RTCC Youth’s Adventure


Front Page / Apr. 4, 2013 10:26am EDT

To Ohio and Back on Vegetable Oil
By Ben Merrill

RTCC senior Charlie McInerney recently returned from a trip to visit his college in Cleveland, Ohio, driving a 1983 Mercedes 300 Turbo that he converted to run on vegetable oil for his school tech project. (Herald / Tim Calabro) RTCC senior Charlie McInerney recently returned from a trip to visit his college in Cleveland, Ohio, driving a 1983 Mercedes 300 Turbo that he converted to run on vegetable oil for his school tech project. (Herald / Tim Calabro) Charlie McInerney is not your typical high school kid. He just got back from orientation at Ohio Technical College in Cleveland, Ohio, having driven there and back in a 1983 Mercedes 300 D Turbo Diesel that he converted to operate on vegetable oil.

A senior in the diesel technology program at the Randolph Technical Career Center, Charlie is preparing to enter Ohio Tech in the fall to pursue his Associate of Applied Science degree in diesel technology with a minor in power generation. But the similarities between Charlie and most high school graduates-to-be end there.

For starters, Charlie is an emancipated 17-year old living by himself. In addition to working towards his high school diploma, he also takes care of all of his daily personal and living needs, (as he puts it, “with some help from a few friends”) including meals, laundry, and other things most of his peers take for granted.

His family, which is scattered across the United States, moved multiple times during the past eight years, resulting in him attending nearly nine different elementary and high schools and almost always having to play catch up to be on par with his peers.

“It’s hard when you move from school to school that many times,” he said. “It’s difficult to form lasting friendships and you almost never get a handle on the material you’re supposed to be learning. You’re either not where the other kids are, or you’re learning the material for a second time, or you simply have no idea what they’re talking about.”

“When my mom and sister decided to move to California a year ago, I said ‘no, that’s enough for me’ and I opted to stay right here. I had just gotten into RTCC and for the first time in my life—at least in terms of school—I liked what I was doing and I liked where I was doing it.

Saw Potential

“Chuck Lyman, the instructor here in the diesel program, saw some kind of potential in me and took me under his wing. He got me thinking about my future and what I wanted to be. He encouraged me to take my studies seriously. And he pushed me—a little—to think about college. I don’t know, I guess he just kind of believed in me. No teacher had ever taken that kind of interest in me before, so I decided this was where I wanted to be, and this was where I was going to stay.”

“You wouldn’t believe this if you could see Charlie work,” Lyman said, “ but until he got to my program, he’d never even stepped foot in a tech center. But the minute he got here, I knew this kid was different. He was focused, he was willing to work, and as it turns out, he’s a natural when it comes to working with engines and understanding the complex systems that make them operate.

“For his senior tech project, he decided not only to convert the Mercedes to a “veggie car,” but also to drive it to Ohio to pursue his dream of attending Ohio Tech. There’s not a lot of 17-year-olds who have that kind of drive and self-confidence.”

Converting the car was time-consuming, extremely technical, and required a great deal of re-routing hoses, wiring, and fuel lines. Charlie worked closely with his mentor, Mark Penta, to learn the theory behind the conversion and how to complete it. But as the project progressed, Charlie began to realize its amazing potential.

“Think about it,” he said. “A gallon of diesel fuel costs around $4.30. You can get a gallon of used veggie oil for a buck, and in many places, you can get it for free. Of course, if you get it for free you better have a filter handy. But the point is, operating a nice car doesn’t have to be expensive. And just think what you’re doing for the environment.”

“RTCC has given me opportunities I never dreamed could be possible,” Charlie said. “If everything goes as planned, I’ll finish my degree at Ohio Tech in 18 months. If I do well there, I’ll get a full scholarship to study Power Generation for an additional three months. And if I succeed at that, I know there’ll be a job waiting for me at the end.”

And why Ohio Tech, versus someplace a little closer to home?

“The truth is,” Charlie said, “when I leave here, I want to go somewhere where I’ll be challenged and have the opportunity to advance. And besides, it only takes 11 hours and about 25 gallons of veggie oil to get there.”

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