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SuperTruck: Let's Get the Snowball Rolling!

1/9/2013 8:41:00 PM

Tags: supertruck, diesel, EV, electric, hybrid, DIY, Ben Nelson

 My Winter Workshop 

Well, in my last blog post, I announced to the world that I would be building an Open-Source, DIY, Diesel/Electric Plug-in Hybrid Pickup Truck. Whew, that's a mouthful. Right now, I'm just calling it the "SuperTruck Project" until I can come up with a better name. 

So, what have I gotten done since then? Honestly, it doesn't feel like much. It was a busy summer, just taking care of the family and earning a living. However, I am really excited about this project, but I've never built a hybrid truck before. I guess that's not so bad, though, because I never built an electric motorcycle or electric car before I finished those projects either!

I'm also feeling a bit limited by my current budget — $176 earned from a rummage sale.

So, it's time to count my assets and get on track, working on the project. I've got a truck in the driveway, an old diesel engine in the garage, and a bunch of online friends with plenty of advice.

As of right now, I DON'T have an electric motor. I did get an offer from somebody who was taking apart several forklifts, but I think he's pretty busy right now, too. So, since the motor is at the heart of the whole system, what can I do in the meantime?

For starters, I got to visit an old friend.

"Hot Rod" Jim helped me out on my Electro-Metro DIY electric car conversion. As a machinist by day and a hot-rod mechanic at night, he's just the right type of guy for the situation. Among other things, he specializes in custom rear ends — driveshafts, differentials, and axles.

I headed over to Jim's for a visit, and explained what I wanted to do — swapping out a diesel for the gas engine, and chopping the drive shaft short and inserting a large DC forklift electric motor. We got to chitchat for a good two hours. He pulled out several drive shafts from a pile in the back of his shop and showed me how they are constructed. (They're just hollow pipes with connectors on the ends!) He also showed me how he shortens driveshafts on his lathe, using it to cut at the weld, while still retaining the original balance of the shaft.

Jim also had his hot rod right there in the shop, with classy aluminum racing seats in it. Which reminded me that I may need to remove my bench seat in the truck due to motor placement. The electric motor may be too big to fit without taking a Sawzall to the bottom of the cab. Jim said that the racing seats are super lightweight (Light is good for fuel economy!) and surprisingly comfortable. When I asked about the cost, he said that if I looked around for some USED ones, I could save quite a bit.

It was fun getting to visit Jim again, and I came away with a renewed sense of "Yes! I CAN do this project! I'm NOT totally crazy to try something like this!"

Since then, I've been trying to see what else I can physically accomplish on the project, with the truck just sitting  there in my driveway. I did contact one friend who has done some AMAZING work on his DIY electric car and motorcycle projects, and got a promise of him helping me work on the battery charger and motor controller. Whew, that's a load off my chest, as it's a lot of electronics heavy lifting. I'm a pure novice when it comes to electronics. But I follow directions well. If I can get a circuit board and a parts list, and can probably assemble something, but designing electronics from scratch is NOT my strong suit.

A couple days ago, it was a sunny afternoon, and I decided to tackle a "real thing" on the project. I'd remove the truck bed. With the bed removed, I would be able to figure out how large of a motor I could use, and start thinking about the proper locations of the batteries, fuel tank and other components.

It's January, winter in Wisconsin. And I don't have a heated shop. So the first thing to do is to get the snow-shovel and start digging the truck out. Once done, I was able to jack up the one side, put down some cardboard (slippery AND insulates!) and stick my head under there.

It was pretty obvious what bolts held the bed on to the frame. I grabbed my can of PB BLASTER penetrating oil and sprayed them all liberally. (Note to self. Safety glasses do NOT protect against oil dripping into my eye! A big drop dripped down onto my face, and then immediately ran across my face, UNDER my glasses, and into my left eye. Ouch! I headed quickly into the house and washed it out well in the bathroom sink. Who knew I was so accident-prone that I could even hurt myself with a spray can of oil!)

Back outside, I got my socket set, the big ratchet, and all the socket extensions I owned connected end to end. Almost all the bolts came right out. It was still hard work, but I didn't snap a single bolt, or need to get out a torch or the Giant Hammer of Pounding.

On the driver's side, I opened the gas tank cover and removed all the screws that connect the fuel filler to the bed of the truck. Finally, I disconnected the wire harness in the back that went to the taillights. With that, the bed was only held onto the frame with gravity. I removed the tailgate and then grabbed a corner of the bed, lifted it, and slid a 2x4 spacer block under it. I did that on the other three corners as well. Without a couple of friends handy, I couldn't actually take the bed completely off.

With the bed now jacked up, I have a better view of the frame and everything connected to it. Now that starts my brain going, imagining the motor in place, where it will mount to... Maybe I move the fuel tank to make more room for batteries. Heck, a SMALLER tank would be fine. If I can get 80 mpg, who needs a big gas tank!?

While I was out in the cold, I shot some video. Below are two videos. The first is an overview of the project concept. Following that is me working in the snow to remove the pickup truck bed. 

 

   

   

Progress hasn't exactly been fast on this project, but it's starting to feel like I've got the ball rolling. Even it it is a snowball!

— Ben


 Ben Nelson lives in a Wisconsin suburb with his wife and daughter, and all the neighbors are wondering what he is building now in his driveway. You can read about all of his clean transportation projects at 300MPG.org. 

 



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