July 13 – Part 3 – End of a Long Day

Although our driving distance and charging time was not very much today, it was an exciting and exhausting day.  We decided to stay at the historic Dearborn Inn, a hotel built by Henry Ford for visitors. The Inn is lovely with lots of automobile pictures, of course.  Our stay coincided with a large car festival being held in the area, and several luxurious Dusenbergs, Pierce Arrows, Packards and multitudes of other cars were parked around the hotel.We met a former graduate student of mine, Mark, and his son Eli, for dinner. Mark is the person who helped us on the engineering side of things to make contacts for our visit.  He’s been with Ford for 20 years…..it seems like yesterday we were working on his master’s research project.I didn’t explain how Bill Chapin learned about our trip, which is one of those coincidences that makes you wonder about how the world operates. When I contacted Mark a couple months ago to tell him about my idea for this trip, he contacted Bill Ford’s office with the information instead of calling up the local insane asylum. A senior adviser to Bill Ford received Mark’s note, and as it turns out, he is also a grandson of Roy Chapin, and a first cousin of Bill Chapin.  He passed the information on to Bill.

Our day ended with dinner with Mark and Eli.  Unfortunately, the Dearborn Inn did not have any outdoor receptacles as I scoured the grounds, which meant we would start the next day charging at a nearby Meijer grocery store that has an EV charge station.

July 13 – Part 2 – The Homecoming

We headed to the Ford MAP (Michigan Assembly Plant), which would mark the completion of our re-creation of Roy Chapin’s journey. The toils and tribulations of our trip were nothing compared to Roy’s. We had a gps that marked any and everything coming up. Our anxiety over charging stations only meant that if a “fast” charger was not available, we would need to “slow” charge for a few more hours at someone’s wall receptacle.  Roy was continually repairing tires, hand pumping them up every few miles (for four tires, that amounted to about 2000 tires he had to pump), and repairing his transmission  and suspension.  There were no road maps as there were no roads outside of the towns.  When he arrived in a nick of time at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for the New York Auto Show, he wasn’t allowed in due to his mud-covered state.

So, as we worried that we might runout of energy on our way to the MAP, we also realized that we would be able to text our contacts if any problems were to occur.

Our energy gauge showed that we had no extra miles for reaching the plant.  We turned off the air conditioning which gave us a 6 mile margin for reaching our destination.  Construction delayed us for a half hour, but we finally made it, driving pass the immense 500kilowatt solar panel field Ford built at the plant’s entrance.

A number of surprises met us when we pulled up. First, our reception committee applauded us as we emerged from the car.  Ford MAP’s senior supervision greeted us. A television camera from Detroit’s WXYZ station (channel 7) started filming, and then……our biggest surprise….. we were introduced to Bill Chapin, President of the Automotive Hall of Fame and a grandson of Roy Chapin!

Bill and I spoke on camera as he interviewed me and asked about our trip.  I told him that my grandfather worked for his grandfather at Hudson, and that we were really pleased to re-create his grandfather’s journey.  Our journey now, as his was then, has been meant to be a demonstration of what is possible and necessary for the future of our country.

We thanked our Ford hosts for building a wonderful car, and I asked if I could get a commission for each one that I help sell. Ford gave us an excellent tour of their modern, clean, solar powered factory.  The Michigan Assembly Plant is an amazing factory for many reasons. Its production lines are flexible, allowing various car models (conventional gas, hybrid and electric) to be built on the same production line. This allows the plant to shift production as the market dictates to emphasize whichever model is in most demand without re-tooling.  We only caused three line shutdowns (just kidding…..anyone familiar with production lines knows this is a big,big no no). MAP is a clean, neat factory, as it needs to be. The mood was nice with a number of people saying hi while working hard at their stations.  The plant was humming with hustle and bustle, as it will for many years to come.

We were brought to the area where finished cars are ready to exit the plant, and The Sun Catcher was sitting there at a charging station. It looked cool seeing our car in the place of its origin. We couldn’t take pictures in the plant, but I thought I detected a look of satisfaction on our car, knowing it had done something very special.

We want to thank Colleen and Amanda for their efforts in coordinating all of these activities. Also, we want to thank the Ford personnel who greeted us and took us on the plant tour.  We appreciate your taking time out of your busy day!


July 13 – Part 1- Beautiful EV Charge Setting & Hostility

We left the Port Huron Comfort Inn and headed for St Clair Michigan, about 15 miles south of Port Huron on the St Clair River. Our goal today is Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant where The Sun Catcher was made, and for us, the completion of our re-creation of Roy Chapin’s journey.

Port Huron to Wayne Michigan where the factory is located, is a bit of a stretch on a single charge. As we loaded up the car, we also found out that the car did not get fully charged overnight.  It turns out that the parking lot electrical receptacle is only on when the parking lot lights are on.

We have now traveled over 1100 miles in The Sun Catcher.  The car’s information system is telling us we have achieved “Zen” driving status (the other end of the driver rating spectrum is “Zippy”).  We are using about 200 W-h (Watt-hours) per mile.  1000W-h (or 1 kWh…kiloWatt-hour) of energy costs about 12.5 cents with our solar energy system in Illinois that has already fed energy into the electric grid for our trip.  This is an energy cost of $28 for 1100 miles of travel, but remember, we have been mooching extensively along the way from Deb’s relatives on Long Island to several others who have allowed us to charge for free.  Before long, the novelty of EVing will wear off, and with it the gravy train of free charges.  But that’s ok, as 1100 miles of driving in a fossil fueled vehicle would be in the range of $80 to $160 (based on 25 to 50 miles per gallon with gas costing $3.50 per gallon).

St Clair has a few chargers around town as shown on the Plugshare map.  As we arrived, we pulled into a small city parking lot adjacent to a marina on an inlet connected to the St Clair River. This has to be on of the most beautiful charging sites anywhere.  I called Chargepoint, spoke with Steven (we are now on a first name basis), and got the charge started.

An older fella about my age, dressed in a Burger King uniform, walked by the car as I was setting up the charge.  He made a remark to the effect that electric vehicles were stupid, to which I replied quite strongly that I am finished sending money overseas for oil to people who hate us and use our money to kill us.  I also told him I would pay a lot more for any car that saves the life of one of our service personnel.  I think he was expecting a somewhat wimpier, green, liberal, vegan type of response, so he was somewhat taken aback.  Deb was busy texting Dana that Dad and The Sun Catcher might be on the receiving end of a few punches.  In a sudden turn of events, the man thought about my response, and apparently had a soft spot for our vets, too, and he told me he had been a longtime employee of Chrysler.  We talked cars for a while. His favorite was a 1957 Plymouth, which was a sharp car, and I told him about my 1962 Imperials.  We parted amicably with Deb in disbelief at the turnabout in conversation and mood. I understood his anger, as is the mood with so many.  Our elderly are fearful about the cost to maintain their health and angry that their longsought retirements are turning into shifts at Burger King, while our youth are rightfully worried about their future with a rapidly increasing debt, decreasing resources, and increasing wastes.

We’ll leave the heavy stuff behind for the time being, as Deb and I went to a nice riverside restaurant for lunch while charging.  For those of you who have not seen one of the rivers draining the Great Lakes like the St Clair River, the Detroit River, or the Niagara River, these are beautiful, blue, roiling rivers of immense size.  Our restaurant overlooked the river with large ships moving up and down.We received a call from media folks at Ford who were arranging a welcoming for us at the plant. We told them we would arrive at two, however, the lower than expected overnight charge at the motel put us in a pinch for fully charging in St Clair so that we could comfortably arrive on time at the plant.  Deb and I finished lunch, walked past the Burger King to the car lot without further incident, and disconnected The Sun Catcher with enough charge to make it to the plant…….or so we hoped!