When it comes to electric cars, inventive West Seattle resident Craig Vinton likes to do things his way.
West Seattle man's cars, and heart, run on batteries
It seems the West Seattle Herald has featured a battery of electric car stories lately. First, our article on the outrageously sporty Tesla, as expensive as it is fast. Then we plugged into West Seattle-owned MC Electric and their more affordable fleet.
Now meet West Seattle’s Craig Vinton, an active member of SEVA, or Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, who collects, updates, and repairs gas cars to electric, charges their batteries with his backyard solar panel, and even rents out Segways, those two-wheeled gasless wonders that somehow keep their balance with gyroscopic sensors.
Vinton is a scrappy 63 year-old who operates Allstar Entertainment and supplies inflatable slides, climbing mountains, and celebrity look-alikes to corporate and private parties. (www.allstarfun.com) He lives north of the Fauntleroy Ferry, and attended South Seattle Community College, which, he said, has excellent courses on electric car conversion.
“Everything I have in my life runs on batteries,” he said.
“My cars run on batteries, my house, Segways, razors, and my heart,” he said, referring to his lithium-powered pacemaker.
Actually, about a third of the power used in his home comes from his solar and battery arrangement. He replaces his fluorescent bulbs with LED’s. Two LED tubes now light his kitchen instead of four fluorescent tubes. The old tubes consumed 32 times the power, he said, although the bulbs do cost more, about $25 vs. $5 per bulb.
“They turn on instantly and there’s no buzzing,” he said.
The batteries and solar panel are another added expense, initially.
“City Light wants another rate increase, so I’ll be getting my investment back faster. It’s more expensive up front but who knows what’s going to happen later on?”
Buried under Vinton’s rear deck are five, 55-gallon barrels that fill with rainwater from his roof.
“My rainwater retention system supplies water for my lawn, laundry, and for washing the cars,” he said of the device he designed and built. “I don’t get any pine needles here, and it’s very soft water, nice for your laundry. But I wouldn’t drink it without a filter. I’d like to get a (water purifying) UV filter just in case the world comes to an end or whatever.”
Back to Vinton’s electric cars, you may have seen J.P. Patches riding on top of one of them, a brown 1929 Mercedes Roadster replica at the last American Legion Parade.
Vinton parks his Geo Tracker, license plate “VOLTCAR” in his back yard between his house, and his seven-by-four foot solar panel system, which he repositions a few times a day to follow the sun for optimum power gain. In the basement sits a pack of large old lead-acid batteries originally designed for back-up power for the telephone company. The solar power charges those batteries. An inverter changes the power to 110-volt outlets. An extension cord leads out to his car. Other outlets are utilized for appliances and so on.
His ’94 Chevy factory-built Electro-Truck, with 28 batteries, license plate “GASFREE” is parked next to the Tracker, and can plug into a 110 or 220-volt outlet. It reaches 70 mph and he generally goes 40 miles before plugging in again, but once drove it 82 miles without recharging, he said. He bought it on eBay from a guy in Galveston who bought it from Virginia Power. The batteries were dead, so he replaced those and rebuilt the truck. He has about $15,000 into it, about three grand more than the Tracker.
Vinton points to the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” for the reason behind electric vehicles from the 1990’s becoming discontinued, that is, until their resent resurgence. Electric cars were on the road in the 1830’s, but he believes the rich and powerful deliberately buried their development for self-serving profit-motivated interests, and that is why gasoline engines have dominated.
“There is virtually no maintenance on electric vehicles, no oil to change, no mufflers or clutches to worry about,” he said. “Oil companies didn’t want them on the road, and dealerships knew they would lose money in their repair shops. Look how far computers have come since my truck was built, in1994. Imagine if GM had continued developing the electric car.”