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Batteries shown in bed of 'light (green) truck.'

Over the course of a couple of summers, Jim Martin drove his truck about 4,000 miles — without a single drop of gas. Then he decided he’d like to see it go even more green.

Now, Martin’s self-engineered, all-electric truck (once a standard-issue 1997 Ford Ranger) is bringing new meaning to the term “light pickup.”

Meadville-area resident Martin and his grandson, James Coddington, completed their project to convert the truck from gas to electric power in early 2009, when at-the-pump prices were hovering around $4 per gallon. The makings of that conversion were “so simple,” said the retired mechanical engineer: An electric motor, 20 six-volt batteries, some adapters, wiring and a battery charger replaced the standard workings, and the truck was on the go.

Still, “even the electricity we were buying was not 100 percent green,” Martin said, because electric companies “are still using fossil fuels to generate (that) power. ... I wanted to be able to say I’m driving without the use of fossil fuels” entirely.

With that goal, said Martin, came the next bright idea: “Let’s try some solar.”

So, at a top-to-bottom cost of around $3,500, Martin installed a four-frame grid of solar panels outside his rural hillside home in October 2010. Since then, he said, the panels have been supplying all the energy needed to power the truck — and then some.

Because he mainly uses the pickup only during the summer months for routine trips to and from the city while the panels continue collecting energy year-round, “I haven’t used all the electricity that’s been made,” Martin said. When the truck isn’t using energy on the road or being charged after it’s parked, “I’m (basically) using the grid as a storage device to store the energy” that’s in surplus.

Over the course of a year, Martin said, the grid produces an average of what would be about one month’s supply of electricity for his entire home. From a cost-savings perspective, “that’s not a lot of money.

“But I didn’t do this for money,” he added.

When it comes down to it, Martin said, “I’d like to not send any more money to the Middle East (oil industry) than I need to.” But beyond that, “I think everyone would agree we need to get off” the wide reliance on fossil fuels to provide for energy needs.

“More of us need to be doing things to save (those non-renewable resources) if we expect our children and grandchildren to have any kind of good standard of living,” said Martin, adding the solar-powered truck is one way of “doing what I can to save” what’s left for future generations.

The total cost for the truck’s gas-to-electric conversion, along with a new paint job and other detailing, was about $7,000, according to Martin. The truck can easily achieve a speed of 55 miles per hour, he said, running quiet and smooth at an estimated cost of about $1 for every 30 miles.

Not long after the truck first hit the road, Martin and Coddington — a Saegertown High School graduate who’s now studying engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology — were quick to point out the conversion project was not exactly rocket science. From its 20-horsepower DC motor to its simple lead-acid batteries, “it’s all been done with very low-tech stuff,” Martin said in 2009, adding, however, that a similar project could be done with more high-tech, high-power materials to create a converted vehicle that packs quite a bit more punch.

When it comes to steering closer to sustainability through solar and other renewable energies, “people (seem to) think, ‘It’s nothing I can do,’ ” said Martin. But in his experience, he added, “it’s quite surprising what you can” do.

And since the truck’s conversion, “I haven’t had to do anything to it — not even tighten a bolt,” he said. “This is a great truck.”

Ryan Smith can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at rsmith@meadvilletribune.com.

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