Friesen Fritter Fired Fossil Fuel Free
Blog Across America




As a fundraising effort for Mennonite Central Committee, Steve Friesen and Ken Martens Friesen plan to use the leftover vegetable oil from the fritter booth at the MCC West Coast sale to power a Volkswagen Jetta TDI across the United States on Memorial Day weekend, May 26-29. They will start from the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco and hope to arrive about 60 hours later at the Atlantic Ocean beachside town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.


Perhaps you are asking what this "fritter fired" car is about. Using a relatively simple conversion, diesel cars can run on used deep-fry oil from any Chinese or Vietnamese restaurant, or McDonalds french frier. The result is an engine that uses only recycled, renewable fuel, and runs cleaner and more efficiently than one using fossil-fuel (and smells like whatever was cooked in the oil!).

Perhaps you are asking why we are doing this?! Well, our families think it is because we are crazy. But it also comes down to demonstrating alternatives to our current addiction to fossil fuels. Ken is in the process of converting several VW Jetta TDIs (diesels) to run on used vegetable oil. Since he is doing this, he thought it would be good to promote the fact that it is indeed possible to drive an ordinary car without using fossil fuels, including driving across North America.

At the MCC West Coast Sale on April 8, we collected 40 gallons of used vegetable oil.  We will supplement this with about 30 gallons of used soybean oil from a Japanese restaurant. The total of 70 gallons should be enough to power the Jetta the 2950 miles we are expecting to drive

Time Log:

May 26
12:15  PST         Departed San Francisco
5:15    PST         Arrived Reno
6:00 p.m. PST     Departed Reno

May 27
3:00  a.m. MST.   Arrived Salt Lake City          750 miles (end of day one)
6:00 MST            Departed Salt Lake City
12:30 MST          Arrived Cheyenne, WY

May 28
2:00 a.m. CST   Arrived Coralville, IA            1940 miles (end of day two)
6:00 a.m. CST   Deaprted Coralville, IA
12:00 EST         Arrived Elkhart, IN (Belmont Mennonite Church)
1:15 EST           Departed Elkhart
4:30   EST      Arrived Hudson, Ohio
7:00 EST         Departed Eastern Ohio (exit 12) for final run to the coast.....

May 29
3:00  EST       Arrival Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.   2987 miles (end of day three)
6:00  EST        Arrival back in D.C. time to sleep....  (real end of day 'three')
6:01 EST        Sleep!

Fuel Consumption:  
Diesel:               ~ 1.5 gallon after 2987  miles = 1991 mpg (the diesel used is to start up when the engine is cold, and to cool off the injection pump when the veggie oil runs too hot!)

Used Fritter Oil          72  gallons after 2987 miles = 41.2 mpg

Other Stats:
--infinite cups of coffee and cups of ice consumed. Dozens and dozens of CD's played, sometimes multiple times late at night when the driver was too numb to change CD's
--Only one full meal bought - supper our first evening in Reno. After that it was the hospitality of many Mennonites spread throughout the land!
--Most expensive part of the trip: $30 of tolls through Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (I guess we didn't pay any road use tax in diesel taxes, so fair enough).
--Total cost of trip - about $50 (Ken's second cheapest trip across country, the cheapest being a $18 hitchhiking trip across in the mid 1980s)
-- Total driving time San Francisco to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware  48 hours
-- Total hours of sleep.  Not nearly enough!

DAY 1, Part 1

May 26, 12:15 pm     Depart from Golden Gate Bridge

We're off! Success! We drove up from Fresno to San Francisco with no problems, got there just before 12:00 noon.  We've got 50 gallons of oil in the trunk and another 30 in the back seat. That leaves enough room for a duffel bag of clothes, two laptops, lots of junk food, and a few pieces of fruit. At least we made it up here!



Filling Up with Veggie Oil for the trip out to Tahoe and beyond. We expect to get about 42-45 mpg of used veggie oil, the same as on diesel.

We were met  by several members of the San Francisco  Mennonite Church. Thanks for coming out to see us off! A Golden bridge and golden oil (well kind of golden) to get us on our way.


Travel from San Francisco out through Sacramento was ... well ... slow. But it was nice to go out over the Golden Gate bridge in great weather. Seems like everyone is wanting to get out to Reno or Lake Tahoe (or perhaps Rehoboth Beach?) on I80. Saw a sign that said 3048 miles to Ocean City, MD. So we've got a few miles left to go....The Escalades are passing us but we're laughing all the way to the gas pump....


Well, here's proof a veggie car can climb over the Sierras, at 70 mph. We've made it out of the golden state on golden fuel...

DAY 1 - Part 2

May 26 San Francisco to Salt Lake City

757 miles down! The trip so far has been quite uneventful, all things considered. We 'did' Reno in 45 minutes, mainly looking for a Starbucks to upload our file and pictures. The car has (surprisingly?) been quite trouble free. The only problem has been the oil temperature has fluctuated more than expected. We traced it to a slightly crimped hose, and now the problem is the oil is sometimes too hot (not a bad problem to have when the whole goal is to get the oil hot enough). The routine has been to drive about 3 hours, stop at a rest area, put in 5 gallons of used vegetable oil, rearrange the car so that we have more room inside, and take off again. A few stops along the way for coffee and ice. We got in to SLC about an hour later than expected so now it is 3:20 and we need to leave at 4:00 for our Today show interview. So much for sleep. .

Now if we had some more time, perhaps we'd actually stay and enjoy Reno. But thankfully all we need is a Starbucks to upload the last pictures and off we go.


Here's what we saw through most of Nevada, at least during daylight hours. Pretty fun, eh?  The gauge in the corner is the oil temperature gauge, reading 160 (the 1's light is missing because the camera caught it in between cycles). The temp was low at that point, because the guy who installed the system didn't notice a small kink in the line. It's hard to find good help around here. Now that I traced the problem the temp is reading 200-210 - a fine temp to travel on vegetable oil.

DAY 2, Part 1:   May 27 Salt Lake City to Cheyenne, Wyoming


An eventful morning. We arrived in Salt Lake City a bit late, so the thought of getting some shut eye was not really an option. But  we did get a motel room for an hour, thanks to Dave Worth of MCC who showed up a couple of hours before us in Salt Lake. The purpose of our stop was a live interview on the today show. We went out to the pre-arranged gas station location (ironies abound) and met the camera crew. As they set up we tried to look dignified and less bleary eyed then our serious lack of sleep would betray. Not much was scripted, except the idea of showing how the car works. Since we've never seen Campbell Brown (we were holding out for Katie but they refused) we just stared into the camera and tried to look interested. Now that that is done we feel much more able to have a serious vehicle breakdown without too much pressure on us.

Here's what we saw in Wyoming for 300 miles (well, Steve saw a cop too, but that story can be told later)


Fossil fuel free energy is everywhere!


In windy Wyoming even filling up with veggie oil can be a challenge. But a towel as a makeshift windbreak makes it possible to fill up in 40 mph winds. We made it to Cheyenne basically on schedule - now we're 1100 miles from home and 1900 miles to go!

DAY 2, Part 2

May 27 Cheyenne to Coralville, Ia

A very smooth, uneventful and tiring trip. We totalled almost 1200 miles today. The car seems to be finding its stride, enjoyig the veggie oil to its injector pumps content. A very windy day, battling crosswinds all the way through Nebraska.

Here's our competition to the fritter oil. Pumping, pumping, pumping... until they all run dry.....

The best meal of the trip - rice and curry at the rest stop near Kearney, Nebraska, thanks to the wonderful generousity of David and Lorna Wiebe. Oh, that chicken curry was fabulous!

And one of our favorite 'refueling' places to keep us awake over the endless miles. This guy was all thumbs up for our fossil fuel free trip across America.

Ah, the joys of refueling using veggie oil. Sure, you make a bit of a mess, but there are no 'connections' to the pump - either in the fossil fuel or the $$$ going down into the tank. 

A very welcoming Wiebe reception at 2:00 a.m. in Coralville, Iowa. Thanks, Paul, for getting up to show us in and to Paul and Donna Beth for getting up at an ridiculous hour on a Sunday morning to make us some breakfast and see us off.

Now that we are into Iowa, there is finally enough room in the trunk to actually put the spare tire into the trunk, instead of having it in the back seat where it has been for the past two days!


May 28: Coralville, Iowa to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware!

12:00 noon Elkhart, Indiana.  A wonderful reception by the folks at Belmont Mennonite Church announced our arrival in Elkhart. We couldn't believe it. We're hardly celebrities, but were treated as such. It was great to see Mennonites interested in environmental issues and showing their support for alternatives. There was another SVO (straight veggie oil) VW there, using a great Ellsbet one-tank system. The local Fox TV show was also there, but it was the greatest to see 'regular' Mennonites come out to support this cause. Sorry, we didn't take any pictures!!


4:30 p.m. Hudson, Ohio. A couple of hours later and we pulled off the Ohio Turnpike in Hudson, Ohio and were again welcomed by a great group of Mennonites. Thanks to Cathi  Sinsabaugh the event was pulled off in a great manner, in spite of being 80 miles from the nearest Mennonite Church.

8:00 p.m. somewhere in Pennsylvania. The suns sets on our final day's drive.


May 29 3:00 a.m. (only midnight west coast time!) We made it! So, I guess we look a bit tired, don't we.  Oh well, there's always time to sleep later. Many thanks to Dave Worth and Brenda Wagner from MCC for coming down to Rehoboth Beach to take the official arrival pictures! You're as crazy as us!


The three hour trip back from the beach to Washington, D.C. Sleep, joyous sleep!