Steve called me early the next morning, and suggested that I simply stumble my sleepy self out of the campground and just across the street where there was a good breakfast place where he and his daughter and I could fuel up for the day. He was completely correct, and over coffee and correctly-greasy-yummy stuff we immediately got into a groove of chatting about obscure Prius workings and related topics. He's also a long-time electronics guy and used to run a TV repair business, so the Prius appeals to both of us on many levels in a very similar fashion.
After breakfast we headed up to his workplace, and I found myself in his back lot contemplating the row of Priuses in almost every conceivable state of disrepair. Everything from minor fender-benders to almost unrecognizable balls of crumpled metal.
As Steve realized he had a free helper for a while, he asked me to come with him to pick up another car from the painter's, so we jumped into his ... *convertible Prius* [!] to zip down the road a ways. He put this together partially as a rolling advertisement to bring to a local parade; in reality it started as a car that a tree fell on so all that really took damage was the roof. The solution? Chop it off and have an open-air Prius. He left the A and B pillars in place to stiffen the chassis, and designed a shortened mini-hatch door for the back to retain the look of the car's rear. A close look shows the various places where the cut-off ends of the upper structure are, but he's capped off the sharp bits with parts of interior plastic. Unfortunately there's no ragtop roof [yet] so it has to be parked under cover, and he said the air tends to howl strangely around in the space behind the rear seats. But it's a great hack, and a street-legal way to run fair-weather errands and draw eyeballs at the same time.
Many of the cars have been picked fairly clean by now -- not just removable components, but large sections of body metal as well. A high proportion of putting wrecked Priuses back together is bodywork, which involves grafting still-good parts of cars into other cars and making all the sheet metal match up. I'm still not entirely sure how this is done, but it was clear that substituting things like the front ends of subframe rails is pretty common since that's what gets bent up in a frontal. Along with that, there are many good components to be taken off the wrecks and tested and organized. Here's one with relatively little remaining, but there's still a bit of work to do on it. Possibly a good transaxle in front of it albeit with bent axles; it would be worth checking the CV joints and half-shaft seals carefully and inspecting the resolver and temp-sensor connectors which always seemed to get busted up in collisions. And checking for water inside.
Another one in similar condition, but with even more of the front end gone. Things like the exhaust system and battery cables and harness bits remain to be recovered and maybe eventually go into another car.
This side-impact might have been deep enough to be one of those instances of battery-cable damage where the outer grounded shield gets used to detect HV system faults, and where you'd want to use a high-voltage "megger" to test them! Steve's been piling a lot of the harness parts of other cars into this one for storage, since they're messy to try shelving elsewhere. The sign on the window is no lie -- the whole yard is covered by cameras with digital video recording and backed by a VERY deep buffer. Yes, he's had a few problems.
Many of the recovered parts get stored into a lockable container or shelves in the shop, labeled as to source and any knowledge of condition. The trailer has 100% solar powered lighting -- panels on the roof and a 12V battery and inverter for the overhead fluorescents!
But many parts are still on the variously mangled cars, like wheels, radiators, coolant pumps and storage bottles... hopefully not too mangled themselves.
A brake actuator, for example, would be a very pricey item from a dealer. One hopes this one is still good, as opposed to the remaining fragment of an inverter case still hanging near it. Given how some of the hose fittings near it are bent, it would be prudent to examine the threads on all the flare fittings going into it, and of course do a complete flush [which is a rather involved process]. Steve set both me and his daughter to the task of pulling more parts off a couple of the already more stripped-down hulks. This is evidently part of her summer job this year; possibly not what interests her the most but one that if I'd known back then what I've learned recently, I would have killed for! I did do the obligatory summer or two in a gas station back in the day, but that was way before self-serve when one actually had to attend customers, and there wasn't much opportunity to hang out in the bays and help the mechanics with stuff. But here was a chance to totally soak myself in Prius parts for a couple of days, and I dug in with gusto. It was nice to be able to know what I was looking at and have a concept of its function and value, and banter cluefully about the condition of things with Steve. The difference is that he's got a much better idea of applying this stuff in a real-life practical fashion. But sometimes he just doesn't have time to do that and all the relatively menial labor of collecting and organizing all this stuff, so he was appreciating the disassembly help.
The shop is sort of a long single bay, with the most prominent equipment feature being the alignment rack. No lift yet, but that's probably coming soon. The car up on the rack that morning had apparently been rolled, and had probably high-centered on a ditch edge at speed before going over because there was lots of dried mud packed into almost everywhere under the front and a clear pattern under the crossmember of having slid diagonally across dirt.
The rack normally sits up on large casters, so the entire thing with a car on top can be pushed around the shop. It's basically a very stiff, strong flat frame onto which various hydraulic clamps can be attached to pull, push, and hold pieces of car bodies very firmly. There's a large air-powered scissor jack in the middle that can slide back and forth, so it almost works like a lift too. Later on, Steve jacked the front of the whole rack up [to remove the casters] and then down onto a couple of 4x4s, sort of like kneeling a camel, to attach the little ramps and swap that car off the rack.
Next up was this one, which came with sort of a sad story -- a car that Steve had fixed the front end of and sold to a local lady, who later got in an accident that knocked the whole front end askew *again*. The little side benefit is that Steve got to see his welding work seriously stress-tested, and found that it held up fine. But the bumper is clearly offcenter and the radiators are probably toast. Steve says that for these wrecks that look like a hopeless mess even if relatively minor, one should just break it down piece by piece and evaluate it one thing at a time, to avoid stressing about the whole job. We had taken some of the morning to disassemble the nose of this one, and I found shreds of someone else's tire embedded in the chewed-up end of the aluminum bumper piece. I was all set to take that off too, but Steve wanted it left on as a straightening/spacing guide between the two rails. The car still ran well enough to make the short trip onto the rack under its own power. Steering was a little squirrely, and a close look shows that there's way more toe-out than just the picture's perspective.
The reason? This steering tie rod, bent *way* out of shape. The rest of the suspension around this wheel looked okay, so I can't imagine how enough compressive stress happened to do this without, for example, turning the rim into a pretzel and bending other parts. Measurements are obviously needed, but Steve expressed high hope that all of this would be set straight again fairly soon.
Back out to the yard for a look at a few more things. This is what the firewall looks like when completely stripped of everything attached to it, including the fiber sound dampening mats. Here it's easy to see what the inner intake opening into the A/C and heater box looks like, and why it would be difficult to install a piece of rodent-proofing mesh over it from outside -- because it's more than half blocked by the outer cowl piece and it's all firmly spot-welded in place. To do that job right you'd have to pull the whole A/C and blower unit -- which Steve has done during teardowns, of course, but not what your typical shadetree owner is likely to tackle. It's much easier to try and remember to leave the system in "recirculate" when shutting down, to avoid having decaying mouse parts flying out of the ductwork when the fan starts up.
This chassis has had numerous sections cut off it, and there's very little top structure left. Steve had decided that it was time for the rest of this one to go to steel recycling and make room for another car coming in, so the task was to finish stripping everything off. We cleaned up all the wire and junk lying on top, extracted the steering rack and the few remaining items clinging to the front of the firewall, and then the idea was to raise it and/or flip it over to recover the exhaust system and battery cables. Steve later managed to access all that by just jacking it up a little higher and adding more cinderblocks. The shell wasn't very heavy to begin with; I could easily lift the whole back end of it.
The cross-section cut of the A-pillar on this one reveals some interesting construction details. Most of the major members have vibration-deadening foam layers stuffed in. The thicker steel in the middle is the special hardened stuff that forms the occupant protection cage, and Steve says it's very difficult to cut. Now, note that this particular member is the piece that passes most of the way over the driver's window but the B-pillar is gone, and the remainder is only attached to the rest of the hulk at the front end by the two pieces that bracket the little triangle window. Still, it felt *very* stiff, so I figured I'd give it a little stress test.
No deflection at all with 140-some pounds sitting [and bouncing] out on the end of the lever arm. Those front triangle windows may look goofy, but they allow for a serious strengthening truss at the bottom of that very slanted A-pillar. That's probably why the rolled car had surprisingly little structural roof damage. The crunched seat is what came out of the "convertible", and got moved into here after the big cleanout to be disposed of along with the hulk since it's more or less non-recoverable.
This is what happens when you give guys like this power tools... after pulling the crossmember off to save the non-bent lower arm and free up the battery cables, Steve looked at the subframe piece that connects to the bumper, said "that's worth saving" and went to work. This is how he collects so many Prius pieces that he can use to restore other cars to non-crunched condition. I was amused to note that the rim supporting the hulk [pink, lower right, big picture] had a Hydroedge tire on it.
While the Sawzall was slicing and dicing, Steve's dad was inside taking something else apart. WARNING: not for the squeamish! Steve shares building space with his dad's veterinary practice -- an odd mix, but seems to work. In fact, I think this was the second spaying operation that took place that day. What I found fascinating is how dogs can still randomly yip and bark while totally out of it under certain types of anaesthesia. Steve's dad also made us really awesome lunches with grilled steak and local corn both days I was there.
I finally found a partially disassembled engine kicking around. This is what the big end looks like with #1 at top dead center...
and where the cam sensor is at the same rotational position. This is at full valve *advance*, and the sensor pin seems to line right up with the center of the reluctor. Any more retarded position places the cam slightly more, uh, clockwise as we're looking at it here. While the cam sensor may match a sensible position at TDC, recall that the crank does not, but this may help determine more about the relationship that the ECM does its calculations from. Easy to see the longer-duration Atkinson intake cam here, and how the bucket lifters fit snugly into little guide channels underneath.
Besides stripping the cut-up hulk, Steve was doing a bunch more housekeeping by piling other non-usable parts on the trailer [towed behind a Prius, of course] to haul to recycling. It still seems too bad that a minorly bent rear axle beam is now scrap, but it's probably safer to just replace it. And all the crumpled fenders are simply toast. Now, you'll notice a boat and a jet-ski behind here, too. Steve's vehicle enthusiasm extends beyond Priuses, and he's got a few other toys of his own. At the end of the first day he decided that we should use the rest of the daylight to go jet-skiing. So we headed off to his house to pick up his truck and trailered pair of boats and continued on to nearby Hardy Lake, where after a nominal bit of instruction I got my first jet-ski experience. They're fun, albeit in a fuel-sucking way. Water-going motorcycles. Roll on the throttle, and they basically *launch* themselves across the water up over 50 mph very quickly and are surprisingly stable given how small the hulls are, even over small waves. They seem to rev-limit to their 8000 RPM redline. The jet pivot and steering configuration does some magic thing that causes the boat to lean *into* turns just the right amount so you can basically spin on a dime at lower speeds. There are limits; you can't whip a turn at high speed because the hull is higher off the water and it'll slide sideways a certain amount -- too far and you'd take a high-speed high-side dump into the drink. No, no mishaps occurred but I did play with cutting as tight as I dared before feeling the slip starting. Fuel conservation in a jet-ski?? Hah. To put it bluntly, there is no coasting on those. Roll off the throttle and it just falls on its face -- fwooosh, and you're right back down to idling-putter speed. It doesn't begin to get "on the step" until about 20 mph when the hull begins to rise out, but that's about it for any efficiency increase you might see. It simply takes a *lot* of energy to push anything through water.
Steve's vehicle collection reflects how he's spent a long time doing the buy, fixup, and resell game with many different types. This monster, for example, had been in a fire in the surrounding building where it was parked, which pretty much toasted the landau top and blackened the entire exterior. But since the car was closed tight and the fire hadn't been that hot, nothing on the inside got burned or even smoked up -- while I could smell smoke around the exterior, I couldn't detect anything on the inside velvet upholstery -- pretty amazing, when you think about it. The car still runs, and basically just needs new trim, more cleanup, and a paint job. So while I was there Steve sold it to his nephew and buddy who were looking for a large vehicle for their band's gear, and here they are happily tooling off in their new acquisition. [Cue the "Peter Gunn" theme...] On the second day I was there, Steve also won a salvage-yard auction on almost the inverse case from the limo -- a large motor home that had had a furnace fire *inside* which charred much of the interior and put a big hole in the roof, but remained otherwise functional. A couple of days after getting back on the road, I got mail that he'd picked it up and driven it back to the shop. So that's going to become another big ol' project!
While I could have stayed on the rest of the week, or maybe the summer, I started to feel a pull back toward the road and I'd already lined up my next major waypoint in the DC area. So it was time to get rolling again; I used the second evening's opportunity of Steve wanting to have family time to take my reluctant leave and planned to get as far east as I could that night and then explore some backroads on the way into Virginia the next day. Before parting, Steve wanted a shot of both of us amid the tangle o' Prius. I'd had a seriously good time here, and I know there's a lot more I could still learn from him and what he does. I'll never look at Prius body parts quite the same way again, that's for sure.[For the record, I did wear work boots during most of my stay
I dropped a little farther south into Louisville KY [via its rush-hour jam-ups across the bridge] to pick up I-64 east. The welcome sign doesn't lie; like most of Indiana is endless cornfields, western Kentucky really is endless horse farms. Huge, rolling pastures with meticulously maintained fences.
According to Steve, the IN/KY border is around where the ice-age glaciers stopped advancing and left big piles of rock as they retreated. Most of the bedrock seems to be this oddly stratified stuff, which is also ripe cave formation territory. The hills formed by all this segue into the Appalachians farther east, and that's where I was headed. I had planned a tentative route into and through the fabled West Virginia mountains, by looking for the most wiggly highways on the GPS, figuring those would be the ones that wind through the highest hills while still getting me farther east. I made the WV border by nightfall and continued on a little way, and somewhere around the town of Hurricane started looking for a place to hang it up for the night. After threading my way carefully through the maze of "sleeping giants" at a TA truck stop and deciding it was just too loud with all the idling diesels around, I backed quietly into an empty slot behind a Hampton Inn across the street, rigged the curtains, and found that their Wifi covers the parking lot well enough that I could hop on briefly and update the running blog thread.
Got going again early the next morning, cruising through patches of that infamous Appalachian fog that hangs in the valleys. After a while on the interstate I branched off onto US33 eastbound, which for all intents and purposes is every bit as fast as an interstate with two lanes each way and a full median. Although every so often it necks down into a twistier two-lane where it hasn't been expanded yet -- just the type of road I was looking for.
A sign in Elkins, WV [el. 1950 ft ASL], where I stopped to fuel up -- sort of an in-joke to a bunch of us who do volunteer production tech for masquerades at science fiction conventions.
Past here the road becomes even more wiggly on the map, and rightly so, as I got into a long climb up over the ridge east of Elkins. Note the elevation here, helping explain why my fresh tank average rapidly descended into gas- guzzler territory despite taking it easy and simply thumbing the occasional pickup on by who actually *wanted* to make the climb at full throttle. But even the minor MPG hit was well worth the view from the top:
Sure, I could have blasted up the same hills at or over the posted 45 or 50 mph speed limit -- the car's capable of it, but why bother? The Prius generally doesn't bring the battery in to assist on acceleration until somewhere north of 3000 engine RPM. So by holding right around there and letting a *little* pack energy come in to help, I could keep a reasonable climb rate going all the way up without getting too far into serious fuel-sucking territory, and try to regulate things so the pack was largely drained at the crest. I figure that's about 40 horsepower used to climb, which is still a higher power-to- weight ratio than most trucks. What more does *anybody* need, unless they're on some kind of emergency call.
Without being too ridiculous, it's good to try and empty the pack at the top to leave plenty of headroom for what comes next. Because the backside will definitely fill it right back up no matter what you do, and once that happens it's brake and B-mode for the rest of the downward scream.
While it would be theoretically lovely to just ride it out in warp-neutral, that's impossible when you also have to deal with switchbacks in the middle! And there's usually a town at the bottom of the valley, where speed limits drop to 25 mph. This is the fun "Prius in the mountains" game, especially on the stock battery, and the object is to minimize overall energy loss regardless. I continued eastward over several more ridges, topping the pack at least three times in the process, but trying to balance pure regen vs. a certain amount of throwaway by spinning the engine and braking.
Here's another reason to not blast up the hills at full bore. On another climb later on, I was still having fun and being rather leisurely about it since the road was still in a narrow two-lane section. I rounded another bend, and...
Fortunately nobody was behind me, and I was able to light the hazards to warn off anyone who might come along, frantically grab the camera, and drift to a dead stop and study them for a while. The fact that the car had fallen completely silent helped, because now they didn't perceive me as an immediate threat. So they wandered farther *into* the road, being only mildly leery of this mysterious green alien pod that had just dropped out of hyperspace to quietly observe them.
So I slowly chased them along the road under electric-only power a little ways, until they finally figured out that maybe they shouldn't be there. The mom and dad [?] managed to hop over the guardrail and down the bank; the fawn did a clumsy but amusing little squeeze underneath. Meanwhile I was ready on the high-beam lever to warn anyone coming down the other way, and kept half an eyeball on the rearview in case anyone came sailing up behind and needed a shot of the yuppie button to wake up and pay attention. I was nonetheless really glad I was on the way *up* during this encounter, or things may have gone quite differently. And glad that nobody else was coming down at the time either.
After that set of ridges I found myself at a crossroads near Onego, WV where US33 turns abruptly south. I opted to turn north instead onto Rt. 28, since that heads up toward I-66 more in the direction I needed to go. There is no road continuing truly east from here, and I think we can see why. As I contemplated all this from a general-store parking lot, the same small group of bikers I had seen at a brief stop at the beginning end of US33 rolled in behind me and we chatted a little bit. Even as a cager, I feel a little bit of kinship with the 2-wheel crowd simply because we've all got our own ways of enjoying our vehicles and these folks were clearly having just as good a time on these roads as I was. They can make all the noise for me, though. My excuse for not riding these days is simple -- it turned out that my car was getting better mileage than my ol' 350 enduro putt-putt, so I eventually sold off the scoot!
As 28 followed the valley northward and merged with 220, it yielded some really long, beautiful engine-off glides while descending back down to a more reasonable 800 feet ASL. "Now that's more like it!" I thought while noting the recovering-and-then-some MPG average. In general, using a fairly consistent driving methodology of staying within 2000 RPM plus or minus 300 with the abovementioned excursions and grabbing as many warp-stealth and other no-fuel opportunities as possible, the MPG average seemed to stay very closely and simply tied to *altitude* over the entire trip. Maybe just a wee bit better overall on the return leg due to prevailing westerly winds. Soon I dropped onto I-66 and continued on toward DC and the house of an old friend who'd just recently bought a new Prius.
Booger? Meet your crazy old uncle. He's one of those hypermilers. Over the next few days as I hung out there, she did most of the driving on the minor errands we went out on [I still had no usable shotgun seat], and it was quite clear that any sort of MPG clinic was not in the cards. But that's okay; if it's gonna happen it'll happen by itself as time and continued Prius ownership work their magic, and in the meantime we can simply agree to disagree on style points.
On one of our jaunts out to the fish store [she has way-cool saltwater reef tanks] we spotted another Prius with an interesting color scheme on its trim rings. Almost like the owner had seen this photochop and had decided to experiment, but in the car's own color instead of black.
Finally it was time to start the final leg to home. As I wandered my way up through Maryland into Pennsylvania [avoiding the I-95-corridor mess, well worth it], the humidity became more and more oppressive with just enough sun leaking through to make things really hot and miserable. I finally caved in and switched to using the A/C just to try and dry the air around me a little bit, figuring it would be a big MPG hit. But with the system set at 76 and medium fan, the average didn't seem to drift any more than I would have expected from terrain. So modest A/C seems about equivalent to the two-diagonal-slits trick and probably keeps the HV battery a little happier anyways.
A couple more little vignettes from the road...
As I got into the part of I-81 that heads over the ridges in PA, I was passed by a flatbed load of ... swimming pools. Mind you, I was still doing sixty or better MPH on average, so I guess someone *really* wanted to get their pool installed right now.
It is interesting where the rust tends to collect on steel bridge beams. The pattern of where the most corrosive gases drift up against the overpass is fairly obvious on many of them. Maybe someday we'll wise up and quit generating nearly so much of that stuff.
Here's the whole loop -- 2950 miles or so, in yellow. The little pink oval is about where Scottsburg is. Fillup average over 5 tanks was 61.7 according to the car, or right around 61 MPG taking my known +1.2% Hydroedge distance factor into account. Try *that* in your Winnebago...