Vegetable oil powers 9,000-mile road trip for 3 graduates

Vegetable oil might be a common necessity in the kitchen, but for Jason Barnes of Richland, Wash., and his two friends, it was an essential ingredient for a summer road trip.

Barnes, 22, and his friends Joe Norskov, 23, of Fayetteville, Tenn., and Stephen Shankles, 23, of Knoxville, Tenn., spent the month of June driving more than 9,000 miles from Tennessee across the Midwest, into Washington, down Highway 101 to California, through the Grand Canyon and back to Tennessee.

And they did it in a 1983 300D turbo Mercedes Benz powered by vegetable oil.

"We were going to all these national parks and not polluting them," said Barnes, adding the trip wouldn't have been likely if the trio would've had to pay for all that gas.

Norskov estimated they saved about $1,500.

Shankles, the car's owner and chief mechanic, outfitted the Mercedes with a $1,000 vegetable oil fuel system and attached a trailer to hold a 50-gallon tank for extra oil.

He also installed an electric pump and filter on the trailer to pump oil out of the drum and into the car's tank, Shankles said in a statement.

The three, all graduates of Maryville College near Knoxville, set out from Tennessee and stopped for their first fill up of the tank in St. Louis, where they picked up 70 gallons of grease from a local restaurant.

"I was surprised at how easy it was to get the vegetable oil," Barnes said.

"All it took was patience and nice people," Norskov added.

They made a total of seven stops for oil during the trip and only used a tank and a half of diesel, the two said.

Most restaurants they asked for grease were pretty receptive, especially on the west side of the country, they said.

In Bozeman, they paid $1.50 a gallon for grease that already had been well filtered, Norskov said, which saved them money on new filters.

And in Grand Junction, Colo., they also picked up a complimentary half-gallon of beer.

Norskov estimated he spent less than $200 on the trip, as they camped most nights and helped themselves to continental hotel breakfasts.