Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Winter Grease

I left the family homestead at 5AM, with a beautiful full moon lighting up the frosted Taconic Valley. The Fried Piper, a 1993 Ford Econoline converted to burn waste vegetable oil, is back on the road for a swing through the northeastern US to visit colleges. I'll be speaking to classes and outdoor clubs about the International Wilderness Leadership School. Along the way, in typical fashion, I'll meet up with old friends and family, have a few adventures here and there, and hopefully eat some tasty regional food.
This trip brings new challenges. Diesel engines are happy to burn vegetable oil, providing it's warmed to 175 degrees or so. The temperature right now is about 5 degrees, making the grease in my Racor filter, pump and fuel lines resemble that bacon fat you left on your counter overnight. So, I start the van on diesel, with the help of an engine block heater, and after radiator coolant heats the grease tank, I flip over to grease in short bursts with the goal of melting the tub of lard that is my fuel filter. Soon enough, everything is flowing nicely.
The real problem will be collecting the grease. Usually I just pull up to a restaurant, obtain permission from someone in the kitchen, and stick my hose in the vat, extracting something that looks more or less like a darker version of the bottle of Wesson oil on your shelf. In this weather it's more like Crisco, which obviously doesn't work for the pump. So I have to hope for a warmer day (at odds with my love of snow) and a restaurant that uses no hydrogenated oil and doesn't fry much meat. Vermont sushi, anyone?