Friday, September 14, 2007

The Cart Chronicles

I realized when I first started putting this post together that a fair amount of this is going to sound a bit like "Ruth got out of the hospital." The problem is, you don't necessarily know who Ruth is, and you certainly don't know what landed her in the hospital.

So I need to back up a bit.

Several decades ago, my father-in-law, then a missionary in Quito, Ecuador, started putting together a bike trailer to haul his kids around in. As the kids got larger, and the hillside that he lived on didn't get any less steep, he decided to electrify it, and, through a near-constant evolutionary process (or intelligent design with a lot of revisions, if you'd rather) he came up with a small, battery-powered vehicle, known to the family as The Cart.

This didn't go unnoticed, either; it was a bit of a trademark, actually, as, to my knowledge, they never owned a gasoline-powered car while they were there. This was daily transport, and unusual enough to get him on Ecuadorian TV at one point.

Once Deborah's parents retired, though, the cart came back with them, and sat; the 12-15 mile range wasn't practical in rural New Hampshire. So, when they came to visit, they brought it with them.

Seats four, comfortably!

It took a little work to get it going again — a few new bulbs and $180 worth of deep-cycle marine batteries — but within a few hours, it was ready to take for spins around the block, and to show off a bit for our neighbors...

I totally misjudged the speed, weight, and braking ability, big time. Fortunately, Tiffany jumped, and, with all the weight over the rear axle, the front end of the cart hopped the curb without damage to man or machine. Chris says he's not going to press charges. :o)

This was an extremely welcome addition to the stable, too, because Deborah needed to take our one working car in order to get to work and class, and I was effectively stuck at home. The cart opened up all sorts of around-town possibilities.

But, sadly, the fun was short-lived: I knew I had to keep the batteries from shifting around, but it never occurred to me to prevent them from bouncing up. I was tooling around Winona Lake with the kids one afternoon, and we hit a rough patch of pavement. The batteries bounced. They made contact with the aluminum frame. 36 volts and a great number of amps sparked, the cart lurched, and then everything was still.

Providentially, we broke down right in front of some folks we knew, and they opened their garage and provided toys for the kids to play with while I checked out the damage.

I watched this wire melt before my eyes.

Once it was obvious that we weren't going anywhere in the cart, our friends took us home, and I came back a few hours later with a borrowed pickup to get the cart.

There she sits. Did you ever wonder why I had made a large door in the side of my shed?

So it's all very sad. I'm trying to diagnose the poor beast, but electical circuits aren't my specialty. Deborah and I were talking about saving up some money to get her father to come down and take a look at it. He says he's sure he could get it running again pretty quickly.

I miss it already. And I didn't even grow up with it!


Beautifully Profound said...

I WANT ONE! That is the coolest thing I've seen in awhile. Take up some donations in order to get the "Cart specialist" in to fix it!

Andy said...

Well, if you're donating, consider the collecting tin rattled! :-) Paypal, cash, checks, Visa, Mastercard, gold fillings, we accept 'em all...

Jonadab said...

So are you going to explain about Ruth and the hospital? Or was that merely a fabricated metaphor for the cart that readers also might not know about?

Andy said...

Fabricated metaphor based on real-life experiences.

Carolina Kerr said...

I think I would be afraid to drive around Winona Lake, what with carts and beer coolers tooling the streets. Are they really legal?

Andy said...

Is the cart legal? As far as I can tell, yes. It falls under the definition of a "Neighborhood Electric Vehicle" (NEV) and doesn't require insurance or registration so long as it doesn't exceed 23 miles per hour.

As anecdotal evidence, I drove it out past the police station, where a police car turned in behind me and was stuck there for about three blocks, until I turned off. He continued on his way, and I on mine.

The beer cooler might be another story. The cart is positively pedestrian compared to some of the other vehicles around here.

You can't drive very fast in Winona Lake anyway — at least, not down by our house — but it's not because of the vehicles. It's because half the people walk in the street, and maybe another half of those people are walking their dogs. During tourist season, you have to work at not running people over. The temptation gets overwhelming sometimes...

Jonadab said...

This may seem a bit odd, but really the question of legality would only even come up if you drive the thing on the street, in a lane where cars would drive (and even then the issue is mostly only enforced on major streets and highways, not so much on small residential streets). Elsewhere (say, on the sidewalk) I believe you can drive pretty much whatever you want, as long as it doesn't violate any other, non-street-vehicle-related laws.

Even on the street, the rules about what's legal have little to do with propulsion method and much to do with such considerations as head lights and brake lights and so forth. You can get away without turn signals, technically, if the driver can use hand signals. Bicycles are (or at least can be) street legal for this reason, and may drive in a lane of traffic on any road that doesn't have a minimum speed limit they can't meet or specific signage that prohibits them. However, driving without turn-signal lights is not really a very good idea in practice, at least not for situations where the ability to signal turns is important, because almost nobody actually knows the hand signals. It doesn't do the driver much good to be able to signal if nobody else on the road can interpret the signals correctly. Even for a bicycle, I would recommend turn signal lights if you're going to be driving in any very significant traffic.

Nonetheless, all that would surely be feasible. If the cart is not street legal as it stands, it would certainly be possible to _make_ it street legal. Stranger things have been done.

Whether you would need a license (for the driver and/or for the vehicle), I'm not really sure. That _does_ depend on the type of vehicle (e.g., you don't need any licenses for a bicycle, but you do need them for a car), and I don't know exactly how the line is drawn. My best *guess* would be that the cart would fall in the same category as a moped, but that is a guess.