Saturday, June 23, 2007

Second Driveway on the Right

So I headed up to Electro Automotive yesterday. The idea was to get some of the parts so I could get started on the project and to make it a nice road trip. Sometimes I forget just what an aesthetically unpleasing drive 101 can be from here to Salinas. It is a windy, desolate strip of highway that offers little in the way of sightseeing. We decided to stop for lunch in Soledad, so that we could see their Mission. After a few wrong turns and a break for lunch, we did finally find it. It is a quaint little mission. For those of you not from this area, there are a string of missions along the California Coast, each within a day's ride by horse and carriage from the next one along a trail that was (and is) called El Camino Real. We have our own mission right here in San Luis Obispo.
Electro Automotive is north of the city of Santa Cruz, so the fastest way to get there is to cut through Castroville, a town which I now know has it's own claim to fame: Artichokes! Apparently, it is the "Artichoke Center of the World," an honor which may or may not involve a lot of competition from other artichoke-based towns. I used to fear the artichoke in my youth, but I have now come to terms with this amazing, three-dimensional geometric creation and we were tempted to stop off for a some fried artichoke hearts, but miles to go...
Eventually, we hit Route 1 and the trip became more scenic as we cruised north along the Pacific Coast until, of course, we hit the narly traffic of Santa Cruz. Electro Automotive is about 10 miles North of Santa Cruz (off Bonny Doon Rd. for those who know the area). It is in the mountains along a scenic twisting road, through forests that have a few scattered Redwoods. It is a nice drive up there. When we arrived, I realized quickly why things move a little more slowly than I might like.
This is quite the "Mom and Pop" place in the country. There is no sign indicating that you are arriving at a business. The only clue is that there are several cars of various levels of wear and tear parked out front. The "mom" is Shari, who greeted me at the door. She was casual to the point of barefeet and I was instantly envious of their little place out in the country. Shari was busy with one of their two employees putting my parts together, so in the meantime I was introduced to the "pop" of the mom and pop, Mike, who gave me the "nickel tour." Here are the two of them in Mike's office: The place is small, constituting two rooms and the small office where Mike has his computer. Mike handles the technical side and Shari the business side from what I could gather. I spoke with Mike for awhile. He is originally from Nebraska and came to this area in 1964. He worked as an auto mechanic for Volkswagen for many years. He chatted about Volkswagens for awhile. He was a fuel injection expert and I told him about my crazy old '72 Volkswagen 412, a strange car that never really took hold in the U.S. He informed me that the Porsche 914 has a very similar engine. I once took that 412 across the country, running into some trouble in Minnesota, where the Volkswagen repairman said he hadn't seen or worked on one in 10 years. I kept it my parents' garage for a year while I was in medical school, until my father called me one day and said "get that piece of crap out of my garage." I finally sold it.
Mike went into the electric car business in '79, and has been in 3 different locations in this general area since that time. He explained that one of the primary functions of the business is to create interface plates between electric motors and the transmission of just about any car. He uses a high quality digital photo and CAD software to design this for the transmission and was working on a transmission while we were there. If you want to convert a standard car to an electric engine, this is crucial. Mike is a bit of a pioneer in the field of electric cars and I doubt there are many people more knowledgeble on the subject. He noted that they have been swamped with orders of late. I don't get the impression that this is driving them to expand the business or hire more workers (I don't know where they'd find them out there). They seem content where they are and don't seem to be pushing for more customers. They both seem very passionate about electric cars and they really want to put together a good quality product, but expect some delays...
Shari got all of the parts they had ready for me (I might have to make a second trip later this summer for the rest unless I'm more patient and willing to wait for them to ship). This should be enough to get me rolling on the project.
On the way back, we decided to go further down Highway 1 to Carmel before getting back on 101. I was tempted to cruise the Big Sur Coast, but it was getting late and I know from experience that it isn't much fun cruising that highway in the dark, so we stopped in Carmel and had a nice Italian dinner, then took a walk to the beach.
Hopefully, I can get started next week on the installation. I will start with the controller and pot box and I will explain more about those in another post (when I figure out what they are).

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