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Day 17, Tuesday 18 August 1998

Today, after I got on I-80 in Iowa, was the first time I had driven over a hundred miles in a straight line since I left West Texas! I'm back in the wide-open spaces, heading west toward the Rockies. Unlike the circumstances under which I crossed the desert Southwest, however, this time my throttle can be wide-open too, since along I-80 and I-70 the refueling stations are close enough together that I don't have to drive at two-thirds of traffic speed in order to stretch my fuel supply to the next stop.

Wisconsin Gas station

As I noted yesterday, it was easier for Jim Jankowski of Wisconsin Gas to meet me at the refueling station this morning instead of yesterday afternoon as planned, so I started the day there. I promised to post the above photo in full resolution so he could download it if the Southeast Wisconsin Clean Cities Coalition wants to use it for publicity next month; as I also mentioned yesterday, they are getting ready for a big media push in September. There are some mandates that are scheduled to "bite" next month, which should increase private fleet interest in alternative fuels in the area, and they want to be sure those fleets know where to turn (this is exactly what the Clean Cities idea is all about). They have a pretty good price differential between natural gas and cheap gasoline, ten or twenty cents based on my cursory look, but apparently there has not been a lot of interest among local private fleets in taking advantage of this up to now.

The big users of alternative fuels in the area, besides the gas utility company vehicles, are the United States Postal Service (as also in Dallas/Ft. Worth, and many other cities) and the local phone company, AmeriTech. The fueling station where I tanked up was actually handing out natural gas for free; they put in a new card reader, but the Knight fuelcard company used by both the Postal Service and AmeriTech has been balking at letting their card be used there. You'd think they'd want to get in on the ground floor... Anyway, until that is resolved, Wisconsin Gas is refueling their vehicles without charging for the fuel. Can't beat that with a stick, as I said about a similar situation in Cincinnati!

CNG pickup at Rock Island

I left Milwaukee via I-43 and drove back through northwestern Illinois along I-88 to Rock Island, IL, where I refueled at the MidAmerican Energy Co. station at their fleet garage there. This station has been there a long time; there was one sign on it with "copyright 1982" in the corner! For some years, one of their compressed natural gas vehicles (most recently the one in the photo above) has been the pace and camera vehicle for a local marathon--that way the runners don't have to breathe gasoline exhaust as they pant and puff along behind the camera truck. Makes sense to me...

Besides their own fleet vehicles, some municipal vehicles, and some from the Arsenal, they also are apparently on a major "trade route", refueling Orion CNG buses that are being driven from the factory in New York to buyers out west. (I have got to talk to Orion about their route, and whether they "cheat" with petroleum-powered CNG-tanker trucks or non-public stations--this business of driving cross-country on CNG is starting to look more and more commonplace!). Thanks to Jeannie Herman, who arranged my visit, and Robert Louck, who talked with me about who uses the station as he ran the dispenser (unlike every other place I've stopped, they have a rule that only MidAmerican personnel can run the dispenser; it's kind of like getting full service at the self-service price, except that they gave me the fuel for free!).

Next I headed west on I-80 into Iowa to Des Moines, where I refueled at another MidAmerican Energy site. Thanks to Chris Blair of MidAmerican, who arranged this free fill-up, and to Mark Putz of Penske Des Moines Energy (their vehicle maintenance subcontractor), who was there with the fuel key when I showed up a bit later than expected. This station is mainly used by their fleet vehicles, and some state vehicles, plus they are also on the "trade route" traveled by CNG buses heading west to their buyers.

Sorry about the paucity of photos again; this was a quiet day, consisting mostly of driving. I don't expect any major events tomorrow, either, just eatin' up the miles heading into Denver. I'm typing this in a Des Moines hotel room with a nice view of the state capitol; too bad I don't have a telephoto lens for my digital camera. It's funny whom you meet at a hotel in Des Moines; the Count Basie Orchestra was getting onto a bus to head over to play at the State Fair, and OPEC was meeting in a conference room on the second floor! I kind of doubt that this particular OPEC was the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries; but considering the implications of alternative fuels for their economic power, if it is "that" OPEC I hope they don't sabotage my van during the night!

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new 18 August 1998, revised 19 August 1998