Garry Sowerby World Odyssey: Conservation - East Valley Tribune: Business

Garry Sowerby World Odyssey: Conservation

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Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 6:57 am | Updated: 9:16 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

 New technology and old-world living have a common goal: conservation

When I pulled up to the house at the end a four-day business trip, a then-new Honda Civic Hybrid was sitting in my driveway. My wife Lisa had picked it up the day before and we were going to use it for a trip to a quasi-communal farmhouse in which friends Jon Clark and Karen Ramsland have been involved since the early 1970s, before the onset of responsibility and careers. It would be a chance for us to get a weekend in the countryside while checking out the Hybrid’s miserly road manners.

Alternate-powered vehicles are no strangers me. I still own two diesel GMC trucks and a propane-powered Checker taxicab that I bought 1982 to enter a race across China that never happened. I ran a series of disappointing performance tests on a rudimentary electric car for the military in the mid 1970s. But since then, other than bouts with bumper cars at the odd amusement park, I’ve had limited contact with electric, or hybrid gas-electric vehicles.

Lisa gave me the lowdown on the Civic Hybrid’s propulsion system. Its small four-cylinder engine had an electric motor positioned in front of its transmission. Its job was to assist the gas engine when climbing hills or accelerating. During braking or deceleration, the system captures energy in a storage battery for use on the next hill climb or speed change. There’s nothing plug in, nothing to recharge.

I approached what looked like a normal Honda Civic with skeptical curiosity.

While driving, the instrumentation displayed whether you were being assisted by the electric motor or capturing kinetic energy usually lost heat during conventional braking.

Every time hit the brakes or coasted down a hill, I felt like was getting a prize. The system was giving me something back to use later.

As a nifty bonus, the gasoline engine automatically shut off at stops, rendering a silence that made me feel somewhat self-righteous at busy crosswalks.

I explained the features to my then 16-yearold daughter who had taken a much keener interest in cars since she got her beginner drivers licence.

“This is it. This is the future, right here, Dad!” Her eyes were almost popping out of her head.

The more I drove it, the more determined became to squeeze the absolute most out of each gallon of fuel. I figured my emerging “green” feelings would be a good conversation piece over the weekend at the farmhouse where common-sense consumption had been a mantra for years.

On the way to the farm, Lisa drove and her friend Rhonda sat up front so they could catch up on the latest gossip. I sat in the back reading a book called Extreme Encounters. Every now and then I would blurt out excerpts about what it felt like to be buried alive, mauled by a grizzly bear or executed in an electric chair. They tended to ignore me except when Lisa wanted to dispose of an apple core, handing it to me with a take-care-of-this-now look.

At the farm, energy conservation was under way in a big way. Rhonda’s husband was not having any luck starting a new remote-controlled airplane’s engine. And Jon’s remote-controlled car was also on the blink. In an odd way, I felt proud that we were all doing our bit for the environment.

Jon and Karen were gracious hosts. They showed us around the gardens and walking trails. They had a thriving compost area and their recycling bins were lined up and clearly labeled. After a scrumptious meal of planked salmon, fresh corn and yummy Greek salad, we looked at old photos of the farmhouse under varying degrees of renovation during its metamorphosis from a rundown dwelling into a laidback weekend escape from the city grind.

The evening had provided the kind of relaxation I had been looking for. Sleep came easily in one of the upstairs bunk beds.

In the morning, I volunteered to help out on a water-conservation project they had been trying to sort out for months. Jon had misaligned the hole in the ground with the seat of the outhouse and he needed help repositioning things. So I did calculations and provided advice while he notched out new floorboards and jimmied the outhouse enough to align the critical components. After a few hours of tee-hees and some all-too-predictable toilet humor, the project was successfully completed. Everyone was impressed with our diligence in carrying out the task. The old farmhouse’s indoor plumbing would get a break during peak toiletry periods and guests would have the option to enjoy a good old-fashioned outdoor experience.

After lunch we bid farewell. The remotecontrolled airplane was still on the blink and all the outhouse needed was a fresh coat of interior paint. Down the road, I checked the Hybrid’s “assist - charge” gauge. It was in the neutral zone, nothing gained, nothing lost.

But there was a downhill stretch ahead and that gauge would soon remind me that driving a Civic Hybrid was a much more civilized way to conserve resources than moving an antique outhouse.

Join Garry Sowerby, a four- time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving, on his tales of motoring mania.Follow his accounts of 30 years of global road adventures: out-driving the clock on a race around the world; narrowly escaping bandits’bullets in Kenya;and smuggling books behind the Iron Curtain. The master road tripper hasn’t slowed down yet.

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