My EV Trip to Amherst
June 18-20, 1999
by Tom Hudson

Each year, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) holds a renewable energy fair in Amherst, Wisconsin. Elizabeth and I went together in 1998 (we drove our van) and were disappointed that the electric vehicles there were sadly understaffed -- People were walking by and looking at them, but there was nobody there to answer questions. We decided that 1999 would be different. We'd drive our EV to the fair and put it on display.

Hurdles to Jump

The first hurdle was the distance involved -- Amherst is at best around 135 miles from where we live, in Port Washington. Our car has a general range of 45-50 miles, so we'd have to stop at least two times to recharge. This isn't that big a deal, but we'd need to find someone willing to let us plug into a 240-volt outlet and sit around for a few hours while we recharge! The plan went into a holding pattern while I thought about where we could recharge.

The plan got a big boost after Kris Trexler's "Charge Across America" EV trip. Kris drove his GM EV-1 from Los Angeles to Michigan. The EV-1 has a range of around 80 miles, and Kris's solution for charging was to stop at locations pre-arranged with electric utilities or RV parks. When I read an article on how Kris pulled off his trip, I immediately went to AAA and requested a copy of their RV Park book for Wisconsin. I also went to the World Wide Web and did a search for RV parks and campgrounds, and found a ton of information.

Other tools I used in this planning process were Delorme's Street Atlas USA and Topo USA software. Street Atlas USA is a CD which contains a database of every road in America. You can have it compute the shortest, most scenic, fastest or any type of custom routing you desire. I, for example, set it to avoid interstate highways and favor smaller roads in my EV travel. Topo USA is a companion set of four CDs which contain topographic information for the whole country, broken into four geographic areas. It lets you take the routes computed by Street Atlas and plot out the topography on your computer screen. I wanted to be sure I knew if a particular leg of the trip would be mostly uphill, which would use more battery charge.

Location, Location, Location!

Well, the idea seemed sound enough -- Find a few RV parks spaced roughly 40 miles apart and get driving, right? Well, it's not that simple. As it turns out, RV parks aren't always right where you might want them. In fact, my first approach at a trip to Amherst was to go west around the south side of Lake Winnebago, up through Oshkosh and on west to Amherst. This gave a total trip length of 148 miles, broken into legs of 33, 47, 42 and 26 miles. What worried me was that 47 mile leg -- I'd have to drive with incredible efficiency over unknown terrain and without any wrong turns to make it -- And there weren't any other RV parks in there where I could make an intermediate stop! I was trying to route my trip over county highways, but parts of that long leg were on US 41, and with my maximum efficiency at around 45 MPH I wasn't going to be very popular with other drivers. This was later summer 1998, and there was a lot of time left to figure out my trip, so I let it sit on the back burner a while...

In the Spring of 1999, I started looking at the plans again. There just weren't any RV park options that I could find on the west side of Lake Winnebago. I pulled out my RV park information and started looking at the east side. Sure enough, there was a convenient RV park in Elkhart Lake as a first leg, only 34 miles from home. And there was one about 33 miles from Amherst. But nothing at the midpoint of the trip! I sat staring at the map and saw the answer -- Kaukauna, Wisconsin!

In late fall 1998, Jeff Simpson, Solectria's representative for Wisconsin, called to tell me he would be in the area soon -- He was going to Kaukauna, Wisconsin, a small city on the north side of Lake Winnebago, to train employees of Kaukauna Electric on the use of their new Solectria Force EV. As I looked at the trip route, I realized that Kaukauna was almost at the exact midpoint of the trip, and if I could convince someone at Kaukauna Electric to let me plug in at one of their facilities, I could make it. That someone turned out to be Jim Brown, who was Jeff Simpson's contact at Kaukauna. He agreed to let me plug in at their hydroelectric plant. It was just a bit out of the way, but I figured I could pull it off with one additional stop, at a small RV park in Reedsville, Wisconsin. The extra stop would add a few miles to the trip, but the leg between Elkhart Lake and Kaukauna was 44 miles, and I didn't know how the car would handle the hills in between.

As a final helper for my trip, I arranged to stay at the Green Fountain Inn bed & breakfast in Waupaca, Wisconsin, which is just 12 miles from Amherst. This would allow me to give the car a breather overnight before heading into Amherst, as well as before leaving for home. The B&B owner seemed thrilled to have an EV there and volunteered to let me plug in.

Not Created Equal...

I had a plan, but it was all theoretical at this point. I had to convince the RV park owners to let me stop and charge my car for a few hours, and move on. I wanted to be able to tell them roughly when I'd arrive, how much electricity I'd use, how long I'd take and when I'd leave. I'd never done this before, so I sat down and figured out a rough estimate of how much charge I'd use on each leg, and how long it would take to recharge from that usage. I was very conservative, estimating 1.2 amp-hours per mile for driving, and around 4.5 minutes per amp-hour spent charging. I found the park managers' names from a Wisconsin RV Park website, and started calling...

My first call was to Elkhart Lake's Plymouth Rock RV Park, which looked pretty big from the website description. I spoke to the manager and explained that I was driving my electric car and wanted to know if I could stop there for a few hours and charge up. I explained that I needed 240V, and would only use less than 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity. I told him I'd be willing to pay whatever he felt was fair.

To my surprise, he agreed to let me charge. He said they had 240-volt hookups and he'd charge something like $5. I told him when I'd be by on both ends of the trip, and we made the reservations. I hung up the phone and shouted "Yeah!!"

The manager of Fremont, Wisconsin's Blue Top RV park also agreed to let me charge -- Also saying $5 would be sufficient payment. I was two-thirds of the way there.

The manager of the final RV park, Reedsville's Rainbow's End Campground, seemed surprised that any RV park would have 240-volt hookups. All he had were 30-amp 110's. This wasn't going to cut it. He thought about it a minute and said, "Well, I have a 240-volt outlet in the garage I use for welding that you could use". That was perfect. But it got me worried about the other RV parks' hookups.

I phoned the other two parks again and verified that they had 240-volt hookups. One told me that some of the smaller parks might only have the 120-volt hookups. I asked Kris Trexler about this, and he also said that the RV parks he visited had 240-volt outlets. Kris filled me in on the kinds of plugs I'd need, and I built up adapters for every 220-volt plug I could find. I was all set to go.

Port Washington to Elkhart Lake

I headed out the morning of June 18, and cruised out of Port Washington with a full charge. Climbing out of the Lake Michigan basin took some extra power, but I had expected that, and budgeted 1.2 amp-hours per mile of travel. I started out somewhere around that rate, but as I reached normal terrain, I got more than one mile per amp-hour. By the time I reached the Plymouth Rock Campground, I had recovered almost all the deficit. The real thrill of this leg of the trip came when my odometer read 26 miles -- I was technically past the "point of no return", and headed off to new territory. The little blue EV had never been this far from home before. I finished this leg of the trip using just 1.04 amp-hours per mile.

Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
33.2 34.6 1.04

Pulling into the Plymouth Rock Campground, I stopped at the office and went in. They knew I was coming -- There was a note pinned to the bulletin board telling where I should plug in and how much to charge. I paid my five dollars and one of the crew directed me to the garage, where a 30-amp, 240-volt "crow's foot" receptacle waited. I plugged in using my new adapter and the charger came to life, the amp-hour meter counting backwards.

While I charged, I talked to a couple of the guys on the Plymouth Rock crew, popped the hood and showed them the car. They were a great bunch of guys, very interested in how far the car could go, how long it took to charge, and so on. I also took notes on how long the charging was taking. After my experience driving an EV-1 from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, and watching charging times skyrocket, I wanted to know just how bad the charging slowed down in my car as the trip went on. My notes from the first charging stop are shown below.

Time Amp-Hours Mins/Ah
9:05 34.6 ---
9:20 30.76 3.9
9:35 28.17 5.8*
9:54 23.61 4.2
10:05 21.07 4.3
10:20 17.31 4.0
10:35 13.29 3.7
10:50 9.28 3.7
11:05 6.09 4.7
11:20 3.86 6.7
11:30 3.0 11.6

* Moved car, had to unplug for a couple of minutes

As the charge nears completion, the time per amp-hour gets longer as the charger tapers the power toward the final "trickle" charge. I waited until the amp-hour meter read 3.0 (94% full) at approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes and decided to move on. I unplugged and headed out to my next destination, 22 miles away.

Leg 2
Elkhart Lake to Reedsville

The second leg of the trip was a shorter (29 mile) run to Reedsville, WI and the Rainbow's End campground. This trip was a mix of rolling hills and lowlands, passing through some beautiful marsh land along county highway W between US 151 and US 10 south of Reedsville. Even with a lot of hills, this leg of the trip was completed using only 0.87 amp-hours per mile, definitely a record efficiency for me at highway speeds.

Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
29.2 25.35 0.87

The Rainbow's End campground is a very small operation, and the hookups were 120V only. Norman, the campground manager, took me around to the east side of the office building, where he opened the garage and showed me the 30-amp 240-volt (crow's foot) outlet. I plugged in and started charging.


Time Amp-Hours Mins/Ah
12:30 28.35 ---
12:45 24.4 3.8
1:00 21.33 4.9
1:15 17.71 4.1
1:30 14.2 4.3
1:45 10.7 4.3

This charge was only 1 hour 15 minutes, and I was ready to move on -- I stopped charging at 10 amp-hours (80% full) because the next leg was only 22 miles and had a lot of downhill in it. I thanked Norman and pulled out at 1:45.

Leg 3
Reedsville to Kaukauna

This leg was the shortest of the trip so far, and I knew it'd be a simple one. It was a 45 minute drive with 13 miles on US 10 and the remainder on county highways. I cruised into Kaukauna at 2:30 and pulled into the Kaukauna Electric parking lot. I went into the offices and the women in the office pointed out that they thought my blue EV was superior to their white one! They directed me to the company garage -- as I pulled in, one of the linemen standing outside asked if my EV only charged on fossil fuel (Kaukauna is a hydroelectric generating facility). I pointed out that it preferred solar, but it'd settle for hydro! I pulled into the spot reserved for the Kaukauna Force (which was already at the Amherst fair), removed the crow's foot adapter and plugged in with my normal plug.

Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
22.5 20.77 0.92

As the charge started, I walked back to the garage entrance and started talking to one of the linemen, who pointed to a large blue water tower a couple of blocks away and told me it was going to be "dropped" in about a half hour. It was obsolete and was going to be scrapped; I got there just in time to watch it. I missed some of the charging data but got some great photos of the tower going down:





Time Amp-Hours Mins/Ah
2:30 30.5 ---
3:30 16.55 4.3
3:45 13.02 4.2
4:00 9.8 4.7
4:15 7.37 6.2
4:30 5.52 8.1
4:45 4.1 10.6

This charge was a relatively long one -- The longest leg of the trip (33+ miles) was coming up and I wanted to have a "full tank" before heading out. I let the car charge for 2 hours and 15 minutes, bringing the car to 92% full.

Leg 4
Kaukauna to Fremont

It was a good thing I had charged up in Kaukauna, because I decided to "wing it" after talking to one of the Kaukauna linemen, who told me that one of the roads I was taking had been extended recently and was a good way to bypass the new mall on the west side of Appleton. I followed my nose and wound up going a couple of miles the wrong way before turning around! It wasn't too bad, though, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. This leg had mixed 55 MPH highway (US 10) with 35 MPH speed limits in several small towns, which made for some great energy-saving coasting. With the wrong turns, this leg turned out to be the longest of the trip at 37 miles.

Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
37 36.7 0.99

Arriving in Fremont, I missed the turn for the campground and had to turn around in the Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park driveway (this is another option for future EV trips), then returned to the Blue Top campground, where owner/manager Ron directed me to one of the pull-through sites. I flipped open the electrical hookup and my heart sank -- It was a 30-amp 120-volt outlet, which would charge me less than half as fast as a 240-volt receptacle, and I didn't even have a plug adapter for it! I grabbed my voltmeter to be sure -- it was definitely 120 volt.

I climbed back in the car and drove back to the office, where Ron was waiting. I told him about the problem, and he was surprised -- he thought the big receptacle was 240-volt. I looked around for another option, thinking I'd have to drive over to Jellystone Park -- I asked if the dryer in their laundry building was electric or gas -- It was electric! I pulled up to the building, ran in and plugged in the 30-amp "crow's foot" plug, and the charger started humming away. Whew! Luckily, nobody was running a load of laundry!

Time Amp-Hours Mins/Ah
6:10 40.8 ---
6:40 33.88 4.3
7:10 27.73 4.9
7:40 18.5 5.0

Knowing I only had to go 17 miles on the next leg into the bed & breakfast, I charged for an hour and 50 minutes, then headed out so I'd get to the B&B before dark While charging, I grabbed a barbecued pork sandwich at a great little BBQ restaurant across the road from the RV park -- If you're ever in the area, check it out.

Leg 5
Fremont to Waupaca

This wound up being a tough leg, because I wanted to travel at 45-50 MPH but because the road was under construction and was almost entirely a no-passing zone, I had to drive faster to avoid being an impediment to other drivers. As a result, I used just over 1 amp-hour per mile.

Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
17.2 17.8 1.03

I made it into Waupaca and made a mental note of where the bed & breakfast street was, then cruised around town looking for a place to get a bite to eat. I found a Hardees and grabbed a burger and fries, then headed over to the B&B. Pulling into the Victorian house's parking lot, I immediately spotted a couple of outdoor electrical outlets. The receptionist knew I would be looking for a place to plug in, so she directed me to a one -- I plugged in and the outlet was dead! I was a bit worried, because I hadn't charged up all the way at the Blue Top RV park and was counting on getting an overnight charge. We tried another outlet on the main house -- Also dead. Finally, we found an outlet on the smaller cottage building and it was active -- I was charging at the slower 120 volt rate. I went in and crashed -- It had been 13 hours since I left Port Washington.

Leg 6
Waupaca to Amherst

The next morning, I went down to check on the progress of the car's charging -- It had stopped, but wasn't full. The charger has a timeout feature as a failsafe for charging too long and charging at 120 volts exceeded the time allowed. I unplugged and plugged back in at 6:30, and by 8:15 it was charged to 97% -- Good enough! I headed out to Amherst, 15 miles away.

Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
15.6 16.5 1.05

The Amherst fair was a great experience. I had printed 100 copies of two flyers -- One on our car, the other on our photovoltaic system. Solectria representative Jeff Simpson brought by a big stack of his Solectria literature. All were gone in a few hours! I spoke to literally hundreds of people about the car, explaining how it worked for us. My voice was pretty much shot by the end of the day!

Visitors check out our trunk literature!

More visitors looking under the hood...

Click here for more Amherst photos!

Also present at the fair was the Kaukauna Force, which they use on their meter-reading route. It's a white 1998 Force with lots of decals which leave no doubt that it's an electric car.

Another car at the fair was the hybrid vehicle being developed at the University of Wisconsin, known as the "aluminum cow". Also covered in decals, it brought a lot of attention.

The alternative fuel vehicles display had a number of other converted EVs, which was great to see -- And the owners were there talking to the public about them. Way to go, guys.

Home Again

Saturday night, after dinner with Jeff Simpson at the Frontier Restaurant (which serves enormous breakfasts all day, an option I gladly went for) I headed back to the B&B in Waupaca and plugged in for the night.

The next day I headed home in a reversal of the Friday trip. Here are summaries of the various legs:

Waupaca - Fremont:
Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
15.4 15.09 0.97
Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
33.5 30.59 0.91
Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
22.1 23.1 1.04
Reedsville-Elkhart Lake:
Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
29.4 30.1 1.02
Elkhart Lake-Port Washington:
Miles Traveled Amp-hours Used Ah/Mile
32.5 29 0.89

The best part of the trip home was that I knew where I was going this time, and at the end of the trip, I knew my home was there waiting for me.

The Amherst trip was a great confidence-builder and showed me that I could get excellent efficiency at highway speeds. My charge times increased a bit as the trip went on, but not as severely as I had observed in the EV1. The RV parks were perfect places to stop, many have amenities like swimming pools, basketball and volleyball courts, boat rental and more. The next time out, I might plan to stay a little longer in Waupaca, which is a beautiful town.

If you own an EV, think about taking longer trips by using RV parks as your "filling stations". The park owners, in my experience, are very willing to have you visit, it's relatively inexpensive and just takes a bit of planning.

Final Trip Statistics

Total distance traveled: 303 Miles
Kilowatt-hours used charging: 52
Miles per kWh: 5.83
Cost per mile: $.012 (at our $.07/kWh rate)
Equivalent gas mileage: 95.8 MPG (at $1.15 per gallon)

Got questions about this trip? me!

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