Running Route 66 without gas

By Allen Penticoff
Mr. Green Car

A road trip is the classic American adventure. Ruth and I recently went on a long one to Florida via North Carolina ourselves. But the quintessential American road trip is to cruise along Route 66 (most pronounce it “root” 66).

This two-lane highway stretching from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California via a southwesterly route was established November 11, 1926 (and officially ended 6/27/85) and has since become a legend. Used as an evacuation highway by families fleeing the Midwestern dust storms of the 1930s for the sunny California valleys, it was the precursor to the interstate highway system. As a major transportation lifeline, it developed many interesting gas stations and kitschy motels along the way. In 1946, songwriter Bobby Troup and his wife Cynthia started out on a ten-day road trip from Pennsylvania on Highway 40. Much of their trip was on Route 66 as they headed to California seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. During the trip he composed the now famous song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” Cynthia came up with the title for the tune. The King Cole Trio was the first of many artists to record this lyrical travelogue. In the 1960s there was also a Route 66 television show, lending even more credence to the legend.

Countless travelers and adventures have since taken the path less traveled and followed all or parts of Route 66 to wander through often unchanged countryside. On the Illinois stretch, you’ll pass between a lot of cornfields. Recently the state of Illinois has added a new twist and attraction to the trip. You can now travel from Chicago to St. Louis in your electric car with charging stations along the way in Plainfield, Dwight, Pontiac, Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinsville and Edwardsville. The state plans to have the charging stations in operation by September 2015. Many are already in place.

If you own a Tesla S, you can probably make the trip with one stop in Springfield for recharging, but if you own one of the many other electric cars that do not have the Tesla’s battery capacity, then you’ll need to make more frequent stops to recharge. The planned recharging stations will have at least one DC fast charger (480 volts DC – which the Nissan Leaf, Tesla S and other electric cars can use). Some plug-in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt can’t use the DC fast charger, so Level 2 240-volt chargers will be available as well as standard Level 1 240-volt chargers.

Obviously there is not a huge immediate demand for folks road-tripping Route 66 in their Nissan Leafs. These charging stations are in urban areas where electric vehicle infrastructure is in need of expansion. The city of Normal, Illinois has an aggressive plan to provide this infrastructure and provides incentives for electric car ownership – and thus has many more electric cars per capita than other Illinois cities.

I’d love to take the Route 66 road trip. But I’ll think I’ll take my convertible Mazda Miata rather than our Chevy Volt. The Volt’s highway electric only range is about 40 miles give or take a bit depending on temperature, and its onboard charging system cannot take advantage of fast chargers – so it would be a very slow trip on electricity for us. But travelers with other pure electric cars may well take advantage of these stations to make the trip or just to go back and forth from own city to the other. The slower pace of the two-lane highway is more in tune with conserving electric car driving range too. The electric road-trippers will also be smelling the sweet smell of fresh cut hay and corn ready to be detasseled rather than jostling with big trucks barreling down the interstate. A slower paced trip can be a sublime experience rather than just another chore. I know. I enjoy them.

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