully charged by the time we got up in the morning. Pat had me back the Beastie into his shop, where we popped the hood and connected the charge leads so that the Beastie could receive its well-deserved dinner of electrons. Pat had an ugly box standing by, and within minutes, 32 amps of juice was being shoved into the pack. We figured that it would take about nine hours to fill the tank up, and reasoned that to be prudent, we would all get up earlier than necessary, at around 7:00 AM, to make sure that an overcharge wouldn’t take place. With that, Pat showed us to our rooms and we hit the sack.

In the morning, we checked the Beastie at around 7:15, and the Emeter reported that all but 63 Ahrs had been replaced. We knew that since the Beastie was still sucking about 30 amps of charge current, that the batteries would start to gas in a little over an hour, so Marshall, Pat, and I, piled into his electric Renault and headed off for a 70 mph five-mile jaunt to a little restaurant to have a hearty breakfast. Pat’s Lectric Leopard is a trip, and Pat has it stuffed with 114 volts of big wet cell six volters pushing the original 48 volt Prestolite motor. Even though it weighs more than 3200 lbs. and it had the additional weight of all three of us in it, this little EV scoots down the road, even if its handling is SCAREEEY!

After we had finished breakfast, we again had an invigorating electric spin back up the country roads to Pat’s place, returning to find a happy Beastie just shy of 19 Ahrs from a full charge, as the 40 Trojans quietly fizzled away. At this point, Pat took over the charging duties saying, “Let me cook them to perfection…I’ll show you how to squeeze even more miles from them!” What followed next was an almost a religious experience, as Pat dove into his charging ritual. Out came digital meters, temperature probes, hydrometers, alligator leads, mirrors and some unidentifiable custom ‘Pat Sweeney’ charging tools. Pat checked the water levels, the state of charge on individual cells, temperatures among the batteries, and performed other mysterious acts. He asked how high I had been taking the batteries, to which I replied, “Oh, I usually turn things off when it hits 150 volts.” “Well, today we’re taking them to 155 and letting them cook a while!”, proclaimed Pat. When the batteries hit 155 volts, Pat readjusted the charge current to a level that kept the batteries bubbling away, and let them ‘simmer’ as he put it. Finally, Pat said, “OK, they’re done now!”, as he shut things down.

We packed up both trucks with all our stuff, said our goodbyes, and at 9:30 AM, Marshall and I hit the road to run the final leg of the trip north to Seattle. After making it one hundred-five miles on a single charge, the run from Pat’s place up to Seattle (approximately 85 miles) looked to be a piece of cake, and I decided to drive the Beastie more aggressively, especially after that healthy charge Pat had given the pack!

I think I kind of surprised Marshall, as when I had made it to the freeway on-ramp, I stepped down on the throttle and was up freeway speed in a hurry. Unlike the previous night, I was already moving along at around 65 mph and staying with the traffic.

About twenty miles up the freeway, the Beastie was taking me past Washington’s state capital city, Olympia. I have traveled this section of road so many times before, and I remembered that while towing the Blue Meanie to Seattle area Soundoffs with my Mazda truck, I had trouble with the tow dolly as it pitched from side to side due to the undulations, poorly-banked curves, and rough road pavement conditions of this particular stretch of I-5. The Beastie wasn’t a lot of fun now, and it was more like riding in a roller coaster, than a well-designed EV. As I have reported before, the airbag suspension Dick had installed in the rear of the Beastie gave the truck very adequate spring stiffness, but the stock Toyota shocks are ill equipped to handle the extra load of 2500 lbs. of batteries. The truck keeps rocking after each undulation of the road, and as you are rocking for and aft and you are entering an incorrectly-banked curve at the same time, the handling is definitely compromised. Add to that mix, the wet road conditions and heavy traffic congestion near Olympia, and it’s easy to see how things got a little hairy! After about four miles of clenched teeth style driving, the road surface straightened out and I-5 was once again, a nice and smooth interstate. Wiping the sweat from my brow, in my mind I was envisioning a quadra-shock affair for the rear suspension and very heavy duty shocks up front…it would certainly help improve the handling quirks of the truck.

The next thirty miles past Olympia were a combination of long flat stretches, as well as quite a few large hills to negotiate. The Beastie was performing well though, and I was having fun realizing that I was so far from Portland, and that I had traveled to this point in an electric vehicle…Wow!

As I approached the Tacoma metro area, I phoned Olof Sundin at his home to let him know that we would be in the Seattle area in about 45 minutes. I barely caught him, as he was going out the door to go Gasworks Park where SEVA was presenting ‘Gasless in Seattle’. Olof was excited to hear that the Beastie had made it up to his neck of the woods. I asked him if someone could meet up with us at EVs North West, so that we could charge the Beastie at the shop for about an hour, while we first brought the garden tractor over to the EVent. The arrangements were made, and I hung up.

A few short minutes later, the traffic started to bunch up, and within another mile or so, we found ourselves stuck right in the middle of a massive traffic jam, to the point where we were completely stopped. I picked up the phone and redialed Olaf to let him know we would be a little late, but there was no answer. Calling EVs NW next, drew only a constant ring with no answer, and there was no way to let them know that we were going to be late.

Sitting in the traffic jam, I noticed that the air in the Tacoma area was pretty polluted on this day, and as I sat there listening to all those ICEVs idling all around me, I felt good knowing that the Beastie was a non-polluting electric, even if it was just one small step towards cleaning up the air. I also wondered how many of the cars and trucks all around us were low on fuel and might even run out of gas as they sat there, going nowhere, with their engines needlessly wasting fuel and spewing pollutants into the air. After about 45 minutes of ‘walking speed movement’, the jam began to clear and things started moving again….we were back on our way to Seattle! Glancing at the Emeter, I could see that the Beastie had used 152 Ahrs up to this point, and with Seattle less than 30 miles away, I felt great about the battery reserves.

The rest of the journey to Seattle went smoothly. As I passed the sign designating Seattle’s city limits, I felt a huge rush of excitement, and I exclaimed out loud (even though I was the only one in the cab) “We did it Dick….we made it from Portland to Seattle in the Beastie!” The Beastie had used exactly 200 Ahrs to get to Seattle from Tenino. A few miles later, I was approaching the turnoff for Michigan Street, the exit for EVs NW! As I headed down the ramp towards EVs NW, I was feeling exuberant.

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2 Responses to 420 Miles in the Red Beastie – pt 2

  1. Hi…Man i just love your blog, keep the cool posts comin..holy Thursday . Kristal Marshall

  2. Mary says:

    I found your blog by accident but am glad I did