The Solar Bus: Making Changes On The Move

For all of us, “Going Green” means something different. Whether it is just changing the light bulbs in your house or going completely off the grid, every little bit helps. But for some people, changing the world is a full time job, and a full time job requires a company car.

Or a bus. Enter the Solar Bus.

First, a disclaimer; this is NOT a solar-powered bus. Dismiss the thought from your minds. This 1982 Crown Supercoach, a former school bus from California, has been converted to run on bio-fuels. That means bio-diesel, veggie oil, and waste veggie oil (WVO). The conversion was done by Ken Oldrid, who has devoted his life thus-far to converting diesel cars to run on bio-fuels. More on him later.

Self-described “Solar Bus Guy” Gary Beckwith, giving a speech on solar electricity

So, why call a bus that runs on bio-fuels the Solar Bus? You can’t tell from my pictures, taken at this weekend’s Gathering of the Vibes music festival, but there are a bunch of solar cells on top of the bus (I was in no shape to stand on a ladder).  The cells are linked to a large battery bank, which makes the Solar Bus a mobile clean-electricity unit of sorts. That microphone and speaker bus-owner Gary Beckwith was lecturing from was powered by the bus. They also played all Bugs Bunny cartoons at night with the stored solar power…which I missed, since I was raging it up on the concert field. I always rooted for Daffy Duck anyway.

You see, that is the point of the Solar Bus. They go from festivals, concerts, schools, and other public events educating the public about bio-diesels and clean energy. Ken explained to me after his speech some of the finer points of bio-diesel conversions, such as heating up veggie oil and filtering WVO (the stuff that comes from the fry-a-lators). Ken also told me about his personal history, and why he decided to live off the grid. After majoring in enviromental-science UMASS Amherst, Ken decided that it was possible to live off the grid Even though he liked cars, he didn’t like the negative impact they had on the enviroment.

Ken Oldrid gives a speech at Gathering of the Vibes on bio-diesel

So he bought his first bio-convert, an ’85 Jetta diesel, for $500. For another $200 in new or recycled parts, he had his very own veggie project car, and logged 15,000 miles before selling it for his next project. Since his first conversion eight years ago, he has converted over 100 other vehicles, from landscaping trucks to Mercedes Benzes to the Solar Bus, his biggest project thus far. Ken gives his time and energy to educating the masses, but he also expresses a realistic view on alt-energy. He noted that less than 1% of cars could be powered by WVO, and that solar-powered cars are still a long ways off.

But at least Ken can say he is doing his part. Personally, I plan on talking to him down the road about a bio-fuel conversion of my own. Vermont, where Ken makes his home, isn’t too far a drive, and I’d really like to scoop out his off-the-grin lifestyle as well. Make sure you check out Ken’s website,, if you’re looking for an already-converted car or want to ask more questions of Ken.

So let me ask you guys, the faithful (and oft vocal) readership of Do you like stories like this? Would you like to hear more about people like Ken? Or should I just stick to digging up news via the Interweb?

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Pictures: Chris DeMorro

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.