- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

GENEVA, Neb. (AP) - He had the car of his dreams, a $500 Jeep that had been rotting and rusting in a Hamilton County weed patch for so long he could save only its axles and transmission, steering wheel and grille.

He also had dreams for this car.

Adam Verhage wanted it to look as new as it did when it rolled out of the factory nearly 40 years ago. And he had a surprise planned under the hood, an all-electric motor to replace the gas-guzzling six-cylinder.

The high school math teacher had plenty of mechanical confidence but no experience with battery-powered cars, no instruction manual - but no real worries.

Here’s why: When he heard an Iowa teenager was making a similar switch with an old Jeep, he talked his father into a trip over the border to take a look.

They flew in there in the airplane his parents put together.

“We built an airplane,” he said. “We sure as hell can build an electric Jeep.”

The Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/2jx6Gnk ) reports he spent months scouring the internet before he found his four-wheeler near Central City. He’d always wanted a Jeep, he said, and his wife Alise had finally told him to stop talking about it and bring one home.

“It originally was in terrible, terrible shape. It was sitting in weeds, and it had been there for several years, and it hadn’t run,” he said. “We started with nothing.”

They brought it home in July 2015, leaves and sticks flying out of the Jeep as they hauled it down the highway.

But it was almost perfect for his plans. The 1979 CJ-7 is longer than other older Jeeps, giving the 6-foot-3 Verhage a little more legroom. And it didn’t have power steering and power brakes, which would make the conversion easier.

He learned it didn’t have a usable frame, either, after he stripped the CJ and found it rusted in two.

So he went hunting again, and found a 1983 frame in Council Bluffs.

They went to work in his father’s shed on the edge of town. Six years ago, Carroll Verhage and his wife Sherry spent 4,000 hours assembling a four-seat, single-engine airplane.

This was a shorter build. Adam Verhage estimated he and his father put in about 800 hours on the Jeep. They didn’t have a blueprint. So they’d try to figure out how to make something work, and then see if they were right.

“It’s the challenge: How do you overcome things?” Verhage said. “There were many days we’d be out there two or three hours, just staring at it.”

He wasn’t intimidated by the project. He’d grown up helping his father repair the 1920s and 1930s John Deere tractors Carroll Verhage collected.

“Dad would bring me out every night and that’s what we did. We fixed tractors.”

Years later, he would rely on his father’s help with all the wiring required in an electric vehicle. His dad had been an electronics tech in the Navy, and had installed the instrument panel in his homemade airplane.

Adam Verhage bought eight 12-volt batteries from the parts store to power the Jeep, and a ninth to run everything else - blinkers, lights, the defroster he designed. He ordered a $4,000 electric motor capable of producing about 75 horsepower, close to the original engine’s output.

He bought a fiberglass body from a company in Platte Center, and found a mid-1980s hardtop and doors for sale in Grand Island.

The lighter the Jeep, the farther it would go on a single charge, so they tore out everything an electric motor doesn’t need - the gas tank, exhaust and radiator - cutting nearly 1,000 pounds.

Last year, Carroll Verhage watched his son take the Jeep for its first drive in years, silently backing out of the shop and then busting through snow drifts piled up on the acreage.

“It won’t keep up with a Tesla,” the father said. “But it’s an interesting vehicle.”

The Jeep wouldn’t be practical in Lincoln. In the summer, a single charge can carry Adam Verhage 16 to 20 miles. In winter, the cold batteries might give him a dozen miles.

He’s hoping the price of lithium batteries drop. They’d give him more than 40 miles between charges, but they’d cost up to $8,000 if he bought them today — about as much as he spent on the whole project.

But he lives only six blocks from the school in Geneva, so he can commute for a week before he must hook up his eight battery chargers.

He likes the instant torque, the zero hesitation when he steps on the accelerator. He likes the silence, too. “You don’t hear anything but the breeze going by.”

He likes driving the car of his dreams so much he sometimes wishes he hadn’t had such big dreams for it.

“I wish I could just take off and go for a ride. If I could drive it all day, I would.”

___

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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