The members of an informal Sebastopol science club have their first hands-on project, the conversion of a Model T flat-bed truck to electric, marrying a classic farm vehicle with a motor, batteries, solar panels and electronics.
"The whole concept here is to go back to the future," said Dan Smith, who owns French Garden restaurant and farms in Sebastopol.
The project is taking shape in a barn at Smith's farm, on a 1927 Ford Model T one-ton truck that Smith was slowly restoring.
Now, a half dozen members of the Science Buzz Cafe have taken over and the restoration has become a conversion. The Science Buzz Cafe is an informal group started two years ago that meets weekly at the Coffee Katz Cafe in Sebastopol.
The goal of the group is to have the truck running for April's Apple Blossom Parade, after which it will be used by Smith to take his vegetables to farmers markets in Occidental and Santa Rosa and to his restaurant.
The Science Buzz Cafe also plans to use the truck as an alternative-energy educational display for schools.
"The idea is to have a combination of old and new," said Daniel Osmer, Science Buzz Cafe co-founder, who likens it to the trendy steampunk movement. "We are taking the best of the old and adding the new."
Osmer is the one who approached Smith with the idea to convert the truck. The conversion team includes a Mercedes-Benz mechanic, engineering students and mechanics with backgrounds in electricity, electronics and alternative-energy cars.
The conversion is expected to cost Smith about $8,800, not including the value of the truck, which had been sitting in Smith's barn in pieces while it was undergoing a restoration.
It sits in the barn now, the headlights propped up on fenders of the cab, skinny front fires mounted on wood-spoke wheels, the rear tires modern, fat and tubeless.
The four-cylinder, 20-horsepower gasoline engine has been replaced by a 37.5-horsepower WarP electric motor, hooked up to the transmission and rear end from a 1990 Ford Bronco that was found at a local junk yard.
Thick bolts and an angle-iron adapter mate the electric motor to the transmission, and a hydraulic brake cylinder is mounted on the firewall, replacing the weaker mechanical brakes that were original.
The truck bed is being restored to its original wood-slat look, but there will be a metal frame above it that will hold five 24-volt solar panels that will help charge the 10, 12-volt batteries.
A $1,200 electronic controller will be used to modulate the amount of electricity from the batteries to the motor.
When the truck is parked, the solar panels will swing up, like gull wings, and a charge will begin trickling into the batteries.
"This is not just a technical project but an art project and a community-building project. It will look funny and it will be functional," Osmer said.
The workers have built a work bench and set up a machine and metal shop next to the truck to fabricate any parts they need.
Old Model T parts are scattered around the shop, including the dual wood-spoke wheels that were on the old back axle and gas-light running lights that would have been on the cowl.
The truck is being built to reach a speed of 35 mph, 10 mph slower than the original speed, and have a 35-mile range.