Blair man hopes students benefit from pickup he converted to all-electric
Nine years ago, Paul Smith bought a 1994 Ford Ranger pickup truck with the goal of updating it with 21st century technology, driving it around town, and taking it to car shows.
After sinking nearly $25,000 into the project and converting the fossil-fuel vehicle to all electric systems, Smith is hoping his work can inspire the next generation of engineers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Smith, retired from a manufacturing company and living in Blair, Nebraska, contacted the College of Engineering earlier this year and asked to donate the pickup.
"I put a lot of time and money into turning it into a fully drivable, electric vehicle, but I think I took it about as far as I could on my own," Smith said. "I just wanted to give it to somebody that would appreciate what I did and take it further."
The work Smith put into completing the truck conversion included pulling the internal-combustion engine from the chassis, updating the interior of the cab, and giving the truck a show-quality paint job. Those are things Smith he had done many times over more than 50 years of tinkering on cars.
To finish the project, Smith had to educate himself about electrical motors, battery boxes and control systems, and how to install them.
"I read everything I could about converting a car to electric. I got on the Internet, bought a book, stayed up nights reading and trying things," Smith said. "I didn't know how all of this works when I started, but I did it all myself – wire by wire – except for hosting the engine out. I needed a little help from my wife with that."
Once completed, Smith drove his electric truck around town to run errands and gave rides to people who knew about the project.
Smith also took the truck to a few car shows. The response to his creation wasn't what Smith expected.
"Some of those guys would see the bed tilted back to show the battery boxes, so they'd come over and ask about it, but there weren't many," Smith said. "They like those hot rods a little bit more."
Smith tried for a few months to sell the truck, but received no serious offers before deciding to donate it to the College of Engineering.
Jerry Hudgins, chair of electrical and computer engineering, said he was more than happy to accept the donated pickup and was impressed with all the work Smith put into overhauling it.
"It all turned out to be serendipity, with everything coming together," Hudgins said. "We have a group of students interested in electric vehicles, and they're trying to form a registered student organization here on campus. This would be a perfect starting project for them.
"Moneywise, it's a minor investment for the department – the taxes and insurance probably amount to a couple hundred dollars a year," Hudgins said. "But for the students, it could be invaluable."
Smith said he's happy knowing that the truck he donated might help launch the career of a Nebraska Engineering student.
"Nothing is ever entirely new. People who invent things usually stand on the shoulders of the last guy who tried to do something and didn't quite get there," Smith said. "Maybe one of those engineering students is going to change the world because of something I started."
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