Day in the Life of a Wood Gas Driver, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Chris Saenz
1 / 6
2 / 6
3 / 6
4 / 6
5 / 6
6 / 6

If you missed Part 1, click here.

Long trips with a wood powered vehicle are fun. No one can travel so far for so little cost as a wood gasser – just ask any of the members of Drive On Wood, the wood gasification website. These extended trips with wood gas can save a ton of money on fuel, and I feel like it’s well worth the effort.

You will need a LOT of wood though. Every mile you burn up another pound. For our imaginary 500 mile trip, that’s 500 pounds (better take 600 just in case). Double that if you are coming home again. You can see that it quickly justifies a trailer to haul the wood. My wood gas Dakota will haul a small trailer without issue.

I’ve had to plan carefully to get enough dry wood ready. Normally I process wood in batches and let it dry before using. For this trip, I’ll need 1200 lbs of wood, and it has been spread out in the sun to dry for two weeks. I’ll bag it up into old fertilizer bags, made from a durable heavy plastic. Each bag holds about 12-14 pounds, so we need about 100 bags. Bagging the wood is simple but takes some effort. A big shovel and a helper make the job go much faster.

Loading Up

With the wood bagged, let’s load the trailer. Stacking bags of wood so that they won’t slide off, and keeping the bag ends tucked in (in case of bad weather), I’ve found that most of it will fit on the trailer, and some rides on the truck itself. The gasifier stays relatively cool on the surface, so even if a piece of wood touches it there is no danger of a fire. Plastic will melt, though – so I keep the bags some distance away.

All the luggage and passengers ride up front. This is the downside of travelling in a pickup truck, and things can quickly get cramped in the driver’s seat. It’s tempting to make room on the trailer – but you’ll need every bit of that wood for fuel. Wood takes up a lot of space!

(Read more about how much wood it takes for a wood burning truck, at MOTHER EARTH NEWS.)

Here’s a few videos of a trip I took to New Hampshire, 1,000 miles away:

Getting on the road is the same process as I explained in part 1 – we light up the gasifier, and this time I fill up the hopper completely. A full charge will get this truck about 60 to 70 miles down the road. It will vary depending on the wood, and driving speed.

Have Wood, Will Travel

Time to head out, and merge onto the freeway. Despite the power loss associated with wood gas, this truck will maintain 65 mph all day long. I’ve learned to take advantage of downhill slopes, which will bring up your speed – of course, uphill means slowing down again. And the half-ton of wood back there isn’t helping. It will get lighter as the day goes on.

Fifty miles into the trip, and I’m keeping an eye on the gauges. Some tell me the vacuum, and others the temperature. I don’t want the vacuum to get too high – that will reduce the power output, and may indicate plugging up somewhere in the system. Temperatures tell me if I’m reaching the limits of the gasifier’s output. I don’t want to overheat anything, but we’re still within the target range. Everything’s good.

Throw Some Wood on the Fire

The temperature in the hopper starts to rise, which indicates that we’re about out of wood. I now have to stop and reload. On the freeway there are very few good places to do this, and so I’ll try to get off at an exit or rest stop if possible. Getting out, I grab four bags off the trailer and prepare to add the new wood.

Refueling can be a dirty job, if you’re inexperienced. As soon as you open the lid, smoke will start to escape, and if the wind is wrong it will get all over you. In your eyes and nose. Parking with an eye to the wind is smart. Now with the lid off, I’ll run a poker down through the wood to break up any bridging, and keep things loose.

Dump in the new wood, stow the bags, and then I drive on. If I was careless, I may have tar on my hands from handling the lid. Some alcohol and paper towels will do the trick. I never mind the extra work here, because I see all the cars that got off the freeway behind me. They aren’t getting their hands dirty; instead they’re pulling out their wallets. They’re laying down hard earned cash just to keep their wheels moving. That part I can do without.

Driving in Large Cities

Eventually I may come to a big city. Time to pay a bit more attention, and try not to get lost. If everything’s running smoothly, there’s no problem. I generally refill the gasifier right before, and cruise on through. If I do need to fill up, or if the gasifier isn’t behaving, I can easily switch on the gasoline for a few miles. This is one reason I would never disable the gasoline on a wood powered vehicle, because there are times when the system falters, or you just need a bit more power.

I’ve driven a lot of miles through busy cities, and crawled through rush hour traffic; not once has anyone looked over from the vehicle next to me. To most folks this truck looks like any other. Since there’s no smoke escaping, they have no reason to question the barrels in the back.

At long last we’ve reached our destination. Maybe it was a wood gas convention … or perhaps just visiting a friend. Either way there’s a big smile on my face.

At the end of a long trip, there’s some maintenance on the gasifier. You have some ashes to empty, condensate tanks to drain and possibly new hay in the hay filter. Each of these is a somewhat messy job, and best followed by a shower and clean clothes afterward. Staying clean during maintenance is an advanced skill, and comes with practice. I’ve seen Wayne Keith light up, operate and lightly service his gasifier wearing good clothes, and he comes out spotless. Personally, I’m not quite there yet.


In the end, it is a lot more work traveling under wood power than just filling up your tank. It’s a lot like heating with wood vs. propane or electric. You can’t just flip a switch. But the reward is in the independence it gives you. I am not worried about a fuel shortage or sky-high gas prices. Nor am I supporting the oil companies with my hard-earned pay. And that’s a good feeling!

If you’d like to learn more about gasification, please visit Drive On Wood.