What’s red and definitely green all over?  Hint: it is not a christmas tree…Well, read on and you’ll find out.

Today, we are interviewing Ellen Setchko-Palmerlee and her dad, John Palmerlee.  They converted a truck from gasoline power to electric power!  How cool is that?!  Over the course of two years (mostly weekends…), they converted the truck.   If you’re wondering what the truck is, it’s a 1985 Toyota 1/2 ton pickup truck.

The truck has lead-acid batteries that give it 15-18 miles of range.  Don’t mash your face up at these words – it’s only a truck!  Since Ellen and John wanted to have range over utility, they took off the bed.  This saved about 300 pounds from the total weight of the truck.  When you look at a truck, you think “that bed can only weigh about 50 pounds…”  Well, think again.  The bed is one of the most important parts of the truck, as it has to carry a ton (literally) of weight a lot.  The bed John and Ellen made has a plywood battery box that holds 900 pounds of batteries.  Behind it, there is a smallish bed that can hold about 1,000 pounds or a 1/2 cubic yard of manure, gravel, or dirt.  Since the truck is electric, it has a good bit of torque generated from a 75 pound forklift motor that has around 115 horsepower and 230 ft-lb of torque.  So, I’ll stop my blabbing and get the show on the road…  Of course, the truck can’t tow that much, as they might tow the trailer all of ten feet!

The Setchko-Palmerlee family has always had a passion to have an eco-friendly Earth, so the truck is a perfect way to help get there.  Plus, Ellen has home schooled (like me!).  The perfect home schooling project…  Working primarily on weekends, Ellen and John worked tirelessly 8 hours a day every Saturday and Sunday, as a father/daughter project. They started in September 2008, and just finished in June 2010!  When I asked them how much it depleted their wallets, I was surprised.  I was thinking it was somewhere around $20,000, but in reality, it was only about $8,500!  So, in theory, I could convert my Baby to electric power by the time I’m 16 (only if Mom and Dad let me!  Hint!).  Plus, they got free lead-acid batteries donated to them by a fellow member of the North Bay Electric Automobile Association who had just installed new lithium-ion batteries.  Here’s a picture of the 900 pounds of batteries that take only 4-8 hours to charge.

To keep the costs down, Ellen and John tried to use materials from around their house.  The materials that they mainly used were: about a 1/2 mile of wire, a couple hundred pounds of plywood, fiberglass, and found materials from around their house (some old metal mirror trim and some steel from a shed John had to tear down a few years ago.).  They also sold unneeded parts from the truck, such as the bed and the engine.  That helped to defray costs.  When I asked Ellen and John how much they think it will cost to annually maintain, their estimate is around $500.  This will include: new tires, replacement parts, lubrication for the 4-speed manual, and other things.

When asked about how the driving experience has changed, Ellen and John said that the truck used to be kind of loud (it blew a head), but now it’s very, very quiet, and sounds like something out of a science fiction movie.  However, there is some jerkiness in first gear that they are trying to fix.  I also asked how hard it was to convert the truck to electric power.  They said that one of the hardest things to do was figure out where to put everything, and how to put it together.

Here, one can admire the plain n’ simple cockpit of the truck.  If you’re wondering what the heck that little thing hanging off the windshield is, it’s a message center that allows them to see how many amps they are drawing, and other helpful things.  Since there is an audio system (which draws a LOT of power), they try not to use it, as they are afraid of the engine stalling when the batteries die.

I asked Ellen and John if they have plans to convert another car in the future, they said they would like to, but it takes a while, isn’t cheap, and it’s hard to find a good insurance company. When I asked them how somebody would go about converting a car to electricity, they came up with a few steps:

  1. Get a car (they said it’s nice if it’s on the light side).
  2. Clean everything before you start converting.
  3. Find batteries and a motor.
  4. Start attaching everything together however you like (as long as it works…)
  5. Install the charger and random parts.
  6. Make sure everything works well (this can prove fatal if done wrong!)
  7. Enjoy the car!

Now, I will list all the places where you can get money to start working on converting a car to electric power.  runsilentruncheap.org offers a place where you can contact a local shop that does work on electric cars, nbeaa.org is the North Bay branch of the Electric Automobile Association, which has a branch for pretty much every region of the U.S. is a good place to find good sources for getting parts and information (as long as you’re a member), and gemstart.com offers something REALLY cool: you can go on, get a membership, and put on the website how much money you need for the electric car.  People will then bid money until the time frame runs out.  If you don’t get the desired amount of money, then all the money goes back to the bidders.  I REALLY like the awesome logo for NBEAA, so I took a snapshot for you…

Oh, and on the first picture, the brown spot is NOT rust!  It’s a cool sticker that says “electric.”   AND if you tune in on Friday, look for a post on a very expensive car crash in Japan involving a Lamborghini Aventador, some Ferrari’s, two Toyota’s, and a Mercedes-Benz CL600!


5 thoughts on “Ready for An Awesome Interview (I thought so…)?

  1. wow…that was a long post. The reason you don’t have more comments on this one is because everyone is still reading it. Nicely done.


  2. That was really interesting and inspiring! It’s amazing what smart and ambitious people can do. I’d hate to see what we would end up with if we used spare parts from our house and Ron’s work! A laser powered hair straightener with wheels!
    Great job Candler,

  3. I love seeing what creative people can accomplish. Detroit may never really change on its own. True change may come from a grass roots effort, and from people dedicated to improving the environment. Thanks for being such an inspiration Ellen and John. Thanks for spreading the word Candler.

    ps: Cynthia, I want to see that hair straightener come to fruition!!!!

      1. FYI, I made a couple of small errors about the electric truck interview. The EAA sticker is NOT the Electric Automobile Association; it is the Experimental Aircraft Association (hence the wings…). The other correction is jumpstart.com, NOT gemstart.com!

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