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Day 6, Friday 7 August 1998

Yesterday evening while I was at home in St. Charles, MO, I visited my mother's gravesite with my dad; she passed away this spring. She was what some people would call "just" a housewife; she last drew a paycheck in about 1962. But as a volunteer (and what a volunteer!), she had a positive impact on more lives than she could have in just about any paid job. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, our church, the League of Women Voters... My dad also did more than his fair share of Boy Scout leadership, but his primary venue for helping others was as a mentor to the younger engineers who worked for him at McDonnell Douglas. Both of them agreed on the importance of using one's gifts and opportunities to make the world a better place, and if some people are surprised that I'm going a bit out of my way to promote alternative fuels, well, the two of them have been my guides and exemplars. Thanks, Dad, and thanks, Mom.

entering Indiana

As I hit the road today, the rain which had been threatening all of yesterday (and feinting with brief sprinkles) was in full swing. I have been trying to photograph the van next to all of the state welcome signs I pass, but I entered Illinois in the rain, in a construction zone with only one lane open in each direction, in the middle of bridge on- and off-ramps, and I figured it was unsafe to stop on the narrow shoulder. So you'll just have to take my word for it that I passed through Illinois on my way to Indiana! I'll be back, at the north end of the state, in about a week. It's a pity; the sign was a nice one: "The People of Illinois Welcome You".

bumper stickers

You may have noticed (if your eyes are very sharp, unlike the tiny JPG's I usually post to save space on my 6MB website!) that the rear of the van looks a little different in the photo at top; I've added a couple of stickers that folks gave me in Missouri. The "ECONOMOLOGICAL" sticker, and the round one on the rear door (I also put one of those on each front door), came from the Bowgen folks, and I also put on the one from the St. Louis Regional Clean Cities Program. Just to do a little braggin' on my home state! Now if only I could have been there for a Cardinals home game, in the hope that Mark McGwire would swat a ball through one of the van's windows out in the parking lot...

Eco-Fuel Center

This is the Eco-Fuel Center in Evansville, IN. It's right on a major expressway through town, and is about the highest-profile (not to mention one of the prettiest) alternative-fuel station I have ever seen! I got a little lost and stopped at a hotel a couple of miles north to ask for directions, and the desk clerk said, "Oh yeah, the natural gas station! I know where that is." So SIGECO and the Evansville Clean Cities Alliance have definitely achieved their intention of raising the profile of alternative fuels locally! There were a reporter and photographer from the Evansville Press there, and while we were talking a couple of vehicles from area businesses came by to refuel, which certainly helped make the point that this is real-world stuff. And the school district has a fleet of almost 200 CNG buses, which has to be one of the biggest in the country; that's comparable in size to the CNG part of the Los Angeles MTA bus fleet. Interestingly, given that we were surrounded by cornfields and I passed a milling plant on the way in, there are no ethanol refueling stations around, because the fuel is still just a bit too expensive. Thanks to Mark Miller of SIGECO, the Coordinator for the Evansville Clean Cities Alliance, for arranging this stop!

entering Kentucky

I stayed a bit longer than I had planned to talk to the Evansville Press folks, so I drove pretty hard to get to Louisville, KY close to on time. The rain was driving pretty hard too, but it was all west of the Kentucky border, as you can see from the photo here. Y'know, the only other long drive I've done (over 500 miles) was when I drove from Missouri to Los Angeles in 1985 to go to grad school, and doing this eastward run, I remember just how vividly I noticed the changing vegetation as I went west on that trip. All those strange spiky yuccas and ironwood--I thought I was driving to Mars! Coming the other way, it feels really strange to be surrounded by all this green. The Red River at the border between Texas and Oklahoma was showing its sandbar ribs from drought, but the Wabash River between Illinois and Indiana was way up its banks, and I understand there are floods to the north. So yes, you can have too much water; but seeing trees growing so thickly that you wonder how birds can fly between the branches, after driving for days across the desert and the high plains, really gives you a feeling for how wonderful it is that precious stuff like water just falls out of the sky!

Louisville Gas & Electric station

I got to the Louisville Gas & Electric refueling station a little later than planned; Vic Peek had stayed after hours to meet me (that's him in the photo)--thanks very much for your trouble! Their station is nicely labeled, not just a dispenser off to the side of a gas station, say, though it's back on a relatively minor street and not as visible as the Eco-Fuel Center in Evansville (of course, no other station I've seen is as visible as that one!). I had planned to stay in Louisville for the night, but the Street Rod Nationals are in town, and three weeks ago there wasn't a room to be had within 150 miles! Lots of interesting old cars on the streets and in the fairgrounds, though, as Mr. Peek noted, "none of them are running on CNG!"

There are a few hot CNG cars out there, though; among street vehicles, the CNG engine in the Honda Civic GX makes more power than all but one of the gasoline versions of the same engine in that model, and on the dragstrip, a racer sponsored by Lone Star Energy of Dallas has been out there since at least 1996, and one sponsored by East Ohio Gas won the Super Comp class at the Fram Nationals in June, 1998. I actually got interested in alternative fuels from the perspective of hotrodding; I still plan to convert my faithful old 1970 Chevy to CNG running a hopped-up mill, if I can ever find the time... I just wish that the folks who saw my van doddering along at 50 mph in the desert to stretch the range, and who doubtless thought, "Look at the poor little toy--can't keep up with traffic in a headwind!" could've seen me trying to keep to my schedule with no fuel-economy and range worries yesterday and today!

It was getting dark as I crossed into Ohio, and on I-75 you go across the bridge right into downtown Cincinnati, so I don't know if there wasn't a sign there or if I just didn't see it. Anyway, I'll be back to Ohio on the westbound leg of this journey, so I'll check that state off my welcome-sign list then. I'm in a hotel room in Dayton now, and the one thing that is really kind of too bad about this trip is that I have no time to make side excursions; I've wanted to go to the Air Force museum in Dayton for years, and to the Confederate Air Force HQ in Midland, TX, and I wouldn't mind checking out the Street Rod Nationals, but no go. Oh well, I guess this is what's meant by a "busman's holiday"!

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new 7 August 1998, revised 8 August 1998