Country Lore: Use a Wood Gas Generator to Power Your Truck

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Thanks to a wood gas generator, this truck runs on wood!

I initially became interested in wood gas trucks as a kid when I saw a World War II movie in which the hero escaped from invading Japanese forces in an old school bus powered by coconut shells. After that, if I came across any references to wood-powered vehicles, I read them. I even remember reading an article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS quite some time ago. (See the 1981 article, Wood Gas Truck: Road Power From Wood Gasification.)

A couple of years ago, I bought a 1968 Chevrolet three-quarter-ton 4-wheel-drive pickup, along with a 1969 GMC three-quarter-ton 2-wheel-drive truck for parts. The GMC had a six-cylinder engine that was somewhat rusty, but still seemed to run OK. I thought, given the simplicity of its construction plus the generous engine compartment, it would be ideal for a wood gas project.

Willie Hackett, the son of a friend of mine, did a small gasification project and put me in contact with Mike LaRosa through a wood gas builder’s website. I built my wood gas generator based on one of Mike’s designs and was successful. The wood fuel is 2-inch-diameter lengths of hardwood limbs I gather in my woods and cut up with an old table saw. I dry the wood in the sun for a couple of weeks in a wheelbarrow with an old storm window on top of it. I also have used softwood scraps with similar effectiveness.

I have probably put about 500 miles on the truck running on wood. I have commuted 20 miles to work with it a number of times and taken many 10-mile trips.

I still am working out some bugs, such as reducing the amount of soot captured in the engine air cleaner, and eliminating a surging condition that is probably due to an air leak I haven’t found yet. The truck doesn’t have as much power with wood gas as it does with gasoline, but it will cruise at highway speeds and climb steep hills as long as I keep it revved up. 

We offer plans for building a wood-gas generator. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS