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San Diego, CA harbor with sailboat
Bonita Vista student working on one of school's many electric vehicles. Several graduates of this program are now employed with local golf courses maintaining their carts.

Adapt, Improvise, Overcome

A dialog with Bonita Vista High School's Ben Hazel, EV instructor extraordinaire, and SDSU's Terry Ireland

By Josh Landess

It had been a long time since I had been in a High School classroom, but there was a student survival skill that came back quickly – the ability to recognize a teacher who is really not fooling around. Ben Hazel seems to be such a teacher.

He's a Shop and ROP (Regional Occupational Program) Instructor at Bonita Vista High School in the southern part of San Diego County. He teaches the construction and repair of Electric, Hybrid-Electric and other vehicles. He is someone I turn to when I personally have a question about the workings of Electric Vehicles, particularly because he seems willing to state when he does not know the answer to a question.

He is quick to smile and enjoy a point, and equally quick to turn a tough steely gaze on a student's question. Mr. Hazel just seems to want to deal with each question in a straightforward and succinct and safety-minded manner. The class is a popular one and enrollment has risen steadily.

I brought with me Terry Ireland, a non-academic car-guy that SDSU was smart enough to hire as part of their L3 grid-chargeable exotic prototype program. He's not a Ph.D.: he's just someone who knows how to build and fix a car and has a great desire to show this to the college kids. If the Bonita Vista students go on to colleges with Hybrid programs, Mr. Ireland could give them an idea of the SDSU program.

For all I can say, there are hundreds and thousands of such high school and college programs around the country (although I think it's a little unusual to have the HEV angle as well as the EV education), but these are the two programs whose teachers were accessible to me on this day. Both men are such inveterate gearheads that little else was necessary for a stimulating conversation. Both also turned out to be incurable educators, more interested in seeing a student learn to build a car than in building one themselves.

As we spoke, all over the shop high school and adult students were working on various EV and HEV projects. Mr. Hazel gave us a tour. Some excerpts and notes from our conversation:

EVW: How long have you been doing this here at this school?
BH: This is my fifth year and I did electric cars as a club activity at Carnie for two years before that.

EVW: And then prior to that you were just doing it for your own personal edification?
BH: No. I had my first exposure to it because there was an electric racecar already built at Carnie when I got the job as auto shop instructor there. So I just picked up the program and ran with it. Being a mechanic for a long time there’s not that much to learn on electric cars. I’m a gearhead and when I got the one in Carnie we took it apart and put it back together and then I knew electric cars. I mean there’s not that much to it.

BH: How about if I just walk you through some of the projects we’ve got going first up? Right there -- Young Matt Williams is working on that wheelchair thing. [Explanation of series and parallel battery setups, and the wheelie-bar.] I don’t let him drive it without a helmet anymore. I picked that thing up at the swap meet for thirty bucks with this in mind to make a little toy out of to run around on campus. We try to do a lot of little run-builds like that to get the guys used to series-parallel and getting used to motor controls.

This is one that we built eight or nine times over the last five years. It started off as a lab stool and a Power Wheels and – when everything’s hooked up and when the switches aren’t blown -- you can drive it but we have double switches on each motor and that’s kind of fun.

I don’t know if you ever interacted with Ernie Dickerson from Coronado High School? He had an electric vehicle program and I took his course description and course outline and everything because they’re both ROP programs. The name of the class was Power and Energy/Transportation Technology/Electric Vehicle Technology. So it had some components of automobiles, it had some components of electricity.

EVW: If someone wished to donate anything to the high school or college, what would you two guys want for your respective EV educational programs? Advanced batteries, or ...?
BH: Money and time.

EVW: And Expertise?
TI: And Expertise. Electrical Engineers, Mechanical Engineers.

BH: People who have expertise who want to help me with the kids work on the cars.
TI: See, it’s not about building the car. It’s about teaching the kids what's there.

BH: I don't build anything. I get a couple of "hot rods" [sharp students], I teach them how to weld and they teach everybody else how to weld. I teach a couple of hot-rods how to fabricate and they teach everyone else how to fabricate, you know? If I do my job right I have less to do after the first several weeks. It was really cool when I had 15 or 17 kids because I can really keep them under control, put them on one project and have everybody applied actively. Recently now with the program getting successful .... now I’ve got 30 and that changes everything. It’s a double order of magnitude harder.

TI: [Watching Mr. Hazel instruct a student] You got it so right. You teach one person how to do something and then you leave and have them teach somebody else, so now…

EVW: The workplace sometimes seems like this. With all the job-changing going on: You teach something to somebody and they have to teach it to somebody and then the first person is gone. You’re always scrambling.

BH: If you ask around – if you hang around here for any significant amount of time -- you hear the kids quoting me, quoting Clint Eastwood about learning to "Adapt, Improvise and Overcome".
EVW: Yes. Heartbreak Ridge. On a visionless public and teaching others

BH: My rubric for self-grading is Zero, One and Two. Zero means you tried it but couldn’t do it very well. One means you did okay and Two means you taught somebody else and nobody gets an A without a whole bunch of Twos. By law I have to be open entry -- open exit. In my auto classes, (I have four distinct classes), in one class I have people at seven different experience levels, so if I lecture to one experience level everybody else loses out.

EVW: You were describing to me your experience as to some of the pros and cons they give you when you show Electric Vehicles to the public.
BH:They’re all cons.

EVW: All cons?
BH: The first thing they do when they come up to the car, they see a car with both hoods open and they see 16 golf cart batteries and they walk up and they say "Honey, it’s a solar car." Then the second thing they do is they say how fast does it go and you tell them 60, 65 miles an hour and they scrunch up their face and then it’s how far will it go between – how often do you have to recharge it? And I tell them 40 or 50 miles between recharge and the typical response out of 90% of the people is “oh”. Like that.

It doesn’t change, you know, you can quote figures to me all day long and people have about how 99% of the people 99% of the time don’t go more than 30 miles anyway. They don’t see that. They just see: "I can’t drive it to Vegas". That’s all they see and that’s literally over nine tenths of the people that – out of the thousands and thousands that I’ve had come by my display.

EVW: I don’t think I would buy a car except under certain circumstances that went 40 or 50 miles but most of the cars that I read about or test-drive with advanced batteries will go much further and often faster.
BH: Like I told you, and I want to stress it, my thing is kids and my thing is cars and I don’t have any opinions except for what I can do to support my kids. So you know, I’m not a stump-stander on stuff [like the topic of the demand for electric cars]. I do the electric cars because I like it. The kids like it and I’m getting them jobs in the workplace. They’re learning skills. They’re learning how to think.

EVW: What kind of jobs are they getting?
BH: Out of here some are either going on to engineering school or are getting jobs in auto repair. I’ve got three or four placed in golf courses right now making golf carts. That business is booming.

If Mr. Hazel's students are able to visit SDSU:

TI: The L3 exotic-car is not all we've got going.

One of the things that we’ve got a couple students doing right now is building a 400 to 500 cc single cylinder diesel. They’re designing it and building it from the ground up and I’m looking at that and it’s like "Oh! That’ll run on any fuel so that will take diesel pressure." We can cut certain things apart if we need to, if we want to take that and just convert into one cylinder. We’re building a streamlined electric vehicle, two wheels. We’re building electric motor scooters, and we have what they call a formula SAE [inaudible at this point] non-pressurized submarine, civil engineers building bridges...

BH: Will we be able to see some of that [when we bring some students over?
TI: Yes.
BH: Cool. Part of my job on every ROP competency list for every ROP class is a section on job-seeking skills, job-searching skills and further educational or lifelong learner stuff... about how to continue to learn about whatever field it is that you’re in. So, because of that, ROP doesn’t mind paying for field trips of that nature [to visit a program such as at SDSU].

mpling of the one or two dozen vehicles in the shop and around the yard:

BH: "....That one was donated by Nissan to Valley Center High School. That’s how I got it. The white Mustang fell off of a train in 1991 into a lake and then through a circuitous route through a College and Madison High I got it and so on. There’s a bunch in various stages. The Mazda was just donated by a concerned citizen. I gave us the Buick and so on. We have another electric car sitting over there that used to be a racecar from Coronado High School. This is a battery swap going on between these two. The Datsun on the left. That should be my daily driver soon. US Electric Car sold it new as an electric vehicle in 1979 or 1980. ...My daughter gets her driver’s license in about eight months and I got her a ’61 Corvair and she has to rebuild that [car over there] before she can drive it."

BH: Last year for the science fair we brewed up some biodiesel and we actually won and got an outstanding scholarship. We were sweepstakes winner in our district and we got a first place in the county. I was brewing it here.

Let me show you this. This [a 2 hp diesel] is something that I dug out of a dumpster and we ran it on waste vegetable oil, regular vegetable oil and diesel. We ran 50 milliliter samples so that I got the kids to calculate specific fuel consumption so we could get real numbers to compare and the numbers that came out were dramatic.

Diesel was dirty and efficient and powerful. Biodiesel was cleaner, fairly efficient and about nine tenths as powerful, and vegetable oil was 35% more efficient than diesel and about equal to Biodiesel on the emissions but the one thing I didn’t quantify was particulates and it was very smoky.

TI: Well we have a LUPO. We just changed it over to Bio. All we did was just put Bio in it. No smoke.
BH: The guys that I talked to say that they want to kick the injector timing up a little bit with the Bio because we lost about a few percent on power, and I experienced the same thing with this. 1.6 horsepower on diesel, 1.4-1.5 horsepower on Biodiesel and about .9 horsepower on vegetable oil, either Crisco or filtered waste vegetable oil. On energy use, it was an average five minute run sample on 50 milliliters on diesel, a little bit better on Bio, but it was like seven and a half, eight minutes on vegetable oil. It was dramatic.

EVW: That is dramatic. But lower power?
BH: Indeed.

EVW: I wonder if that’s scaleable. This is an under-two-horsepower engine but I wonder how a 200 horsepower engine would do?
BH: Yes, it's scalable according to what I found out on the waste vegetable oil list from the guys from Europe. They do it a lot. People are having their cars impounded in England for running with waste vegetable oil.

EVW: Yes, because it avoids the road taxes.

Legal and Illegal High School Racing:

EVW: What are your present views on teaching kids to soup up cars so they’re really fast and how much progress is being made on the safety issue?
BH: I can refer you to Steve Bender for actual epidemiology on the subject. He’s the head of www.racelegal.com and he tracks it in a very professional way. He can tell you percentages per thousand that are dying and all that technical stuff. I will tell you that five years ago when we had the two kids from my class die in a street race – and then I got involved in the street legal racing -- until now, I’ve probably seen a 75% decrease in the glory talk about "I went out for the firehouse last night and got in a race." Now it’s, "I got a 5-12 reaction time at Qualcomm." So I think I’ve made a difference in that regard.

EVW: I sure would like to see a purpose-built track but maybe that’s superfluous if they keep it up at Qualcomm. Is Qualcomm adequate?
BH: No, it’s not superfluous because they need to run every Friday night. There’s a track in Vegas I believe, and Bender can quote on this, they did night racing every Friday night. They had a purpose-built track and they closed the track down for construction for one Friday night. A bunch of people died in a fiery crash that night who were street racing the night it was closed.

EVW: What is it about these kids that makes them do this?
BH: Were you ever a kid?
[Happy chuckle from Mr. Ireland.]

EVW: Yeah, but I never owned a hot car.
BH: I'm a former child myself who got in trouble several times for street racing. So I know the feeling, you know? It's just something that you do because you're young and you're nine feet tall and bulletproof, and you say "Yeah, that guy died but he can't drive as good as I can".

[Very emphatically:] I can prove to these students that they can’t drive that well by taking them down to the track, putting them in my car, sending them down the track and showing them the time that [pointing to the times] "you need improvement right here" and "you need improvement right here." And eventually they start to believe it and they start to get into the "Can I get a better reaction time?" or "Can I get better at guessing my dial-in time?" moreso than the "I’ve got guts because I can race my car down Fire Avenue".

Both men had a lot to say about the differences between the blue-collar way of getting things done and the academics' way, both in doing and in teaching. Terry told a story which, though not EV-related, seemed to convey his teaching and doing style.

TI: I was a scout master about eight to ten years ago when my kids were young. I said, "OK, I’ll do it but I don’t get up and talk in front of everyone. I’ll take them camping and I’ll do all this other stuff but there’s a lot of other stuff I won’t do. So long as other people will handle those other things, fine. I did all the things I said, and the other guys that could talk in front of people – they handled that. I just basically didn’t plan anything. The kids took it on and did it all themselves. The troop grew from about six kids to about 35 kids and we got 13 Eagle Scouts out of it. Somebody else said, you know, I don’t like your style. I can do it better, and he did, and within a year it was back down to six kids.

TI: [In the L3 Lab] I’m not the electronics guy. I just know something will work. "Let’s try it out," is my approach. We had one Electrical Engineering guy come down and see what we were doing.
BH: "You can’t do that", he said?

TI: [agreeing entirely] "You can’t do that", he said. "Oh wait", I said. "Watch this. See? It’s working. Why can’t I do that?" [My attitude is]: "Let’s build it. Let’s see what happens and then run it and then say 'oh'. If we had done this, let’s make the next one that way." That’s [a way to do things] if you don’t want to be an engineer, if you don’t want the education. Many of these kids are not going to college.

EVW: I've worked with a lot of folks who are 19 or 20 and get out into the workplace and some of them are good workers and some of them are smart enough to go to college, but their attitude is that they don’t even really want to graduate even from high school and a lot of them haven’t, so it’s not about smarts exactly. There is something else going on there. It seems to be kind of an ethic that college isn’t exactly for them in some ways.

TI: But I think – most of these students, if they were to go out and see what happens at San Diego State, they’d change their mind. I went for two years. If I had known college was going to be like San Diego State, I would’ve gone to school and finished up.

EVW: Be careful Ben. Terry could take your best student and turn him into a slave for four years, if that’s what they chose to do.

BH: Well they’re used to it from me. From one master to another.

Some final observations:

1. It became that an important skill in the world of EVs, and in educating on a budget, is scrounging and horse-trading and shmoozing. A part of the conversation seemed to involve both men arranging for parts-swaps.

2. A hot topic with a lot of EV followers seems to be the motor and controller for the Toyota Prius Hybrid. Everyone seemed very anxious to acquire them if possible, such as through purchases of used Priuses. This also came up a lot in my conversation later on with Dr. Burns, the head of the L3 program at SDSU. He couldn't say enough about the importance of Toyota creating and mass-producing these parts at mass-production prices, claiming that for a device of such high power it was nearly unheard of in the world of Electric Vehicles to have them on the market at reasonable prices.

3. For Bonita Vista High, Toyota might come through at a local level. The Vice President of a local Toyota dealership has put out some feelers about getting them some equipment for the kids to work on, and the manuals and all the support stuff that goes along with it.

4. The costs and difficulties of registering some of the donor and other vehicles seemed to be a problem. Even the SDSU L3 has had a tough time, because it is not a production vehicle, and this has limited ability to test the vehicle on the road. For several cars, Ben has had a tough time with registration fees and this is a part of the strategy of which EV gets built next.

5. There was an old Jag Sedan in the Class Yard (and a Porsche) awaiting whatever plans Mr. Hazel had for it, either as a conventional Rebuild or as an EV or HEV. I made the point that I like the spaciousness and a generosity of style of old cars, that this sometimes seems missing from some modern-day vehicles. The trend toward SUVs, however dangerous and guzzling they may be, sometimes seems to me in small part a trend toward the old-school interior space and luxuriousness of older-design vehicles.

6. Ben and others' electric racing activities seem to have somewhat subsided, he said, but he would like to do the Tour Del Sol. He figures about $20,000 and 1000 "kid-hours" of work would cover their expenses on a strict budget.

Times Article Viewed: 7780
Published: 19-Apr-2003

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