The nearest gas station is nearly three-miles from the Nixon family property in Placerville. It’s not a far drive, but Bill Nixon has all the fuel he need in his backyard.
Nixon drives an eco-friendly modified vehicle that runs on wood. Nixon calls the thing the "Backdraft Wood Gasifier.
"Veterans from WWII told me about some taxis over in Europe that ran on wood," Nixon explained to ABC10. "I always wanted to build one and finally we did."
The gasifier uses heat to extract hydrogen and other gases from wood or biomass. The technology is not new. Gasifiers date back as far as 1910. Bill, along with his son Guy Nixon and son-in-law Mike Kearney, researched the age-old technology and built one.
The gasifier sits on the back of a 1913 Model-T Ford and powers the engine. Once the gasifier gets up to temperature, Nixon flips a switch and wood gas is pumped into the engine. The old car doesn't’t start right away but, after a few cranks, the Model-T runs smoothly.
"It took us about two years to get this all together." Nixon said.
The gasifier is sort of like the Frankenstein's monster of parts. Kearney did most of the design and fabrication of the gasifier, which is made up of junk laying around the house.
"The peep hole is glass from an old telescope." Kearney said. "We had to get a little creative."
The wood-powered Ford can run for about 30 minutes before it needs a fresh load of fuel. That’s not bad considering the gasifier can take a variety of wood.
Guy Nixon likes to use scraps from the wood shop, but he is experimenting with dead trees and pinecones.
"Sticks, tree limbs, bark... It’s all stuff that can burn in a forest fire." Guy said. "If on the forest floor ,it’s going to burn… let’s use it in the gasifier."
The backyard inventors built the car to educate people about other forms of ecofriendly energy. Petroleum powered cars are king of the road right now, but maybe someday wood will make a comeback.