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A man took a retrofitted electric 1964 Volkswagen Bus on a 6,000 mile road trip from San Francisco to New York and back. See inside his cross-country adventure.

The retrofitted electric 1964 Volkswagen Bus

Courtesy of Jack Smith

  • Jack Smith took a 1964 Volkswagen Bus that was converted into an electric car on a 42-day road trip.
  • The 65-year-old traveled from San Francisco to New York City and back with the electric car.
  • Range anxiety is a top concern for EV owners, but Smith said the experience was overwhelmingly positive. 

On May 4, Jack Smith and his long-time friend Mike Adamski took off from San Francisco on a cross-country trip in a retrofitted electric-powered 1964 Volkswagen Bus.Jack Smith road tripAdamski (left) and Smith (right) on the first day of the road trip.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

The trip would take 42 days and would go from San Francisco to New York City and back again.Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

65-year-old Smith told Insider he was inspired to take the trip after watching a documentary on the first cross-country road trip in American history.1903: Physician Horatio Nelson Jackson (at wheel) and his driving partner Sewall K. Crocker became the first men to drive an automobile across the United States. Starting in San Francisco, CA, they arrived in New York City on July 26 after a trip that took 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes. Over 800 gallons of gasoline were needed to complete the journey in this Winton.In 1903, physician Horatio Nelson Jackson (at wheel) and his driving partner Sewall K. Crocker became the first men to drive an automobile across the United States.

Getty

In 1903, Horation Nelson Jackson agreed to a $50 wager to prove that automotive vehicles were not just a passing fad and that they could be used to travel across the country.

Jackson and his driving partner Sewall Crocker completed the trip from San Francisco to New York City in just over 63 days. 

 

At the time, there were less than 150 miles of paved roads and less than 8,000 cars in the US.Jack Smith road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Today, parts of Jackson’s original route have become the Lincoln Highway and Interstate 80.Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy fo Jack Smith

“They had this grand adventure and I wanted to retrace their steps,” Smith said “But I didn’t want to do it in a regular car. Where’s the fun in that?”Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Smith picked up the car, dubbed the “Rust Bus,” as a loaner from EV West. He’d begun planning the trip about six months in advance, from figuring out sleeping accommodations to mapping EV charging stations along the way.Jack Smith tripAn EV West technician working on the VW Bus.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

He’d originally planned to take something more modern, like a Tesla, but the “Rust Bus” had its own charm.Jack Smith trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

“The nature of this old crusty-looking Volkswagen bus is that it always gets a reaction,” Smith said. “People were always smiling at us or giving us the peace sign. We’d pull into these RV parks next to incredibly expensive RVs and people would gather around this old rust bus.”Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

In Iowa, the retrofitted electric car caught the attention of “American Pickers” reality TV star Robbie Wolfe.Jack Smith tripPrice (left) and Adamski (right) at Price’s shop.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

It wasn’t Smith’s first major road trip. In 1976, he skate boarded across America with a handful of friends.Jack Smith skateboards across America with a handful of friends in 1976Jack Smith skateboards across America with a handful of friends in 1976.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

He has made the trip four more times since, including once on an electric skate board.

It also wasn’t Smith’s first experience with an electric car. He’d previously driven a Nissan Leaf for several years.A general view of atmosphere is seen at the Nissan LEAF Drive Electric Tour Sneak Preview at Westfield Century City on October 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.Nissan Leaf Drive Electric Tour Sneak Preview at Westfield Century City on October 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Charley Gallay/WireImage

“We had range anxiety the first few days,” Smith said. “Because you’d start off with this full battery and then watch it tick down. I remember thinking ‘We’re not going to make it to the end of the day,’ but we always did. It just took some getting used to.”Jack Smith ev road tripSmith driving the VW Bus in California.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Smith said he felt comfortable letting the vehicle go about 160 miles per charge and never saw the battery go lower than 12%.Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

“We kept track of every 10% of battery and how many miles we went so we kept could stay on top of it,” he said. “It really varied.”

Each day he drove between 150 to 200 miles. Then the vehicle would charge all night while they slept at the RV parks.Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

They’d plot out charging stations the night before and do some sightseeing or catch up on emails during the day while the car charged.Jack Smith ev road tripNewland (left) and Smith (right) visiting the Gemini Giant in Wilmington, Illinois.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Some days it wasn’t as easy to find a charging station so they’d pay to charge during the day at various RV parks.Jack Smith ev road tripRV Park at Utah/Nevada border

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Unlike most modern electric cars, the “Rust Bus” didn’t have air conditioning and often featured a bumpy ride.Jack Smith ev road trip.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Smith said at times he slept in the back of the bus on top of the car’s EV battery.Jack Smith trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

In North California, a cold snap forced Smith and Adamski to bundle up. “For about a week, we wore long underwear, down jackets, and driving gloves, the entire time we were driving,” Smith said.Jack Smith trip

Courtesy of Mike Adamski

Their last stop was New York City.Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Smith changed companions in New York, when he and Larry Newland headed back to San Francisco.tripNewland, Smith, and Adamski (in that order) in New York City.

Courtesy of Mike Adamski

Along the way, Smith and his companions visited everything from side-street attractions like a drive-through liquor store in New York …Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

… to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Woodstock Bus in Cleveland, Ohio.Jack Smith tripSmith (left) and Adamski (right) at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio with the crew that recreated the Woodstock Bus.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

The trip wasn’t without its mishaps. In Nevada, Smith and Newland jumped out of the bus when a warning light went off: “GET OUTTA THE CAR! ITS GONNA BURN!!”Jack Smith ev road trip

Courtesy of Jack Smith

“We just stood there on the side of the road waiting for it to catch fire,” Smith said. 

He later learned the warning light was actually an indicator that the vehicle’s regeneration feature needed to be turned off.

Ultimately, Smith said the trip was an overwhelmingly positive experience: “Any given day we never really knew what was going to happen. Every day was a new adventure on this trip, where we stayed, what we ate, the people that we met. If we’d taken a regular car that probably would have never happened.”Jack Smith road tripSmith and Newland arrive back in San Francisco on the last day of the 42-day road trip.

Courtesy of Jack Smith

Range anxiety has been identified as a key barrier to EV adoption. In June, a reporter from The Wall Street Journal said she struggled to find chargers during a four-day road trip. She was one of several reporters to highlight the difficulties of taking an electric car cross-country.a white EV chargingAn EV charging station.

Francis Energy

“I’m always baffled by the people with these horror stories,” Smith told Insider. “It’s obvious they either did not do their homework or just do not understand how to find chargers. It can be as simple as a Google search.”Road trip with 1964 VW EV bus

Courtesy of Jack Smith

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