As Ronald Bridges drives along N.C. 73 during his 20-mile round-trip commute to and from Duke Energy, his emission-free 1988 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup quietly carries him along.
The newly converted electric vehicle took the 53-year-old Stanley man about a year to build.
"It was more complicated than I thought," he said. "Probably the biggest thing was doing something I've never done before and having to figure it all out. You spend a lot of time just standing there, looking at it..."
The project began in Nov. 2008, after Bridges bought the pickup for $800. (He sold its engine and other parts for $300.) The self-taught tinkerer spent 600 hours on the $10,500 creation.
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Since Oct. 17, he's traveled more than 750 miles in the converted ride, commuting to work and running errands.
"His understanding and knowledge of electric components surpasses the knowledge of your everyday mechanic," said coworker Kenny Walker, who has taken a ride in the truck. "I was very surprised by the power it had, the lack of engine noise - it's almost like riding in a glorified electric golf cart."
The pickup's 120-volt system is powered by 20, six-volt batteries, which cost about $300 each and should last 3 or 4 years, Bridges said. It can go about 40 miles without a charge and travel about 55 miles-per-hour. If he charges the batteries every other day, it costs about $30 per month, or 4 cents per mile, to operate.
To make his creation travel about 150 miles per charge, it would cost up to three times as much, he said, because technology, like lithium ion batteries, is still too expensive for the do-it-yourselfer.
Bridges thinks it will be at least 15 years before technology catches up with demand and the majority of cars on the road are electric. But saving money and being environmentally friendly weren't his main reasons for tackling the project.
"I just like to build things," he said. "I could've bought an old car and restored it, but I wanted to do something different. I don't know anyone with an electric vehicle. I just thought it'd be a neat thing to do."
This isn't his first endeavor into green technology either.
His 1981 Mercedes Benz 240D runs on biodiesel. He said he hasn't bought diesel fuel for that car since May 2008. His 2005 Jeep Liberty is fueled using a 10- to 90-percent mix of biodiesel and diesel. No conversions were necessary, because diesel engines can process both kinds of fuel interchangeably.
However, Bridges does have to seek out and make his own unique fuel.
"I collect cooking oil and then process it into biodiesel," Bridges said. "The exhaust smells like French fries when I drive."
The fuel is made from vegetable oil mixed with methanol and lye, which he heats up and circulates with a pump for about an hour-and-a-half.
"What's left over is biodiesel," he said.
Bridges plans on keeping the electric pickup for a few years before trying to sell it. After the sale, he said he'd like to do another electric conversion project using a Chevy S-10.
Bridges has been a vehicle maintenance technician at Duke Energy for 32 years. He and his wife, Yvonne, have two children, Jennifer and Benjamin.