I drove on veggie power!

dashboard

Today I drove on veggie power for the first time!  I’ve been driving on diesel for a couple of reasons:

1) learning curve was slightly curvier than expected and we had to iron out a few kinks in our use of the vegetable oil system (which David could only do on the weekend because he’s still tied to his job, unfortunately).

2) several of my daily errands are so close to the house that I don’t get a chance to switch the engine to vegetable oil.

Number 2 is still true.  When I just go from home to the grocery store, I won’t be using vegetable oil.  Because vegetable oil is thicker than diesel, it needs to be heated to run through the lines (just like when you heat oil in your frying pan it becomes thinner).  So Benny must always be started on diesel, and switched to veggie only once the engine has warmed up.  Then, a few minutes before arrival, we switch back to diesel so that no vegetable oil is left to congeal in the lines for the next time we need to start er up.  A five minute trip just doesn’t allow the time for all that waiting and switching.  On the up side, a five minute trip doesn’t use up a great deal of diesel.

And of course, once we’re on the big adventure, there will be fewer five minute trips and a whole lot more hours and hours of burning vegetable oil.

This weekend David tested the engine to make sure that the veggie oil glitch was truly solved (it was) and filled up the veggie oil tank so this week I am veggie powered and loving it!

veggie oil system
Tweaking the Veggie Oil System

Driving on Veggie Oil

WVO fuel
David pumping waste vegetable oil into the tank.

David and I strongly believe in the importance of taking actions that support our personal survival as individuals, as a  family, as part of our various groups, through the survival of mankind, living things, and the material universe, as well as spiritually, because we are intimately connected with each of these dynamics and our survival is linked to each of them.

So when we first thought of living a traveling life in an RV, we immediately thought of the ecological impact.  Sure, we’d be doing less consuming, adding less to landfills, and at least the meaningless and repetitive drives to and from work and errands would be replaced with more meaningful commutes so that the gas used would at least be better justified.  But for a family that always thought we’d like to discover a lifestyle that was not dependent on cars and gas, it would be awfully nice to find someway to mitigate the crude oil factor of our plan.

Enter vegetable oil, able to fuel a diesel engine in place of gas.  Benny the Brave had a veggie oil conversion performed by his previous family that makes it easy and reliable to run him on used oil from restaurants–recycling an already used up commodity and greatly reducing carbon emissions as well as many other nasty side effects of gas/diesel.

There are other significant perks to running on vegetable oil, most significantly 1) it can be found free around the world and 2) my family will not be smelling and breathing diesel fumes.

Vegetable Oil was an integral part of our plan, and when we saw Benny for sale, we couldn’t resist.  Benny fleshed out our motorhome dream perfectly, and it is a worthwhile bonus to know that he has spent the last year with a family who shares our values and whose lives have been filling up this little motorhome with love and laughter rather than . . . anything else!

In fact, Benny came customized with both “vegpower” and unschooling bumper stickers.  That’s right, the previous family is a family of unschoolers as well!

Learning to Drive the MotorHome

windshield view

The first weekend I spent 20 minutes driving around a parking lot and parking in the spaces.  This weekend I drove us to the library, and later to the health food store and Grammy’s house.  Today I drove the girls to the health food store by myself.  On the way home we stopped at the Salvation Army.

Benny seemed impossibly huge that first day.  When I started on a real street, I could barely watch the road, I was so busy studying my mirrors to make sure I was inside the lines.  Because Benny JUST fits inside the lines!

But it’s not taken long to come a lot easier.  It takes a lot more of my attention, but I can put my singing-to-Annabelle-so-she-won’t-cry on autopilot and still have all my attention on the road.  I was really happy with my self sufficiency, driving the girls around without David to babysit me today.

I’m also becoming comfortable with backing up using only the mirrors (and without turning to look over my shoulder, because it’s pointless).

I wanted to stop by where David’s working today and bring him warm-from-the-oven chocolate cookies but he wasn’t answering his cell and without his confirmation, I was leery of driving down the tiny neighborhood street.  What if parked cars made the street too narrow for me to proceed?  I’d have to back down the whole street, and for that I would need someone guiding me, and what if David wasn’t there because he had made a run to Home Depot?  Nope, couldn’t risk it!

So, I’m still tentative.  But I love driving this thing.  It feels so good!  And people like waving at us.  And we made a friend of the security guard at the Health Food Store because he liked the looks of Benny.  I’ve heard so much about RV people being the friendliest people, but now I’m wondering if RVs don’t just bring out the friendliest in all kinds of people.

Just a Glitch

Saturday we spent the day running errands on diesel fuel, and then we headed out on our first road trip–30 or so miles to my parents’ house in Tampa.  All was well until David switched over to vegetable oil.  The engine died.

Well, seems there was air in the line.  David called Justin (Benny’s previous owner) and got some advice on getting rid of the air without having to stand out in heavy traffic, a police car showed up to sit behind us with lights on and make sure no one ran into us, Annabelle (busy cutting a tooth) became distressed and I went to sit at the dinette and nurse her, and David got the engine started.  We buckled back in and decided to head for home, because the evening was darkening and we no longer felt up to a long two-way dinner trip.

New plan: we would drive over to my parents’ house in the morning to show off Benny, and leave Ada with them for the day.

Morning dawned as early as it does with kids in the house, and David thought he’d drive around for a little why, try switching to veggie oil, and make sure everything seemed fine before he’d get us all in and start across the bay.  I guess it was a good idea because when I called him a few minutes ago he was working on the engine again.  Again it died when he switched to veggie oil.  More air in the lines.  And his pump wasn’t working.  He sounded impatient to get back to work on it so I let him go.

I don’t think we’re making it to Tampa this weekend.

But you know what, somehow none of this is disheartening.  I have a real fondness for Benny and this seems like the inevitable sort of thing we need to go through as new owners/drivers/mechanics as we get to know each other.  Even David told me last night after our breakdown that he still thinks Benny is great and really admires the machinery.  I think with each glitch he learns more and understands more about how it works, and that can only be good.  We’ll see how he feels when he gets home from his current mishap…

And then I have Tara’s account of some of their mishaps and imagining teetering on the edge of the bumper, in the rain, while my bed is getting soaked, just emphasizes how convenient our breakdown was.  We were able to fix it from inside the motorhome (the engine is accessed from between the drivers and passengers seats) where dark, cold, and wet don’t really effect us.  I was able to move about the cabin freely, seeing to my baby’s needs and if either of the girls had needed to get up and move around, they could have gotten out of their seats, used the bathroom, gotten a snack, played on the bed, etc.  What’s more, the size of the motorhome makes it a much safer vehicle to occupy on the side of the road than a family car.  All in all, it turns out I don’t mind breaking down with Benny, and once we’re moved in with all the comforts of home, so much the better!