There’s just something electric about that truck

Dawson City's second electric vehicle isn't like the noisy, whirring, battery-powered cars you played with as a kid. It's surprisingly quiet. It also doesn't look like the old electric vehicles that were run off the road by the Model T Ford in the early 1900s.

Dawson City’s second electric vehicle isn’t like the noisy, whirring, battery-powered cars you played with as a kid.

It’s surprisingly quiet.

It also doesn’t look like the old electric vehicles that were run off the road by the Model T Ford in the early 1900s.

The reconverted taupe-coloured pickup – which ironically enough is a Ford – looks like any other truck except for the box of insulated batteries hiding in the truck bed.

It’s so normal looking, in fact, people think the purple “electric zero-emission vehicle” sticker plastered on the rear window of Peter Menzies’ truck is a joke.

Menzies, a Grade 3 teacher and licensed shop teacher at Dawson City’s Robert Service School, decided to have his truck reconfigured after he saw how well Dawson’s first electric vehicle ran.

That vehicle was built by Doug Cotter, a Dawson mechanic and electrical wizard who decided two years ago that he wanted to go completely off of petroleum.

Cotter, who religiously watched the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car “about 100 times,” slowly converted his pick-up into a 144-volt electric vehicle over the course of a year. It’s a job he could now do in a month, he says.

After finishing Menzies’ truck in the fall, he already has plans to build a third truck in January for the Conservation Klondike Society that will haul recyclables out to the Quiqley landfill. And next summer he wants to try his hand at retooling an old VW bug.

Both trucks run on lead-acid batteries, common in most vehicles. But Cotter hopes to soon use lithium-ion charged batteries, which are more expensive, but hold more energy for a longer period of time.

Right now the two trucks can keep a charge for 60 kilometres and an overnight charge is all they need to get back on the road.

Similar to a cellphone, they only need to plug the truck into the wall using a regular three-prong cord to charge the battery.

The trucks top out at 85 kilometres an hour, but that doesn’t stop Cotter and Menzies from taking them out on the Dempster Highway.

In addition to a speedometer, a flickering digital meter mounted on the dashboard of the truck tells you how much energy is being drawn from the batteries.

The faster the car goes, the faster the number plummets.

“The trucks serve about 90 per cent of your daily needs,” said Cotter.

Menzies and Cotter haven’t teased out exactly how much of their home energy bills come from charging their trucks, but Menzies estimates he used $16 dollars worth of energy over a two-and-a-half-week period last month.

Compare that to the $25 per day Cotter used to spend fueling up his truck with gas and the cost difference is noticeable.

Mind you, Cotter operated his truck without heat for the entire first year he ran it, something that didn’t seem to bother him even when temperatures slipped below minus 50. But he recently installed propane tanks under the hoods of both cars to heat the interior cabs.

It’s a welcome addition, said Menzies.

Cotter admits the upfront costs for retooling a car are expensive, but if the vehicles are donated, as were both of the vehicles he worked on, then the cost is more manageable.

Converting a truck to electricity can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, he said.

“It’s expensive, but it’s still a far cry from the $60,000 Chevy Volt that’s on the market right now,” Cotter pointed out.

And because there’s only one moving part, versus thousands of moving parts, there are fewer repair costs, he added.

It may be cheaper to build an electric vehicle yourself, but not just anyone can do it.

“You do need to be a licensed mechanic,” said Menzies.

“If someone (in the Yukon) were interested in getting their cars converted, Doug would have to do it for them or help them do it.”

Cotter had a hand reconfiguring his vehicles from Michael Golub, an engineering student from Fairbanks who has built 10 vehicles of his own, including a snowmobile which landed him an award from the US federal government for its energy efficiency.

Which means the North has an impressive number of fully powered electric vehicles compared to the rest of North America, said Menzies

Now Cotter and Menzies want to pass along that knowledge to even more people who are looking to unhook themselves from big oil.

The duo will be holding workshops in Dawson next summer for anyone who wants assistance in converting their car into an electric vehicle.

“We want to see dozens of these cars on the road in a couple years,” said Cotter.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com