Health & Senior Living

Sangeville man’s passion for electric vehicles fueled by nation’s dependence on foreign oil

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer
    SANGERVILLE — The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo had a profound effect on the American automobile industry. It resulted in a spike in gas prices from 38 to 84 cents per gallon, long gas lines and a four decade conversation about America becoming energy self-sufficient.

    The country’s growing dependence on foreign oil ignited a Sangerville’s man passion for electric powered vehicles. It was that passion which inspired Charles MacArthur to sponsor a yearly endurance test of alternative powered vehicles in New Hampshire.
hsl-macarthur-dc-po-20Observer photo/Bill Pearson
    ALTERNATIVE-POWERED VEHICLE — Charles MacArthur, of Sangerville, shows the inside of a battery-powered postal vehicle at his storage building. MacArthur owns several alternative energy powered vehicles in his building which once housed the Dover Stove Company.   
    MacArthur along with Mount Washington Auto Road officials sponsored a one-week event for alternative energy enthusiasts to drive their vehicles up the 4,700 foot climb to the summit of the privately-owned mountain road. MacArthur was driving his electric motorcycle near the mountain in 1974 when the inspiration came for the “Alternative Vehicle Regatta.”
    “It all came about after I was riding my electric motorcycle near the mountain and realized somebody should try to drive an electric vehicle up there,” MacArthur said. “It took me 3.5 hours to drive up the mountain, but I did it. We started the regatta the next year and it truly has been a labor of love.”
    MacArthur sent out a couple hundred postcards which resulted in 19 entrants for the first regatta. The field included a California man who hauled his propane-powered steam motorcycle 4,000 miles in a VW bus. The event also received national coverage by all three major television networks.   
    The regatta continued for several more years before interest waned. But the current energy crisis has revived interest in both alternative vehicles and the regatta. More advanced technology has resulted in a new breed of alternative-fueled-powered vehicles. Among those advancements are lithium batteries. Last year, a Boston experimentor, Ted Dillard, tested his lithium battery-powered motorcycle at Mount Washington.
He reached the summit in a half hour which prompted New Hampshire state and Mount Washington Auto Road  officials to revive the trek. “Alternate Energy Days” will be held in September at the New Hampshire mountain.
    The event will include the latest alternative energy technology such as the “Mercedes Smart Car” which runs on fuel produced from mustard seeds. The new technology results in better car mileage and less carbon dioxide emissions. It is still in its formative stage and needs to be proved driven on the road.
    “It’s pretty amazing,” MacArthur said. “The mustard seed is 38 percent oil and it takes about 400,000 seeds to produce a half pint of fuel. The technology has advanced to the point where the U.S. Navy is now flying jets fueled by mustard seeds.”
    “Alternate Energy Days” will also display some of the vintage electric-powered vehicles which were inspired by the nation’s first energy crisis. MacArthur plans on driving his Corbin electric motorcycle up Mount Washington during the event. Corbin was one of the first alternative energy vehicles produced in 1974.
    “I’m no longer involved in organizing the event, but I’d still like to be there,” MacArthur said. His vintage electric motorcycle, along with several other alternative energy vehicles, are stored in the former Dover Stove Company in Sangerville. MacArthur closed the business in 1985 after the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency required him to undergo solid fuel testing to remain in operation. He couldn’t afford the test which cost $8,000 per examination.
    MacArthur had hoped to sell the property to someone who could use the building to demonstrate energy derived from compressed air for storing food. When compressed air expands it chills, MacArthur believed the property’s pond and dam in conjunction with his building could’ve turned the facility into a cold storage unit for Maine grown farm products. He marketed the building for $250,000, but he received no offers.
    The building has been vandalized 22 times since the company closed including about 80 broken windows. MacArthur believes the building’s current condition makes it more difficult to sell. He fears vandals will continue to cause further damage to the building. After his death, MacArthur believes the building would likely revert back to the town.
    “I didn’t get one bid for the building. Nobody cared,” he said. “And the kids have broken about 70-80 windows. The pigeons have gotten in there. I’m afraid at the rate the kids work, dynamite would be the best answer.”
    While MacArthur spent most of his adult life living in Connecticut and New Jersey, he is a Maine native. He was born in Lewiston in 1926. He graduated from Bates College. He worked as an English and general science teacher at Edward Little High School in Auburn. His $1,800 yearly salary allowed him to pay off his college loans in two years.
    The Korean War veteran started an engineering photography company in 1955. He previously had a job with a company which made flight simulators. MacArthur developed a system for reproducing engineering drawings on a photo cloth.
    In 1977, he purchased the Brown’s Mill textile mill in Dover-Foxcroft. MacArthur wanted to return to Maine to escape living in an urban center. He bought the plant for its hydroelectric power capability. However, he’s most proud of his developing it into a small business incubator. MacArthur rented space to local entrepreneurs. He charged a $1 per day for all the space and other costs associated with the building’s operation. The venture resulted in providing space for 32 startups.
    “I came back to Maine because there was too many darn people,” he said. There was too much smog and traffic on the Interstate. It slowed down to two miles per hour. I wanted to get back to a less populated place.”
    MacArthur describes himself as “somebody who can’t sit still.” Among his other notable accomplishments, MacArthur said, he set a record as the first person to navigate a hot air balloon above the Artic Circle. He is also currently involved with an international effort, to provide Africa with a better fertilizer. He belongs to the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance which is based in Germany.
    His future plans on starting a small business by making a stainless steel bread mixer. He claims households could make their own bread for 22 cents per loaf.
    The product can make eight loaves at a time, and MacArthur says it makes the house “smell pretty good.

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