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Day 11, Wednesday 12 August 1998

When I was planning the itinerary for "Clean Across America And Back", there were areas where I needed to refuel where I had one and only one choice of compressed natural gas station in the vicinity; Midland, TX springs to mind, or Springfield, MO. Connecticut was not one of these places! If you look at a map of the designated Clean Cities Coalitions, there are five in this state: Norwalk, Norwich, New London, New Haven, and Waterbury. That's tied with Texas, and second only to California! In such a small area, even with only one or two CNG stations per CCC, the stations are almost as close together as in my own stomping grounds of Southern California. Now that is commitment.

Norwich, CT Mobil station

With several locations to choose from, I ended up making contact with Carol Butler of the Norwich Clean Cities Coalition, and she put me in touch with Chris LaRose of the Norwich Department of Public Utilities (that's him in the photo). I stopped at their public CNG dispenser at a Mobil station; that's a nice crest they have on the pump, isn't it? Reporters and photographers from The Day of New London and from the Norwich Bulletin were on hand. The station accepts cash for CNG and they are working on getting credit and debit card capability, though they filled me up for free. Thanks!

Users of the station include utility trucks, of course, and various city vehicles including a school bus; apparently the fire chief is sold on the safety of CNG vehicles and is encouraging their use as well, which gives a certain amount of extra credibility to the assertions of safety we've made. And two area casinos are in the process of adding CNG vehicles to their fleets and building refueling stations, so now area commercial fleets will have a choice of stations, which should encourage them to adopt CNG vehicles as well (some were reluctant to commit to natural gas if they had only one fueling station in the area--what if it breaks down?). This station dates back only to April 1998; the Department of Public Utilities went from two CNG vehicles in December 1997 to fifteen at present. If that's typical of the rates of growth of the other four Clean Cities Coalitions, then Connecticut will soon be as easy to travel using natural gas as West Virginia and California.

Eisenhower Interstate System sign

I tried some more "Blue Highways" today, and while the scenery is nice, I don't think I'm cut out to travel off the interstates. Because I was trying to sort out the spaghetti of state highways running through the center of a small town, not to mention trying to read the smallest traffic lights I've ever seen, well, I nearly turned left in front of a bunch of oncoming traffic today! I think I'll stick to divided highways from now on--at least all of the cars are going in the same direction there. While I'm on the subject, there is something I wanted to mention a few days ago; out west, I had never seen the sign in the photo above, but there are a lot of them along the highways from the Midwest eastward. Especially in the deserts and on the high plains, you really appreciate the ease of travel over the interstate system in contrast with the way that people had to go across those large distances until just a few decades ago. I never really had a feel for how vast an undertaking it must have been to build this nation-spanning system of roads until I undertook this journey; I for one am grateful for the forethought displayed by President Eisenhower and his contemporaries who began the whole collossal enterprise.

entering Rhode Island

The annual meeting of the national Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition will be in Providence, RI in September 1998; I had hoped to time "Clean Across America And Back" so that I'd arrive there at that time, but it turned out that travel for my "day job" prevented this. Providence will be designated a Clean City at that meeting (and Carol Butler, the Coordinator in Norwich, will be taking over as Coordinator there too), so they felt it was premature to do any publicity in connection with my visit. So I bypassed the city, and went on toward Boston.

entering Massachusetts

I will be staying with my sister and her husband and my little little niece (I saw my big little niece the first night of this trip) tonight and tomorrow night; tomorrow during the day I will be driving up to Portland, ME and back, marking the midpoint of "Clean Across America And Back" as I visit the northeasternmost Clean City. Since they don't have a fast-fill refueling station there (yet), I'm using the Boston area as a base for this "spur" trip. I pulled in to Waltham, MA this afternoon (an hour early, for a change) to refuel at a Shell station; they accept cash, but Mike Manning of Boston Gas (in the photo below) was there to give me a complimentary refueling, and a fistful of Boston Gas keyrings I'll give to folks along the route back west. Thanks! I may be going back there to talk to the media tomorrow morning if he can drum up some interest; I'll definitely go back Friday morning to refuel before heading back west.

Waltham, MA Shell station

Note the vehicle in the foreground of the photo; it's a 1994 Dodge CNG minivan. As my 1993 full-size Dodge van was the first vehicle certified to California's strict Low Emission Vehicle standards, this minivan was the first one certified to the even stricter Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle standards. I actually had a 1995 version of this vehicle on order for months in 1994 and 1995 after my 1992 Chevy pickup was recalled; Dodge experienced delays getting tanks and parts, which is a large part of why they dropped out of the CNG vehicle market for 1997 and 1998 (but they're back, and better than ever, for 1999!), and I ended up deciding to buy my slightly-used 1993 van in lieu of waiting longer for a new minivan. I just wish that they had designed that nice CNG logo in time to put it on my van when they built her in 1992...

CNG logo

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new 12 August 1998, revised 13 August 1998