WOODWARD, Iowa – A Woodward man isn't worried about rising gas prices. He's figured out how to keep his car running without it.
Instead of the pump, Herb Hartman heads to the chopping block. "We call it a gasifier because it changes mass to gas, or smoke," he says. He'll tell you all about it –- his wood-fired 1991 Cadillac. "A full hopper will go about fifty miles," he says, "depending on how you drive it."
The retired machinist had the free time to take on a new challenge last year. "Just for the heck of it," he laughs. "Ever since I heard it could be done, man, I wanted to do this." This spring, he finished it. And since he built everything by hand, he did it on the cheap. "I probably have maybe $700 in it," he says.
The Caddy still needs its gasoline engine to start, but once it's fired up, it's all wood. "A friend of mine who's outside of town [says] I can have as much wood as I want."
Inexpensive it may be, inconspicuous it is not. "Luxury car!" Hartman laughs. "It rides like a Cadillac, too, you know?"
The tall gasifier attached to the back bumper definitely makes Hartman stand out. "It has to be up in the air where it catches air, because you want to cool that gas."
Gasifiers aren't a new thing. Fuel-starved Europeans used them during World War II. The technology has changed very little and actually works better with today's fuel-injected engines.
"I mean I could burn weeds. I could burn any kind of bio mass," Hartman says. "But, wood has the most pounds. You know, mass?"
The fuel is free, but the effort it takes to saw, chop, dry and shovel it evens the score. "It's labor intensive, that's the big drawback," Hartman says.
Still, Herb Hartman is the only guy around who can poo-poo the pump. "You get to go right by the gas station! Yep. Bye-bye!"
That's quite a privilege for a humble guy from small-town Iowa.