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Solar Bus Newsletter, Summer Update and Fall Schedule

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On the Bus...
the newsletter of the Solar Bus
September 2007
Solar Bus Survives Attack, Quits Smoking, and other Reports from the Road Greetings friends of the Solar Bus. You are now "On the Bus." In this edition of our newsletter:
  • The Solar Bus Survives Attack at SolarFest
  • Solar Bus Has Surgery and Quits Smoking
  • Report from Gathering of the Vibes
  • 4th Annual Solar Jam and Rally to be held on Sept. 23rd
  • Other coming of Solar Bus appearances
  • Time to schedule a school visit from the Solar Bus
The Solar Bus Attacked by a Boulder

SolarFest is always one of our favorite festivals. You could say we're preaching to the choir there, but it's nice to really feel at home sometimes too. This year was a great SolarFest except for one little problem. As we drove in the dark through the farmer's field to get to our site, we encountered a breach on the left side. We were going around a hairpin turn and a rock the size of a VW came out of nowhere. The damage looked pretty bad - mainly to the exhaust pipe under the bus. Luckily the owner of the land had a strong tractor that pulled the boulder out from under the bus before it did any more damage. When we got home we met our local welder and there's a nice shiny new section of the tailpipe now, thanks to him.

View a short slideshow from SolarFest 2007

Report from Gathering of the Vibes

This year's Vibes festival was at a new location, and who can imagine a better place to have a four day music festival, than at the BEACH! The organizers of the event gave us a great spot in the non-profit village.

This year we took everything to the next level. In addition to our regular solar displays like the solar fountain and solar oven, we offered "Solar 101" classes that were mentioned in the event program. And we showed solar powered movies at night.

The "Solar 101" class began at 10:45 Saturday morning. Several folks showed up for the class and even more passers-by stopped to see what was up. I gave my standard "solar talk" that covered the basics of how solar panels work and why the world needs to go solar. The next day one of the "students" stopped by the bus and told me that one particular thing I said in the class really "hit home" for him. It was one "factoid" I always mention in every lecture I do on solar energy - the unbelievable fact that we would only need to cover about 1/6th of the state of Arizona with solar panels to power 100% of our country's electricity demand, even with current technology! Well this fellow came back the next day to ask me if I was sure the numbers were correct. I told him the figures are actually on the Department of Energy's website and that I did the calculation myself independently and came up with a very close answer to what they got, and I showed him a page of a book where the numbers were also printed. He told me he was so blown away by that fact that when I mentioned it in my lecture, he stood up and walked off. He said, "that's all I needed to hear. I didn't need the rest of the class." He told me that he sat by the beach and thought about it for over an hour before he could do anything else. Hearing his words, something hit home for me too. I knew the work we do at the Solar Bus is worth the time and effort - THIS is why we do it. I've always said, if we can open just one person's mind then our work is worthwhile. Hopefully the Solar Bus leaves a trail of folks contemplating solar factoids behind us everywhere we go. It is heartwarming when someone comes back to let us know we're having an effect.

At night, the other new addition to our presence emerged. As in previous years we supplied solar powered lights to the non-profit village. But this year we added a new attraction - solar powered movies! After the bands stopped playing (around midnight or 1AM) we used duct tape to hold a queen sized bed sheet to the side of the bus and a donated video projector powered by the solar energy stored in our batteries showed cartoons and other "shorts" through the night. People gathered around, brought their sleeping bags, and snuggled on the grass to enjoy the films. A chorus of snoring grew louder through the night and made everyone feel at home. We had a pretty big crowd and by the time the sun came up several people were still there watching Bugs Bunny make a fool out of Elmer Fudd. And I made sure everyone knew the movies they were watching were powered by the sun. It's demonstrations like this that I feel are the most effective because people get to experience solar energy, not just read or hear about it.

Another small attraction we added is a solar powered grasshopper and frog who battle it out. Sometimes they appeared to be dancing, or even kissing, while other times they resembled a professional wrestling match. Surprisingly, the grasshopper came out on top most often, as the frog often bumped off the side wall and flipped over. We're working on a video of this "Solar Battle" we'll have up on our website soon. By the way you can pick up a solar grasshopper or frog in our online store.

Out of all the things we did at the Vibes probably the greatest response was to our offer to charge people's cell phones, I-pods, and other electronic equipment on solar energy. The event program mentioned this and people found the Solar Bus just so they could recharge. The 4-day camping scene with no electricity left many people with dead cell phones and they found our solar system to recharge!

As I have come to say, there's a reason they call it the "Vibes." This year was no exception and probably the best year for the Bus. So many people stopped by to check out our displays. The weather was great, short of one rainy day out of four. We really got a chance to perform our mission this year at the Vibes - to show people that solar energy really works, and to inspire. Special thanks to volunteers Ken, Mark, and Forrest for helping out, and the event organizers for welcoming us and letting us "do our thing!"

More:

The Solar Bus has Surgery and Quits Smoking

You read that right. The Solar Bus is on the patch. Her smoking problem was so bad, she had to have surgery.

As mentioned in previous newsletters, the Solar Bus was showing some signs of mechanical problems. Considering the 250,000 miles on her engine, we were concerned. One of the symptoms of her troubles was billowing smoke when the engine was cold. We really didn't like putting all that smoke in the air, considering our mission, even if it was biodiesel or vegetable oil smoke. And to make matters worse, it takes a long time for her to warm up and for the smoke to disappear. One time we even got an email from someone driving behind us, complaining that we were polluting too much.

So it was time to bring her in. After talking to many mechanics, we knew it was one of 3 things and none of them were cheap to repair. If it was "engine wear" there was no way we could afford to fix it - that would be over $10,000 to address. We were really worried.

Well the stars were shining on us that day when we drove 177 miles to a special Cummins mechanic who was familiar with the type of engine we have. He found the problem and had it fixed in just a couple hours. Then he took some time to adjust the valves, brakes, and clutch, and gave her a lube job! We drove back with a smile, so thankful it wasn't something worse.

So the good news is, the Solar Bus has quit smoking, and she's in good health. She's ready to roll, and without a cloud of smoke following us! Thanks to Mahoney and Sons in Brentwood, NH for the good work.

4th Annual Solar Jam and Rally

On top of the several festivals we attend each summer, we also like organize and plan one ourselves. It's called the Solar Jam and Rally. It's always free, and there's always solar powered live music and other fun and educational things.

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Gary Beckwith runs the Solar Bus, Election Justice Center, "your home for updated information on the fight for democracy in America".

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