4th of July parade celebrates BI teen’s energy independence

Mark King and his electric car
Mark King and his electric car
Look below for my story about a recent Bainbridge High School grad’s homemade electric car.

Mark King’s face lights up at the opportunity to share his leather-bound book of inventions.

Barefooted and sleepy-eyed after a late morning wake-up call, the newly-minted Bainbridge High School graduate quickly pages through diagrams and descriptions, eventually coming upon his first jet pack.

“I made that in 10th grade,” he said, pointing to a photo of himself with a collection of tubes and wires strapped to his back. “It didn’t work.”

He turns the page to show off a more streamlined version.

“This one worked, but not well enough.”

It produced 132.6 pounds of thrust, which wasn’t quite enough to rocket him across the island to school in the morning.

He’s tried his hand at several other contraptions: an electric skateboard, a hybrid gas-electric motorcycle, even a steel-framed helicopter.

But it was his desire for a better way to get to school that pushed him toward his masterwork.

“When I went to register at school for a parking spot, they told me it would be $240 for the year,” he said, noting that previous year’s fee was just $70. “They told me the reason was that they wanted us to carpool and be more green. So I thought ‘how green can I be?'”

That very same day, King began work on what would become a fully electric car. Built from scratch, the car’s construction followed only the blueprints that appeared in his mind.

“I went home, thought about a car and just did it, I guess, through trial and error,” King said while standing among drills, cables, sanders and welding equipment in his parents’ garage – a place that was long ago taken over by his projects.

The sporty, battery-powered one-seater at the garage’s center is able to hit speeds of up to 27 miles an hour, and can travel about 12 miles on a six-hour charge.

Because the car is legally classified as a moped, King got to park at school for free at one of the motorcycle stalls.

Much of the car is cobbled together from parts bought on the Internet, culled from junk yards and, in one case, pulled from under a heap of leaves in the woods.

“That’s where i got the back wheel,” he said. “I found a motorcycle that was abandoned. It was old and rusty, but some parts were still good.”

The engine came from a Toro tractor, the seat’s from a Jeep Cherokee and the suspension system was taken from a Volkswagen Beetle. Much of the electrical system uses old jumper cables. The steering wheel is a repurposed engine pulley.

The car took about nine months to build and cost a little less than $2,400 in parts.

Capped with a sleek, fiberglass body King designed himself, the car doesn’t appear to be the Frankenstein rig it is on the inside.

“A lot of people stop and have confused looks when I drive it,” he said. “I guess because it’s the only one in the world.”

A good chance to gawk at King’s car will be at Saturday’s Grand Old Fourth of July parade in Winslow.

With the theme “Celebrating Our Green Isle,” parade organizers are putting King and his car at the front of the procession’s new earth-friendly section. His car will also be featured at a post-parade electric car show.

The link between Independence Day and earth-friendly technology is clear to King.

“The Fourth of July was a change for America,” he said. “The electric car is going to be a change for transportation.”

The homemade electric car was also created a shift in King’s life.

“Ever since I started on the car, I’ve got a new future that I want for myself, whereas before, I didn’t know what I want to do,” he said.

King felt a bit aimless in school. Classroom lessons never came close to grabbing his imagination the way a garage full of tools did.

“The truth is, high school math and science just doesn’t have anything that applies to what I’m doing,” he said. “When I need math or science, I just learn what I need. I learn it because it applies to life.”

The focus brought out by the electric car project pulled other goals into King’s sights.

He decided to become an Eagle Scout and obtain a patent on one of his inventions by the time he graduated. He earned his Eagle Scout badge mid-way through the school year and learned last month – about a week before graduation – that his design for an accordion-like sleeping bag compression sack has a patent pending.

He’s gearing up for another patented product that he will only describe as something that will help people reduce plastic use.

“I can’t tell you my idea,” he said. “It’s a secret.”

Almost as a reminder that the heady life of an inventor hasn’t quite arrived, King’s mother barges into the garage, reminding him answer his phone and wear shoes when he’s being interviewed by the newspaper.

“I greatly identify with the mother of Thomas Edison,” said Martha Wild King, expressing a mix of exasperation and pride.

Her son stays up late almost every night welding, pounding and drilling in the garage, she said. When he reappears, his hands are sometimes bloodied and his mind is still at work.

“These ideas are constantly with him. He’s never able to avoid them. He’s constantly ripping, tearing, creating,” she said.

King’s not sure what’s next for him. Maybe he’ll go to community college in Seattle. Maybe he’ll see where his patents take him.

One thing’s for sure: he wants his work to make a difference.

“I want to make some kind of change,” he said. “I want to be remembered for doing something substantial that helped the world.”

Red, White, Blue…and Green

Mark King’s homemade electric car will be featured in the island’s 42nd annual Grand Old Fourth of July Parade, which kicks off at 1 p.m. on Winslow Way. Day-long festivities begin with a fair at Waterfront Park at 9 a.m. Other events include live music, a beer garden, a classic car show, an electric car show and a fireworks display over Eagle Harbor starting around 10 p.m. For more information, visit the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce’s Website, bainbridgechamber.com.