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Ridin’ with Ricketts 2013: Taking a gas-free...

Ridin’ with Ricketts 2013: Taking a gas-free cross country trip

(Follow veteran MTSU News and Media Relations staffer Randy Weiler’s daily blog as he traveled March 9-14 with alternative fuels researcher Dr. Cliff Ricketts and his team on their coast-to-coast trip using no gas.)

Day 5: Making history in special ways

Happy to reach Long Beach, Calif., and reach a career goal of driving coast-to-coast using no gas, Dr. Cliff Ricketts exits the 2005 Toyota Prius on Thursday March 14. (Photos by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Happy to reach Long Beach, Calif., and reach a career goal of driving coast-to-coast using no gas, Dr. Cliff Ricketts exits the 2005 Toyota Prius on Thursday March 14. (Photos by MTSU News and Media Relations)

LONG BEACH, Calif. — There were many lasting impressions from March 14, 2013, the day an MTSU professor etched his name into history at the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Lots to consider on a picture-perfect, albeit 90-degree day when School of Agribusiness and Agriscience professor Dr. Cliff Ricketts sped off into the sunset by achieving a monumental milestone: Without gasoline we purchase at the pump, he and co-driver Terry Young of Woodbury, Tenn., drove 2,600 miles from Tybee Island east of Savannah, Ga., to Long Beach.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts, left, and Travis Owen enjoy the cold water in the Pacific Ocean March 14 in Long Beach, Calif.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts, left, and Travis Owen enjoy the cold water in the Pacific Ocean March 14 in Long Beach, Calif.

When it’s all said and done, what will we recall years from now about Day 5 — the final day of the cross-country trip?

• The boom, boom, boom backfiring by the fire-engine red 1994 Toyota Tercel well after Team Ricketts’ arrival to the beach area behind the Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd.

• Minutes later, because of the boom, boom, boom backfiring of the car as it was about to be loaded onto a trailer, a beach police officer arrived with, as he called it, lots of “silly questions.” After learning it was for a research project, it was not an event like the making of a movie (which would require a city of Long Beach permit) and that the group was about to leave, he understood and backed off.

• Grown men, acting like teenagers, overjoyed with the success of the journey.

• Hearing 64-year-old Ricketts emit several loud roars. He just had finished the quest. He deserved to shout!

• Visiting and enjoying dinner on the awesome RMS Queen Mary, a retired ocean liner permanently moored in Long Beach. It had a personal twist: The late Millard Blankenship, my father-in-law, was among the thousands of World War II soldiers who returned home on the massive structure.

• While dining on the RMS Queen Mary, an accident with overturned glasses sent water across one end of the table and onto the floor. Rick Presley, 53, of Orlando, Fla., nearly flipped out of his chair. It was quite a sight as it happened. Presley, an entrepreneur, took an agriculture class taught by Ricketts at Mt. Juliet High School in the mid-1970s. Funny how great teachers make superb role models and influence young minds.

• How for at least the second time this week, Ricketts does a good deed, buying  dinner for two people, both of whom are part of the 10-member team. Outside the Bartlett, Tenn., Cracker Barrel on March 11, a nicely dressed and articulate man approaches Ricketts with a barrage of questions about the two cars and the research while Team Ricketts was refueling hydrogen. Just as they are finishing refueling, the man suddenly shares how he and his wife have run out of gasoline nearby. Ricketts and another in the group give him $5.

• How from Friday, March 8, until today, March 15, there has not been the first detected cross word between team members. It’s amazing the mutual respect and collaboration all have for one another.

• Just past midnight Wednesday, as the team chose to skip spending the night in Kingman, Ariz., to carry its hydrogen into California under the cover of darkness, the maneuver worked (prayers answered) and the team sailed on to Needles, Calif.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu and follow on Twitter @WeilerRandy )

MTSU alternative fuels researcher and professor Cliff Ricketts stands next to a sign showing gas prices at a Mobil gasoline station just off an I-40 west exit near Newberry Springs, Calif., on Thursday, March 14. The Ricketts team was headed to Long Beach, Calif.

MTSU alternative fuels researcher and professor Cliff Ricketts stands next to a sign showing gas prices at a Mobil gasoline station just off an I-40 west exit near Newberry Springs, Calif., on Thursday, March 14. The Ricketts team was headed to Long Beach, Calif.

Co-driver Terry Young of Woodbury, Tenn., gives a thumbs-up to those watching Dr. Cliff Ricketts drive the final few feet to the edge of the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, March 14, in Long Beach, Calif. They combined to drive 2,600 miles using no gasoline.

Co-driver Terry Young of Woodbury, Tenn., gives a thumbs-up to those watching Dr. Cliff Ricketts drive the final few feet to the edge of the Pacific Ocean on Thursday, March 14, in Long Beach, Calif. They combined to drive 2,600 miles using no gasoline.

Day 4: Majestic views, late-night drama leads to Long Beach

NEEDLES, Calif. — The 10-member group traveling with Dr. Cliff Ricketts on his coast-to-coast journey (driving with no gas) weren’t exactly experiencing “California Dreamin’” when they awakened to a 25-degree temperature in Santa Rosa, N.M., Wednesday, March 13.

Or maybe they were.

California happens today for Ricketts and the crew members. Long Beach is the final destination. More precisely, a parking lot behind the Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 Ocean Blvd., is where the crew plans to finish their 2,600-mile journey before Los Angeles and Long Beach rush-hour traffic have their daily snarl.

Santa Rosa, N.M., Tractor Supply Company store manager CJ Jones, left, is quite amused by something MTSU alternative fuels expert shared during a visit on March 13. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

Santa Rosa, N.M., Tractor Supply Company store manager CJ Jones, left, is quite amused by something MTSU alternative fuels expert shared during a visit on March 13. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

Rewinding 24 hours earlier to Day 4 of the expedition found many bumpy miles of Interstate 40 highway pavement. There are some 584 miles, far too many to count for road-weary travelers.

Before we even could shove off from Santa Rosa, the group encounters a mechanical bump in the road, so to speak. In refueling the 2005 Toyota Prius and 1994 Toyota Tercel before the day began, pressure from the hydrogen tanks making the trip made the valves ice over. Solution: Very slowly let the hydrogen seep into the holding tanks.

The mesas and mountains along Interstate 40 that parallel Historic Route 66 in New Mexico and Arizona seem to grow as we cross into Arizona, heading toward dinner for three of us in Flagstaff.

In Albuquerque, before a media interview with KOB Eyewitness News4, Ricketts goes down memory lane at the Kit Carson Park. “I used to watch Kit Carson when I was a kid,” he said.

We barely touched the surface of Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona. Some very large petrified wood caught our attention at a tourist spot called Geronimo.

Hats off to a solid group of volunteers — engineers and mechanics — who not only are talented but also give their all for Ricketts. The crew includes Terry Young, Mike Sims, Travis Owen, Paul Ricketts, Aras Alexander, Duane Griffin and Rick Presley. Alexander is the lone MTSU student making the trip. Owen, a former MTSU student, now attends the Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro. They all contribute to a safer trip, and, with Ricketts, it’s “safety first.”

At a refueling stop for the Cliff Ricketts team in a rural part of the Texas Panhandle, Americana literally was steps away.

At a refueling stop for the Cliff Ricketts team in a rural part of the Texas Panhandle, Americana literally was steps away.

Well, this story continues to take twists and turns.

It’s midnight PDT. We just passed Kingman, Ariz., where the group was supposed to spend the night and was to be the dateline for this blog post. Ricketts made an executive decision — with 100 percent support of the crew — to push on to Needles, a little more than an hour away.

Ricketts and his crew have hydrogen on board. They know they have to pass through an inspection station after they enter California. He feels there is a better chance of being cleared to go through at night than early in the day. Success: The truck with tanks is waved on through. All breathe a sigh of relief.

Ricketts still sweats the small stuff, such as worrying about having enough hydrogen to finish the journey. We will find out later today.

On deck for Thursday and Day 5: Long Beach.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu and on Twitter @WeilerRandy)

Team Cliff Ricketts crew member Rick Presley, left, of Orlando, Fla., and MTSU alternative fuels researcher and professor Cliff Ricketts are shown at an Edge of Plains official scenic historic marker in rural eastern New Mexico (elevation 6,500 feet) on March 13.

Team Cliff Ricketts crew member Rick Presley, left, of Orlando, Fla., and MTSU alternative fuels researcher and professor Cliff Ricketts are shown at an Edge of Plains official scenic historic marker in rural eastern New Mexico (elevation 6,500 feet) on March 13.

MTSU's Dr. Cliff Ricketts sits behind the wheel, enjoying a banana just after leaving Santa Rosa, N.M., on March 13. (Photos by MTSU News and Media Relations)

MTSU’s Dr. Cliff Ricketts sits behind the wheel, enjoying a banana just after leaving Santa Rosa, N.M., on March 13. (Photos by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Day 3: Coast-to-coast on no gas nears New Mexico

OKLAHOMA CITY — Believe me, MTSU’s Dr. Cliff Ricketts can hang in there with George Strait when singing “Amarillo by Morning,” even if it’s just a line or two.

Volunteer Duane Griffin of Murfreesboro finishes changing a rear trailer tire on Tuesday in Zian, Okla. A blowout along Interstate 40 forced driver Paul Ricketts to have to exit and change the tire during a refueling process. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

Volunteer Duane Griffin of Murfreesboro finishes changing a rear trailer tire on Tuesday in Zian, Okla. A blowout along Interstate 40 forced driver Paul Ricketts to have to exit and change the tire during a refueling process. (MTSU photo by Randy Weiler)

It’s Tuesday, March 12. Ricketts has been singing/humming the famous song since we left Oklahoma City and then passed the halfway point in his quest to drive coast-to-coast 2,600 miles using hydrogen instead of gas. He’s also serenaded others with the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” and other tunes.

It hasn’t been in Ricketts’ thoughts — as CEO of the team joining him in what he continually calls “an expedition,” he has had much on his mind — he probably could belt out “… get your kicks on Route 66.”

Hopefully, we won’t be in Amarillo by morning. We will be there tonight, dining at the legendary Big Texan, Home of the Free 72-OunceSteak (if you can eat all six pounds of it). If all goes as planned on Day 3 of the cross-country trip, we will be sleeping tonight in Santa Rosa, N.M. Follow on Twitter @WeilerRandy.

After leaving Oklahoma City, where Ricketts had great interviews with Jay Marks of The Oklahoman daily newspaper and with KOCO, the ABC affiliate, we soon landed in Historic Route 66 country. Today’s history lesson: 2,500-mile U.S. 66 runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. It has been called The Main Street of America, The Mother Road and the Will Rogers Highway.

Enough history. We’re in the present, and Ricketts’ 2005 Toyota Prius, with a range of 260 miles, and the 1994 Tercel, with a range of 370, surpassed the halfway point of Clinton, Texas.

We’ve had about six fuel changes along the way. Finally, on Frontage Road and Texas Farm Road 453, we switch to the Tercel, the “Forces of Nature,” vehicle, with the venerable Ricketts behind the wheel.

Sometime tonight, we’ll cross into New Mexico and spend the night in Santa Rosa.

On deck for Wednesday and Day 4: Albuquerque, N.M., and Flagstaff and Kingman.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu and on Twitter @WeilerRandy)

Day 2: Refueling on hydrogen

MURFREESBORO to VAN BUREN, Ark. — You could call it a two-hour rain delay, like they have in baseball games and other sporting events.

Hydrogen expert Terry Young, left, and Mike Sims check settings during a hydrogen refueling process on Monday, March 11, as part of Dr. Cliff Ricketts' coast-to-coast trip using alternative fuel and no gas. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

Hydrogen expert Terry Young, left, and Mike Sims check settings during a hydrogen refueling process in Bartlett, Tenn., on Monday, March 11, as part of Dr. Cliff Ricketts’ coast-to-coast trip using alternative fuel and no gas. (Photos by MTSU News and Media Relations)

It was pouring down rain Monday morning, but that is not why it took Dr. Cliff Ricketts’ entourage more than two hours to leave Murfreesboro, as the group prepared to head west on Day 2 of the 2,600-mile, coast-to-coast drive from Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif.

They had to work through a mechanical issue on one of their vehicles, but it had nothing to do with hydrogen or solar, the two mainstays in their alternative fuel arsenal.

Credit Ricketts and common sense for thinking ahead and taking State Route 840 from north of Murfreesboro to the edge of Dickson. This totally avoided Nashville traffic, which might already have subsided by 10:30 but why ask for problems when you can drive past Castle Gwynn and the pristine Leiper’s Fork in Williamson County.

Anyway, finally, we were good to go to begin the approximately 530-mile second leg of the journey, which is being made in a 1994 Toyota Tercel and 2005 Toyota Prius. We don’t need gas; we’ve driving on hydrogen from water separated by sun. All of it is produced on campus in and around Ricketts’ shop, which has the more official Vocational Agriculture Building name attached to it.

Hydrogen expert Terry Young, left, connects the fill hose to the fuel tank connector as MTSU senior Arad Alexander, right, observes during a stop on Monday, March 11.

Hydrogen expert Terry Young, left, connects the fill hose to the fuel tank connector as MTSU senior Arad Alexander, right, observes during a stop on Monday, March 11.

The problem that hampered the Prius out of the gate just west of Savannah, Ga., on Day 1 continued to hamper the eight-member volunteer crew joining Ricketts on the journey. It has been a mystery ailment. Ricketts believes it has been a transmission-related issue; co-driver Terry Young has said it is a computer-related problem. But give it a few minutes for its “temper” to cool down and she’s good to go.

Just past 1 p.m., we reach Jackson, Tenn. We head for the Tractor Supply Company store. Because Ricketts has had TSC as a major sponsor for more than 20 years (they contributed an all-time high $25,000 in 2012-13), he agrees to stop at two stores every day. Manager Mike Austin and a woman (team lead Sylvia Ludolf) with “Sylvia” hand-written on her red vest provide warm-and-friendly greetings on an afternoon that has become bitterly cold because of the wind-chill factor.

The Jackson Sun and WBBJ-TV send reporters/photojournalists to capture Ricketts’ quest to achieve a 25-year goal of driving without gas.

Before reaching Memphis, we need to stop in Bartlett. The need is necessary because the Prius needs the first of three, two-hour energy drinks, a.k.a. refueling with hydrogen. Young, Mike Sims and the crew know what to do, and they can refuel in 15 minutes.

Ricketts, the CEO of the operation is more than relieved, when he sees Exit 2 in West Memphis, Ark. He knows we have eluded Memphis’ 4:30p.m. traffic congestion.

Driving Interstate 40 and into Arkansas turns bumpy, isolated — you can see for miles in the flat terrain — and then dark as nightfall arrives.

Because of the various stops along the way — not to mention getting out of Murfreesboro two hours late — we reach the overnight destination of Van Buren, Ark., next to Fort Smith. We are too late for a Tractor Supply stop (Ricketts phoned to say he would be there promptly at 8 a.m. Tuesday) and almost too late for dinner.

Chili’s Grill & Bar’s lights go out right at 11. One of the crew heads to Walmart. Three others walk about five blocks (and under both I-40 bridges) in 37-degree temperatures to Waffle House for a midnight “snack.” The rest head for bed at the Best Western.

So it’s 1,030 miles down, 1,570 to go to reach Long Beach, Calif., driving on empty with no gas.

Ricketts returns to the wheel Tuesday. Next up: Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Texas, and the overnight stay in Santa Rosa, N.M., a state several of us have never entered.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu and on Twitter @WeilerRandy)

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts travels Monday through Memphis in the 2005 Toyota Prius he's using during a coast-to-coast journey using hydrogen for fuel and no gasoline.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts travels Monday through Memphis in the 2005 Toyota Prius he’s using during a coast-to-coast journey using hydrogen for fuel and no gasoline.

Day 1: Roller-coaster at the start

(Follow veteran MTSU News and Media Relations staff Randy Weiler’s daily blog as he travels with alternative fuels researcher Dr. Ricketts and his team on their coast-to-coast trip using no gas.)

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. — What a roller-coaster day!

On the unofficial first day, March 9, of spring break for MTSU students and faculty, professor Cliff Ricketts began his quest to drive 2,600 miles coast-to-coast — from Tybee Island, Ga., to Long Beach, Calif. —without any gas.

MTSU alternative fuels researcher Dr. Cliff Ricketts tells a film crew documenting his 2013 quest to drive coast-to-coast without using any gas about an engine-related issue that slowed progress on Day 1 of the 2,600-mile trip. The 2005 Toyota Prius developed a transmission coolant heating problem just after leaving Savannah, Ga. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

MTSU alternative fuels researcher Dr. Cliff Ricketts tells a film crew documenting his 2013 quest to drive coast-to-coast without using any gas about an engine-related issue that slowed progress on Day 1 of the 2,600-mile trip. The 2005 Toyota Prius developed a transmission coolant heating problem just after leaving Savannah, Ga. (Photo by MTSU News and Media Relations)

All he needs is sun and hydrogen from water. That’s the easiest way to explain it, though it’s far more scientific and complicated than that.

A brilliant orange sunrise and a chilly morning greeted locals and tourists on Tybee Island, some 490 miles southeast of Murfreesboro. Reporter Raquel Rodriguez with WSAV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Savannah, Ga., arrives on time for an interview with Ricketts, a fixture at MTSU and the university’s expert in alternative fuels.

Later, just before leaving, Ricketts and his entourage of experienced and youthful engineers and mechanics emerge on Tybee’s sandy beach. It has become a rite of spring for him to remove his sneakers, roll up his pants legs, stroll out to the salt water and make a statement about the journey.

Ricketts and backup driver Terry Young of Woodbury, Tenn., hit the road just before 9 a.m. As Ricketts drives under and past the Spanish moss on the old oak trees in historic downtown Savannah, he learns some not-so-good news: A mystery problem, unrelated to the hydrogen process, comes 30 minutes into the trip.

Oh, brother.

Ricketts, 64, who grew up and still maintains a cattle farm in neighboring Wilson County, Tenn., does not take kindly to this type of news. For a man on a mission, this kind of news stinks like cow manure on his farm.

Fortunately, with a little “mothering” of the car and situation by Young, the problem worked itself out by the time the seven-member group reached Macon, Ga.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts, left, explains the hydrogen fueling process to Savannah, Ga., television reporter/videographer Raquel Rodriguez on March 8 in Tybee Island, Ga. A 2005 Toyota Prius and a 1994 Toyota Tercel use hydrogen from water separated by sun (solar), all produced on the MTSU campus, as the fuel sources.

MTSU professor Cliff Ricketts, left, explains the hydrogen fueling process to Savannah, Ga., television reporter/videographer Raquel Rodriguez on March 8 in Tybee Island, Ga. A 2005 Toyota Prius and a 1994 Toyota Tercel use hydrogen from water separated by sun (solar), all produced on the MTSU campus, as the fuel sources.

Ricketts, who could be considered a media darling because of the entertaining way he explains his research process, met NBC affiliate WMAZ-TV reporter/videographer Claudia Taylor for his second media interview of the day.

Next stop: Atlanta. Only it wasn’t just stop. It was stop-and-go in thick traffic on Interstate 75 North until the group reached Marietta, Ga., where photojournalist Pat Moore with WAGA-TV/Fox5 Atlanta conducted the final interview. Oddly enough, a Fox5 colleague suggested we meet Moore at the highly popular Marietta Grill.

Just after Moore arrived and was about to start the interview, a group of people stood off to the side in the parking lot. Seconds later, we learn that two of them are proud MT alumni Krista (’01) and Barry (’00) Hall with their two beautiful daughters, Ansley and Marley, and some friends. Friends. All are from Calhoun, Ga., about an hour’s drive in north Georgia.

We learn that Krista was the first Lightning, and Barry was part of a group of football players who played for former coaches Boots Donnelly and Andy McCollum. Both Krista and Barry teach at Gordon Central High School and truly are “True Blue” Blue Raiders.

An hour later, we arrive in Calhoun to meet Lisa McAfee, a Tractor Supply Company team leader for a photo opportunity. TSC is Ricketts’ major sponsor, contributing a $25,000 grant for 2012-13. The MTSU Office of Research matched half of that amount with $12,500.

Driving his 1994 Toyota Tercel, Ricketts heads for a fast-food place to get-and-go. He wants to reach MTSU and he wants to get home. He safely makes it to both.

It’s 490 miles down; 2,100 to go. Fortunately, despite springing forward with the clocks for Daylight Saving Time, well-needed rest awaited the weary travelers. Day 1 ends quite nicely.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu; follow Randy’s trip updates on Twitter @WeilerRandy)


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