To help with the trip
To donate for the trip to San Francisco and back, visit www.machfuels.com.
The public is invited to a send-off today in Chattanooga.
› What: Send off for Kapellusch and Hopson
› Where: Tennessee Riverwalk near Navy Operational Support Center, 4051 Amnicola Highway
› When: 11 a.m. - 12 p.m. today
Joshua Kapellusch's 1972 Chevrolet Blazer, with its raw aluminum body, propane and natural gas tanks and rear-mounted solar panel, clearly isn't normal.
It turns heads. At every stop in downtown Chattanooga on Friday, the convertible drew comments and conversations from passers-by on the sidewalk.
Kapellusch, CEO and founder of Chattanooga-based alternative fuel company Mach Fuels, is happy to talk about the Blazer. In fact, he's setting out today on a five-day road trip to San Francisco to encourage conversation about it, and the fact it runs on five different types of energy.
He is also making the trip in memory and in honor of the four Marines and one sailor killed on July 16, 2015, when a gunman opened fire on a pair of military sites here. With no roof on the Blazer, Kapellusch and his friend Daniel Hopson (a former U.S. Marine) will leave around noon today from the outpost on Amnicola Highway and drive five days on five fuels in memory of Chattanooga's Fallen Five.
In the course of the cross-country trip, Kapellusch hopes to stoke conversations about propane, natural gas and E85 (a high-ethanol flex fuel) as automobile fuel sources. The Blazer runs on all those (and gasoline) while using energy from its on-board solar panel to power electronics.
Kapellusch is himself an Air Force veteran, having served from 2005 to 2009 and specializing in munitions. The attack in Chattanooga last year had a strong impact on him.
"As a veteran, and even as a citizen, you never expect an attack on your hometown, right?" he said Friday. "I fought for my country overseas so I wouldn't have to do that here."
Creating even more of a personal impact, Kapellusch and the shooter graduated from UTC the same day and sat only a few rows from one another during the graduation ceremony.
Kapellusch sees a clear connection between what he's about to do and the deaths of servicemen from all walks of life, both here and abroad.
Looking around the Chattanooga National Cemetary on Friday, Kapellusch said he hopes for a future when the United States is no longer dependent on foreign oil for energy. And he hopes to raise awareness about alternative fuel options.
Sitting at a stop sign on East 11th Street, Kapellusch flipped three switches on the dash.
"We're running on three fuels right now," he said.
He loves propane as a fuel. He said the Blazer runs as well on propane as it does on gasoline. And right now, in the off season for heating fuels, propane is just over $1 a gallon.
Kapellusch chose a 40-year-old convertible Chevrolet truck on purpose to show off alternative fuels. The Blazer of Glory looks like a gas guzzler. It was a Craigslist find, $850 and barely running and picked up in Paris, Tenn. Kapellusch calculates the cost of retrofitting the truck in "blood, sweat and tears" instead of dollars. It's also been a significant investment of time — about four years' worth.
But a lot of what you see now when you look at the Blazer are freebies, donated for the truck by local businesses in and around Chattanooga. Friday, Kapellusch rattled off names of people and businesses who gave this or that as he points out parts.
Tennessee Solar Solutions, a solar energy firm based here, donated the solar panel for the truck.
Ginny Kincer, chief operations officer at Tennessee Solar Solutions, said Friday the company is proud to get behind the five-fuel Blazer and support the trip to the West Coast.
Solar energy has come a long way in terms of technology and price, she said, but it still faces an uphill battle in simple awareness and public perception.
"Every day, we try to educate people about the power of the sun," she said. "It's not just kind of fairy dust and unicorns. It's real stuff powering real vehicles."
POLL: Will you attend events commemorating July 16?
Kincer said the price of solar infrastructure has come down around 80 percent from years ago.
And the Blazer of Glory project "puts a real face and name" on solar usability, she said.
"We're glad that he's doing this," Kincer said. "We're very honored he's doing it in honor of the Fallen Five."
Kapellusch isn't totally sure about where he'll be eating and sleeping on the trip to San Francisco. The Blazer may even break down at some point — it is a 40-year-old truck.
"It's not going to be easy," he said Friday. "It's going to be brutal."
But Kappellusch is committed to making the drive and leaving today, July 16, "because I feel like it's right," he said.
He and Hopson are taking one of the American flags left at the Amnicola Highway outpost facility in the days after the shooting last year. They're taking it to the Golden Gate Bridge, where thousands of American sailors have embarked for war across the Pacific Ocean.A big, square truck with the convertible top and knobby tires, the Blazer's innards are at the same time a snapshot of automobile and energy innovation. It's the past and the future.
"I couldn't think of another vehicle that could do this better," Kapellusch said. "It's about that ultimate sense of freedom."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.