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Cedaredge man converts Gator to electric power

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Photo by Don Benjamin Craig Andrews-Jones sits in his Gator utility vehicle which he has converted from a gasoline-powered engine to an electric motor.

Henry Ford had a good idea but that didn't stop Cedaredge resident Craig Andrews-Jones from improving on the internal combustion engine. It all began when he was using a gas-powered John Deere 6x4 Gator -- a standard medium-sized farm and ranch utility vehicle. The gasoline-powered Gator is a common sight on Delta County farms and ranches and the "6x4" means the vehicle runs on six tires: two for steering and four engaged for driving traction.

The gas-Gator was a hard-working vehicle and powerful enough to do what Craig needed which included towing machinery and plowing snow plus hauling rocks, hay, and manure. But starting the gas-powered vehicle on cold Colorado mornings was a challenge and running it stop-and-go all day at slow speeds was hard on the engine and the battery. Not only that but running at low speeds tended to foul spark plugs and cylinders and required frequent oil changes. Then there was the fuel pump to worry about and the radiator.

What to do?

Craig decided to put his engineering degree from the University of Colorado to work. He removed the Gator's gasoline engine to make a hole and to fill that hole he contacted a supplier who sells equipment for sailboats.

Yes -- sailboats.

But Craig wasn't after canvas or tillers or booms or spars. What he had in mind was acquiring one of the efficient and compact electric engines that sailboats use to navigate in and out of harbor. A high-torque sailboat engine is designed to operate at slow-and-go speeds making it ideal for farm and ranch work. And to be certain it would be powerful enough, he told the supplier that the battery-powered motor must match the muscle of the Gator's 18-horsepower Kawasaki gasoline engine.

When the sailboat kit arrived, Craig went to work on the Gator. An early challenge was to make the 48-volt motor compatible with the Gator's 12-volt system. He wanted to keep the 12-volt system intact to operate lights, the rear-end dump lift, and the front-end plow but the new motor required four deep-cycle batteries -- which added up to 48 volts. To make the two electrical systems compatible, Craig moved the existing 12-volt battery a few inches back to make room for the new battery array. Then he removed the old alternator and wired-in a converter to link the 12-volt and 48-volt systems. With a battery charger installed into the space where the gas tank used to be, Craig was ready.

He turned the ignition, and presto: an electric Gator.

Craig hastens to add that John Deere makes an electric version of the Gator but he feels his version is better. In practical terms his Gator is easier to start and cheaper to run since he can say goodbye to gasoline, oil and antifreeze. As for the philosophy behind the electric Gator, one of its most appealing characteristics is it doesn't pollute. Gas-powered gators used on farms, ranches, orchards, or vineyards are usually kept running in a typical work sequence of off-loading feed, or checking ditches, or pruning trees and vines, etc. These slow-moving stop-and-go operations tend to burn a lot of fuel during a working day and generate a lot of fumes. The electric Gator emits no exhaust and it only runs when the operator presses the pedal so the batteries are unlikely to run down.

Born in Leeds, England, to an English father and a mother from Colorado, Craig's family eventually relocated to Golden where he grew up on a 120-acre spread in the Front Range foothills. Trained as an applied engineer on the CU Boulder campus, Craig ended up working as a computer engineer then moved into computer programming. He currently works as a contractor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Anyone interested in learning more about his electric Gator application is welcome to contact Craig at jonesandrews.craig@gmail.com or by calling 303-275-2305.

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