The last day of this workshop was truly a roller coaster of emotions. At the start of the day we knew we had problems with first truck that we had to fix. Knowing this, our team-member Patrick was mentally making plans to stay the night and do the second conversion on Saturday since the truck couldn’t stay overnight mid-conversion. Working on the first truck was nevertheless helpful for the catadores (Portuguese for waste-pickers), allowing them to better understand the system and how to repair it if future problems arose. With everyone’s help, we finished first truck by lunchtime.
After lunch, to everyone’s delight, the catadores took over and completed second conversion in about five hours. Patrick usually takes six in Boston. This was very unexpected, not only because of the speed and creativity that they displayed, but also because they worked later into the night than we had anticipated, relying on the headlights of our cars to finish the project. Even more surprising was the fact that the system was looking good; there are almost always problems with these conversions that require troubleshooting, but we encountered none of these the first time the catadores started the truck on diesel. Then the engine was still problem-free after switching over to waste veggie oil (WVO)!
After witnessing this major success there were cheers all around. Everyone was tired and relieved and ready to say thank-yous and good-byes. We took several group pictures in which everyone wore cheerful smiles and displayed victory fist pumps. Then, as if following a movie script, the catadores tried to leave and could not get the engine to start. As the ignition chugged away without ever quite reviving the vehicle everyone’s smiles disappeared, replaced with screwed up looks of disappointment and concern. In the end we were saved by Edson’s jumper cables. Needless to say, the catadores were now skeptical and were adamant about Patrick returning the next day to help them decipher the problem.
Immediately before this the group had been so set to leave and escape to the beach paradise of Guaruja, but now we had to decide what to do in the morning; obviously it was late and dark and couldn’t fix the problem that night. After much deliberation, Patrick and the project coordinator, Libby, stayed the night in a hotel. They actually left with Edson, intending to get a hotel together, but he ended up sleeping in his truck! Edson turned out to be the hero of the weekend; he didn’t have to stay at all or help out the next day at all but did so because he wanted to and cared enough about the project to see it through.
The next morning Eduardo, the driver of the truck, was late because the truck hadn’t started on diesel and they needed to jump-start it again. This was fairly frightening for everyone, but particularly for Libby (our project advisor) and Patrick, who were ultimately responsible for the success of the conversion and workshop. Patrick began work immediately, but had become essentially obsolete; Edson and Patrick had had the same idea of what the problems could be (air in the lines/engine, blockage in the fuel outlet, unusable filter) and quickly informed everyone else, with Edson leading the group of catadores.
They all began tracing the lines and realized that some of the abracadieros had not been tightened at all because people had been rushing in the dark the night before. After each section they tightened there was less and less air in the lines. Edson also took out the tank and plugged the existing fuel outlet, cut a hole in the top of the tank, and inserted a copper coil to draw fuel out through the top of the tank. This eliminated the second possible cause of the problem. With these adjustments there was only minimal air in the lines that was visible. They figured that, since the lines we were using were significantly larger than the lines originally in the engine, this was how the remaining air was getting in. But the truck idled well so they decided to take it out for a test drive.
The catadores took a short drive on diesel and it worked! They then switched to WVO and this experiment also went fine. Then Patrick and Edson took it out on WVO and beat on the truck to make sure that it could handle any situation without dying. This also went well and even Edson was impressed with the engine’s performance on WVO. Ultimately the catadores were able to take the truck home after only about two or so hours, and some were so excited about the way the truck ran that they wanted to convert more of their trucks. Edson informed Patrick that he would begin with his own personal pick-up.
Edson made his contact information available: