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Day 15, Sunday 16 August 1998

I was not scheduled to meet anybody today, just to refuel at a couple of compressed natural gas dispensers located at commercial gasoline stations, so I had some time to play tourist in Michigan today. First, though, I had to make sure I had enough fuel to get to Chicago tomorrow!

Albion, MI

I had kind of hoped to do some kind of a stop in Detroit, where my van came from, but no go, so I just refueled at a Speedway station in the suburb of Plymouth, and headed west along I-94. I had planned to refuel at a Mobil station in Albion; however, we couldn't get the dispenser to work! The word I got was that it had been hit by lightning (!) and had been acting flaky since--I can't blame it. Anyway, one good sign of a regional committment to alternative fuels is when you can go to a backup refueling location without running out of fuel; Energas of Midland, TX and Bowgen of Springfield, MO are flying solo, without a lot of support from their surrounding areas, for example. But as it was, before I had been told about the Albion location, I had been planning to stop at Battle Creek, about twenty miles down the road, so I knew of a refueling station there.

I stopped at the gas company service center there, expecting to find somebody to help me key into the system; they had a nice public station on an island like the one in Albion pictured above, but there wasn't a soul around. Not surprising for a Sunday, but a couple of sources of information had indicated to me there would be somebody there. Oh, well. After another phone call I drove around back to the employee fueling station (which had been installed by Bowgen, by the way! I said I expected to encounter their work a lot on this trip...) and just hooked up and took an unmetered fill-up. Thanks to Colleen Starring of SEMCO Energy for pointing me to these stations in the first place, and to Jennifer James of SEMCO (no relation to Jennifer James, the Coordinator of the Central Oklahoma Clean Cities Coalition) who helped me sort out what to do in this situation.

Gilmore museum

I actually got a pretty honkin' good fill-up at Battle Creek, so I felt at liberty to go fifteen miles off of I-94 to visit the Gilmore/Classic Car Club of America Museum near Kalamazoo (as the brochure I picked up at the welcome center on I-75 into the state put it, "Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo!"). This is an automobile museum I had heard of for years, and though the glitch in refueling left me only about an hour and a quarter to look it over, it was worth it! The collection is housed on a 90-acre farmstead in several beautiful restored barns like the one in the photo above.

1982 Checker cab (side view)1982 Checker cab (front view)

Checker Motors, makers of the famed Checker Cabs, was and is based in Kalamazoo (as were some lesser-known automakers like the Handley-Knight Company, whose premises Checker took over in 1921, the Barley Motor Car Company, and the Michigan Automobile Company). They stopped making cabs in 1982, but are still in business as a components subcontractor to other automakers. There is a 1982 Checker cab, one of the last ones built, in the Gilmore Museum; just looking at her, it's hard to tell she isn't a 1958 model! Checkers are about my third favorite kind of car, after the GM EV1 electric car and the AMC/Nash Metropolitan (the Gilmore Museum also has a Met, parked next to an Amphicar and a Tucker Torpedo; no EV1's--yet). Ever notice how, whenever somebody catches a cab in a movie, it's a Checker, even though there haven't been any made in over fifteen years and there are only about four still doing duty in New York City?

The reason I show the Checker cab here (apart from its cool fiftiesmobile styling!) is that, toward the end of their production run, they were optionally outfitted with propane (LPG) fuel systems. I don't know if these were factory-sanctioned conversions or what, but they foreshadowed the popularity of Ford CNG Crown Victorias as taxis and Dodge and Ford CNG vans as airport shuttles. There were several alternative-fueled vehicles in the collection there, including two Stanley Steamers, a 1995 solar-powered race car, and a few battery-electric cars.

1914 Rauch & Lang Electric Car

This is a 1914 Rauch & Lang C-35 Electric sedan. On the label near it is what appears to be a quote from the original advertising copy: "Whatever your ideas today, you are certain to come to the conclusion, sooner or later, that an enclosed automobile like the Rauch & Lang Electric combines all the desirable features and eliminates all the well-known annoyances and much of the expense incident to gasoline cars." Of course, one of the "annoyances" they were talking about in 1914 was hand-crank starting that could kick back and break your arm, but still, the argument sounds familiar, no?

The collection also includes a 1927 Ford sedan that was converted to electric power during World War II by Donald Gilmore of Kalamazoo, whose collection gave the museum its start; he did the conversion because of gasoline shortages during the war. Again, this kind of sounds familiar... The back seat was replaced by battery racks in this car, which I have seen in a few primitive modern conversions, but most conversion companies today sling the batteries from the chassis or keep them out of the way in some other fashion. And of course a vehicle designed from the ground up as an electric car can integrate the battery pack into its structure, like the EV1.

Well, this was a satisfying day, even if I didn't have a chance to give any Clean Cities some publicity! I hope that tomorrow in Milwaukee I will have a chance to go visit the Harley-Davidson factory, but I won't be posting any pictures here because you can't take a camera on factory tours...

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new 16 August 1998, revised 17 August 1998