Their historic trip didn't exactly go off without a hitch, but two Alabama businessman succeeded earlier this week in making the first drive across Route 66 in a vehicle powered solely by compressed natural gas.
After passing through Tulsa on July 2, Mark McConville and Keith Barfield of Birmingham, Ala., completed their 2,200-mile journey by wheeling their CNG-fueled 1966 Pontiac GTO on to Navy Pier in Chicago around noon on July 5, one day later than they originally planned.
That delay was of their own choosing, McConville said, after they were advised that huge Independence Day crowds at the famous lakefront attraction in the Windy City would make their arrival problematic.
Reached by cell phone the morning of July 5 just as he and Barfield were approaching Chicago, McConville said the end of the trip would be welcome.
"We're barreling into Chicago right now," he said. "We're almost out of gas, and the engine is smoking, but we're only about 15 miles away. I can see the Sears Tower."
McConville and Barfield set out on their "Drive to Inspire" -- an effort to raise awareness about the benefits of alternative fuels and especially the use of compressed natural gas to end America's dependence on foreign oil -- from the Santa Monica Pier in California on June 26. While headed east, they ran out of gas during a side trip to the Grand Canyon, endured a flat tire in New Mexico and had to replace a broken voltage regulator in Tulsa.
So it was hardly a surprise to hear McConville describe his feelings as the end of the journey approached as, "A large sense of relief."
Nevertheless, he said, he and Barfield had been struck by the parallels between their own journey on the historic roadway and that of so many people who traveled on it in the 20th Century out of necessity.
"It was well worth it, but it was much more of a task than we thought," he said. "We had a dead battery, and we had to refuel on the side of a busy road, so there was an element of danger in it. But that gave us an understanding of what it was like for people in the days when they traveled on it for a better life."
Despite the fact their trip drew considerable media attention, McConville acknowledged he was a little disappointed that more people didn't turn out at each stop on the trip to hear what he and Barfield had to say about alternative fuels.
"We wanted a lot more of a grassroots thing," he said. "We were hoping to touch more people's lives. But given the fact that this was taking place on a holiday weekend, that may have been a miscalculation on our part, to try to pull this off on a holiday weekend. But the media will reach a lot more people with our message that we ever could in person."
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