Life on the Electric (Vehicle) Highway: Part 2, Out to Indiana

on August 26, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Telsa Motors Opens New "Supercharger" Station In Fremont, California

Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington is home to great basketball, and also to the prodigal son, now a history professor, and dear old friends, John and Carole Clark.  IU is a 650-mile drive from Bethesda, Maryland, mostly on Interstate 70 – that’s one long day on the road each way, or maybe a more civilized day and a half if all-electric.

Actually, this drive was a detour from the electric highway, or at least Tesla’s highway.  Tesla’s 30-minute solar-powered superchargers are so far located mostly in California and the Northeast (see Life on the Electric (Vehicle) Highway: Part 1, Up to New England).  This fast-charge network is expanding further into the heartland in 2014-2015 but, meanwhile, my Tesla Model S had to recharge along the way using 30-amp chargers installed to serve much smaller, shorter-range, urban EVs.

In a way, this was like Dances with Wolves or, better, the Pony Express, in that the adventure will soon fade into history.  Once Tesla’s superchargers are installed and operational, driving to Indiana entirely on electricity will be basically like in any gasoline or diesel car because you’ll get to skip the urban EV charging network altogether – a kind of parallel universe.  To prove the point, Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk recently announced he’ll drive a Model S this winter from their factory in Fremont, California, to New York City – all on electricity from Tesla’s 30-minute superchargers.

But last weekend, it turned out the real challenge of driving an EV with a 300-mile battery on a 1,300 mile road trip relying on existing EV chargers was basically one of time – what to do while waiting the many hours for this immense battery pack to recharge fully?  My plan was to find EV chargers near places to sleep, charge overnight, then drive early mornings and late evenings while charging all day.  So this is partly a tale of meeting nice people, seeing interesting things, introducing the car, and getting work done during the long charging stops between brisk 200+ mile drives:

Log begins at Bethesda, 6:40 AM Thursday morning – easy 200-mile drive to Morgantown, West Virginia.  Arrive at 9:30 AM and spend the day with colleagues at the Brewer & Giggenbach law firm while recharging the Tesla at Morgantown’s new solar-powered Farmer’s Market.  This is a lovely mountain town, home of DOE’s Energy Research Lab, but no one I met had ever seen a Tesla Model S!  Actually, I may have overstayed my welcome since it required a full 10 hours to recharge.  Ironically, one of Tesla’s 30-minute superchargers is to be sited near Morgantown next year.  Better hurry, the future is catching up!

Tesla Charging

Buckeye Lake, Ohio, KOA Campground, 10 PM Thursday evening – even on clear freeways, driving across the Alleghenies takes its extra share of energy, electricity or otherwise, so the Tesla arrives with only 8 miles of charge remaining.  Unfortunately, Buckeye Lake KOA’s trailer outlet works poorly –I discover to my horror at 3:30 AM Friday morning that the car has not been charging at all!  Repeated work on the circuit breaker gets electricity flowing again but finally have to leave at 9:30 AM with only 180 miles of charge, way behind schedule.  Cannot make it to Indianapolis Airport in time to meet the wife’s plane – the sensible woman flies United.  Dispatch prodigal son to meet her plane while I keep driving – but soon an interesting opportunity appears on

11:30 AM – arrive at the Aileron Foundation, a startlingly modern building designed by Lee H. Scolnick Architecture of New York, set in a huge prairie campus north of Dayton, Ohio.  Here, we’re welcomed and charge till 4:30 PM, gaining enough electricity to make it the rest of the way to Bloomington.  Aileron is a private, non-profit foundation established by Clay Mathile, who made his fortune in Iams dog food!  We discuss the foundation’s main purpose: to help small businesses manage and grow their companies more effectively.  Why didn’t I know about these good people 30 years ago?  Arrive Bloomington 7:00 PM Friday amid Beltway-style Indianapolis traffic.

Bloomington, 8:30 PM Friday – after joyful reunion, disaster: flatten left rear tire by snapping the valve stem against a low concrete wall.  Cannot drive.  Saved the tire by towing car to very capable Expert Tire center Saturday morning for repair, and we’re back in business.  Walking tour of IU campus, visit some wonderful Thomas Hart Benton murals, and then weekend at the Clark’s chateau over Lake Monroe, Indiana, not far from much larger lakeside chateau of John Mellencamp.

11:40 AM Sunday morning – leave Lake Monroe with 270 miles (crucially topped off using ordinary 110 volt outlet in the garage), drive wife to Indianapolis Airport, then east on I-70.  Setting a goal of 250 miles on one charge, I “hyper-mile” the car by driving 55 mph.  This saves much electricity, enabling a growing buffer of available miles – driving across the flat Midwestern prairie, you can basically tune how far you’ll go by how fast you go.

4:30 PM, again Dayton – confidently take a detour, this time a step back in time and visit the American Packard Museum, a 100 year old Packard dealership, with tile floors and magnificent cars!  One is a 1936 cabriolet, a later version of the 1934 model that just won this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last Sunday.  Another, a particularly beautiful 12-cylinder Rolls Royce-bodied 1931 Packard sedan, must have turned as many heads back then as this Tesla Model S does now!  Returned to the 21st century, back on the highway.

Tesla Parked

7:00 PM, somewhere off I-70 east of Columbus, Ohio – arrive after 270 miles on a single charge, all stops included, and hook up to an EV charger alongside a Walgreen’s (no more campgrounds!), spend night at a motel across the street.  Next morning, head to Washington, PA, where John Sisson’s Nissan dealer graciously allows us to charge for 9 hours, much of which spent working at a nearby Panera.  Then back to Bethesda, finally home at 8:30 PM.

End-note:  After Tesla’s supercharger network transforms all this by cutting the trip by two thirds, there’ll still be no reason why you can’t stop and visit in Morgantown, see the Packard Museum and the Aileron Foundation in Dayton, and say hi to John Sisson’s people in Pennsylvania, and visit the magnificent IU campus – and even enjoy Buckeye Lake without having to annoy your fellow campers by trying to get the outlet to work.  And driving this incredible car will remain as enjoyable as ever.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – maybe Alaska?