People just love Silent E

Thanks to my good friend Clark, today I attended the RubeLab RubeRally alternative fuel vehicle rally. Rather like a scavenger hunt, really. Silent E took second place! Well, the first place car ran on CNG -- a fossil fuel -- so I contend it should've been disqualified, but hey... ;)

I also pushed my car beyond its limits, saw some other neat vehicles, and enjoyed hanging out with my brother. Read on for details and more pictures.

I spent the previous two weeks trying to find and afford a towing hitch for the car. There's no way it can make it all the way to Eustis; it needs to be towed there. My friend Clark showed up with a flatbed trailer and giant pickup truck. Epic save!

Better yet, his truck is very nearly the same brown as Silent E! We look like an actual professional team. (I felt like Lightning McQueen!)

"I own a $100 T-shirt"
HOW to own a $100 T-Shirt

When we arrived, there were several vendors, but only one other competitor, a solar-powered EV. I parked in front of the registration booth next to him.

It turned out that there was a registration fee. That hadn't been mentioned when the RubeLab representative called me on the phone. And I generally don't carry money. Clark decided to pay for both of us to ride.

They eventually moved us both to a part of the park which included some electric plugs. The solar car was placed next to me; I was in the shade, with a plug, and he was in the sun. Everybody was happy.

He said he could go continuously at 45 MPH as long as the sun was shining, and that he kept four batteries around to drive in the rain and/or dark. While I think this is the greenest vehicle available, it doesn't really fit my requirements: it's a two-person inline design, and uncomfortably sparse.

Not that I would mind solar cells on my roof, mind you.


There were several vendors around. I took a walk around to see who else was about.

First, there were cool Vectrix electric scooters. Not my style, but very cool stuff.

Next up, there was a production EV. I don't remember if it was a Smart car or a Kia, though; I just can't remember. Again, an impressive offering, but not the kind of thing that meets my needs.

The Ford Escape hybrid SUV comes a little closer. It definitely had all the bells and whistles! A very comfortable, delightful automobile. Bigger than anything I usually drive, and I'd rather have diesel than gasoline, but...

...check out the charging port! It's surrounded by little blue LEDs. I need one!

RCEV had a Corbin Sparrow there. Still not within my needs, but a neat car. RCEV apparently sells Lithium-Ion batteries, too. Unfortunately, it would still cost more than $8K to replace my battery pack. Worse yet, the URL on their buisiness card doesn't work for me.

There were several environmental groups there. The zoo brought out a gila monster, a crow, and a few other animals. One of the local elementary schools displayed their environmental projects, including their mascot, a sloth made from a stuffed animal with press-on nails. Since I used "slothman" as an online alias for a while, I just had to get a picture. (In fact, Silent E was very nearly the Slothmobile instead!)

This is not the first Prius I've seen with a Li-Ion auxiliary pack. This one belonged to the Green Bank, and bank that has invested heavily in making their own premises more environmentally sound. Maybe they'll give me a loan for those batteries.

However, this was the first six-person golf cart I had ever seen! I particularly like their hood ornament.

Which brings us to the RAV4 on my other side. This is not a commercial RAV4EV, it's a privately converted RAV4. In fact, if I understood the conversation correctly, it was converted Steve Clunn's wife! Steve runs Grassroots EV, a conversion company here in Florida.

While I like the RAV4's styling, and it may be big enough to fit my needs, I was a little less impressed with the battery rack. It was slung under the vehicle, as you can see in this picture. While the lowered center of gravity probably improves handling, I wouldn't be ready to sacrifice that ground clearance. Nor do I like having the batteries out in the open like that.

I really didn't like the unorganized trunk, either. I understand that this stuff is largely experimental; Steve is experimenting with a bunch of different ways to monitor, balance, and charge his batteries. Still, it didn't make a good impression.

The dashboard instrumentation didn't go far to dispelling the "complicated EV" myth, either. I do like the way everything fits into place, though. I like my E-meter's mounting location a lot, but I wish I had the fabrication skills to cover it with a cowl that looks like part of the original dashboard. This embedded E-meter comes pretty close; I like the way it intrudes into the dash area around the rotary switches.

Finally, we lined up for the "race". The idea was to drive a pre-planned course, answering questions about what you saw along the way. The course started in Eustis, stopped in Mt. Dora, stopped again in Tavares, and ended back in Eustis; in the case of a tie, the team to get the most business cards from Mt. Dora and Tavares would win.

Some of the questions required previous knowledge, such as "what type of nest is on the pole outside Washington Street?". I was glad to have Clark along; he knew exactly what was going on.

The road to Mt. Dora was mostly uphill. The solar car had a problem on one uphill run; he took it too slowly, and something burned out. It made a terrible smell.

I offered to let him borrow my tools, but he said it wasn't something he could repair that easily. My brother came to pick him up so he could arrange for towing.

By the time we reached Mt. Dora, I was half discharged. Luckily, I had brought an outlet tester. We walked all over the streets, picking up business cards and checking outlets for power.

The high-amperage plugs around the park were all locked up. Most of the regular outlets were dead, except the ones on the traffic lights; unfortunately, there were no parking spaces near those. We found an outlet on a side street that was closed for a car show, but the cop wouldn't let me in to charge.

Eventually we found an outlet in a roadside flower bed! This is the first time I've ever "war charged" -- charged without getting explicit permission first. I turned the current down to be polite, and left a note in the window explaining how to contact me if there were any problems.

Mt. Dora is a really neat place. The first picture here is a storefront carved to look like a bookshelf; it used to be a bookstore, before they went out of business.

Then we saw a *real* Alternative Fuel Vehicle. I suppose you could say it has an emission problem, but they were sequestering its carbon. (The driver pointed to a "poopcatcher": a bag hanging down behind the horse's tail.)

The poster was in a Hollywood memorabilia store. I don't remember Mary Poppins's skirt flaring out like that.

The last picture is an acrylic stamp. They're flexible! I'm not much for scrapbooking, but I can see how my daughters might love to have stamps like those.

There were a lot of other neat shops too, including a store with an antique camera display. Unfortunately, I ran out of space on the camera and had to delete some of those pictures for other stuff.

When we got back, the car hadn't fully charged. By the time we reached Tavares, I was 3/4 empty. There was no place to charge, though. Worse yet, the boat show Clark had hoped to watch was over.

This splash park opens soon. It was the answer to one of the questions on the scavenger hunt.

We didn't spend much time in Tavares. On the trip back, we took a wrong turn and went two miles out of our way. The car was very unhappy about the extra four miles; by the time I was back in Eustis, I had been abusing my batteries for a while.

About 3 miles out, the wires got hot and started burning the coroplast terminal covers. It's my dirty little secret, and one I hoped would never get out. But the really alarming problem was when one of the batteries vented.

We crept back into our parking space and plugged in. We handed in our answers and business cards. When all was counted, the Compressed Natural Gas car won. I'm not so sure; when I double checked, the judges had marked as incorrect some of the answers that I personally got out of the car to verify. So I think we should have at least tied.

Dinner was provided in the park. By the time we were ready to leave, the car was 3/4 charged. There didn't seem to be a problem with the vented battery. We loaded up and came home.

I'm looking forward to participating next year. I recommend that, in addition to the first place trophy, we provide a prize for the second place car. I propose a new battery pack! :D