Mike Craner during Renew America Roadtrip stop-over
Mike Craner during Renew America Roadtrip stop-over on the South Omaha campus of Metro Community College.

Tesla Comes to Omaha

The Renew America Roadtrip stops long enough to charge up the city and the Roadster.

By Bill Moore

July 22, 2009 was a very, very long day for Michael Craner.

It began at 5:45 AM near Cedar Rapids, Iowa where he was interviewed by a CBS television news crew. It ended in Villisca, Iowa, whose chief claim to fame is an alleged haunted house were grisley axe murders took place in 1912.

Michael Craner is the co-founder of Renew America Roadtrip, in which he and his companion Madushini "Maddy" Gunawardana are driving a Tesla Roadster from New York City to San Francisco, while spreading the message of renewable energy, electric transportation and charitable good works. But undertaking such an ambitious venture isn't without its challenges.

Craner was supposed to arrive in Omaha sometime in the late evening of July 22nd. He arrived in my driveway at 5 AM this morning, July 23rd. He had spent most of the night outside an aging power plant in Villisca charging up the Tesla as it slurped electrons at 240 volts and 50 amps. While he waited on the battery, which had something like six or seven miles of range left on it when he arrived in the small southwest Iowa farm town near dusk, his host drove him past the Josiah Moore (no relation, I hope) house where the entire family and two overnight guests had been bludgeoned to death almost a century ago.

According to Craner, he and his escort saw unexplained lights in the house that to this day is said to have no electricity, plumbing or running water, just as it was in 1912.

After the living in Villisca had gone to bed, Craner was left to himself and his imagination, trying to get a bit of sleep in the cramped confines of the Roadster. Around 1 AM, some people walked around the car after noticing it was a Tesla, commented and then walked away. Hopefully they weren't Josiah and his clan.

By 3 AM, the car had a full charge and the weary inventor, set off toward Omaha, 70 miles away across rolling Iowa farmland, along a highway shrouded in fog and occasionally crossed by White Tail deer, always a hazard when driving in the country at night.

The plan had been for Craner, Gundawardana, and their advance man, Jerry "The Spirit of DC" Asher to arrive in time to get a good night's sleep at the Marriott, rooms paid for courtesy of the Omaha Green Building Council. Asher and Miss Gundawardana eventually got to enjoy the rooms, Craner would catch a couple hours in our spare bedroom, while the Roadster sipped juice from our now world-famous 30 amp clothes dryer outlet. (Greg Hanssen had charged his EV1 on it in 1999 and Louis Palmer his Solar Taxi in 2008). With the car's surprisingly noisy cooling fans whirring away, we agreed to awake a little before 8 AM and climbed back into our respective beds.

Any time you plan one of these events, you can only hope at least a few people will show up. Gratefully, due the great work of Dan Lawse at Omaha's Metro Community College, a sizable crowd turned out for the 10 AM event, including the college's interim president, members of the college board, faculty members, staff and Omaha's newly elected Mayor, Jim Suttle.

Having just taken office a few weeks early, Mayor Suttle finds himself already embroiled in debates over his budget and even the Dodge Durango Hybrid SUV he drives. Still, he won the election over a tough political veteran and former mayor, in part because of his platform to fight for green jobs and a sustainable economy for the city.

After the refreshingly short round of speech making by various officials, Craner invited the Mayor to take the first ride in the Roadster. While they slipped out of the parking lot in eerie silence -- which not a few attendees noted with surprise -- people had a chance to take a look at OPPD's PICC-converted Prius and MUD's CNG-fueled Honda Civic GX. Jerry Asher also had his "Spirit of DC" Prius, which has an early Plug-in Plus conversion kit. Originally based on lead-acid batteries, the car had an electric-only range of about 10 miles, Asher told me. The plan is to switch to NiMH cells in the near future.

Once the Mayor returned, it was the luck of the draw that gave an University of Nebraska at Omaha student a chance for the second ride and then the event was over.

The plan is for the Renew America Roadtrip team to head West with stops in Kearney (site of old Fort Kearney on the Oregon Trail) and then Gothenburg, Nebraska, where the legendary, but short-lived Pony Express had a relay station. From there, tomorrow they should head into Colorado. Perhaps the most challenging part of the trip then faces them as they cross the Rockies, head out along the Green River into Utah, where there are long stretches of nothing. Eventually, they'll wind their way to Las Vegas and then Los Angeles and finally up to San Francisco.

Others have crossed the continent electric cars before, including Kris Trexler (1998) and Craig Hanssen (1999), both in General Motor's EV1s, with driving ranges half that of the Telsa Roadster. What's different today is that you can buy an electric car, unlike Trexler, Hanssen and thousands of other electric car and truck lessees during the ill-conceived California Memorandum of Understanding. And you don't have to live just in California or Arizona. If there's a Tesla dealership in your city, you can put your name on the list and take possession of the car. That's exactly what Michael Craner did, but he doesn't plan to keep the car. Instead it will be auctioned on eBay with the net proceeds to go to charity.

Of course Craner and Company still have half a continent -- the hard half -- ahead of them. Undoubtely, he and his team will have many more stories to tell besides the night he spent ghost hunting in Iowa. We thank them for their efforts, the time they spent with us in Omaha and wish them Godspeed.

In addition to video of selected portions of the Renew America Roadtrip event in Omaha that will be available soon on EV World, we've assembled a short slide show of the event. To view it, click the 35mm slide image below.


Times Article Viewed: 11664
Published: 24-Jul-2009


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