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Last updated November 24.

June 5, 2006 issue

Oil-fired fritter-mobile crosses United States

By Marla Pierson Lester Mennonite Central Committee

A pair of environmentally-minded neighbors from Fresno, Calif., successfully completed a coast-to-coast drive over the Memorial Day weekend — in a vehicle fueled entirely with leftover cooking oil.

Ken Martens Friesen, left, and Steve Friesen appear on the NBC-TV program NBC <em>Weekend Today </em> May 27 at a Salt Lake City, Utah, gas station during their coast-to-coast trip.

Ken Martens Friesen, left, and Steve Friesen appear on the NBC-TV program NBC Weekend Today May 27 at a Salt Lake City, Utah, gas station during their coast-to-coast trip. — Photo by MCC

The “fritter-fired” Volkswagen Jetta — named for the source of cooking oil that inspired the trek — climbed the Sierras, cruised through the western plains of Wyoming, crossed America’s heartland and arrived in Rehoboth Beach, Del., in 66 hours.

From noon on May 26 until 3 a.m. May 29, Ken Martens Friesen and Steve Friesen drove 2,987 miles, raising thousands of dollars for Mennonite Central Committee and awareness about alternatives to gasoline.

“It’s a very good feeling to know we’ve helped contribute to MCC and also maybe given people a little share of inspiration to try alternatives to fossil fuel and to think creatively about energy,” said Ken Martens Friesen, a former MCC worker and a Fresno Pacific University professor who teaches courses on global economics and sustainable development.

Martens Friesen, who has converted diesel Jettas to run on used cooking oil, wanted to show that these converted cars could successfully make long-distance drives. The pair crossed the country on 72 gallons of cooking oil, including 40 gallons from the fritter booth from the West Coast Mennonite Relief Sale and Auction.

By the time the drive was completed, the “Friesen Fritter-Fired, Fossil-Fuel-Free Drive Across America” had generated more than $7,500 in pledges and donations to MCC. The funds will be used for agricultural projects, including a forestry project in Cambodia.

The pair appeared May 27 on NBC Weekend Today from a Salt Lake City, Utah, gas station. They were interviewed by local television stations and newspapers as well.

The journey was fueled by more than cooking oil. Friesen offered his thanks to Mennonites across the United States who provided meals and encouragement.

Members of San Francisco Mennonite Church saw the pair begin their journey at the Golden Gate Bridge. A couple brought rice and curry to a rest stop near Kearney, Neb.

Farther on down the road, about 75 people came to a reception for the duo hosted by Belmont Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind. The church hospitality committee provided refreshments and gave away three pizzas to folks who could say, “Friesen Fritter-Fired, Fossil-Fuel-Free Drive Across America” five times very fast.

In all, the pair only bought one full meal, and that was on their first night in Reno, Nev. For the rest of the journey, they were sustained by the generosity of supporters across the country.

The total cost of the trip was about $50 — of which $30 was for tolls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Friesen said this was his second-cheapest trip across the country. The cheapest was in the mid-1980s when he spent $18 during a hitchhiking journey.

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