As you tune into CNN these days, the news that is broadcast is centering around the final launch of one of the space shuttles and what the future may hold for a science that during the last century kept many of us totally spellbound. From a time when man first circled the earth, to walking on the moon, I have been fascinated with our modern day explorers and how they dared to be different from the rest of us in accomplishing what others take as a challenge that is totally impossible or even somewhat insane. If we go back to the early part of the last century and check off the names of those modern explorers like Wilbur and Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Chuck Yeager, Jackie Cochran, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, plus many others “¦ the list of names and the list of accomplishments are endless. Along the way, there have been great successes, as well as failures, but they each one dared to be different and followed a dream.
I have had the opportunity in my life to know one of those dreamers who maybe someday could be added to that list of explorers who wanted to push the envelope beyond the norm. I made his acquaintance back in college on the agricultural campus of Middle Tennessee State University when we both began to attempt to figure out life as students. The only place I was ever ahead of him in the classroom was on the attendance chart because it was kept in alphabetical order. I knew at that time of our lives he was smart because he always messed up the curve on grades following tests. But, for the past thirty-some years, he has always amazed me in his research to develop alternative fuels and engines to reduce our country’s dependence on oil. Over twenty-three years ago, Dr. Cliff Ricketts told me of his dream to someday develop a car that would run on nothing but sun and water. And you know, I believed him then and saw him do it recently.
Just as Orville and Wilbur took that first flight back in 1903, Cliff on November 1, 2010, drove a 1994 Toyota Tercel adapted to run off hydrogen from water, from Bristol, Virginia to West Memphis, Arkansas all in one day. In fact, as I stood there that day in the MTSU shop as they fueled the car with hydrogen, it was even quoted by bystanders watching the process that someday this event could have as much historical impact as the Wright Brothers’ first flight.
On that day, Cliff traveled mostly by Interstate, covering over 500 miles initially fueled by sun and water. A 34-year agriscience professor at MTSU, he has spent a lifetime on this challenge of developing his car. “My whole passion is sun and water,” Cliff told The Daily News Journal reporter Greg Pogue, who had ridden part of the way to the fueling stop with Ricketts. “I believe accomplishing this feat will have the following implications: A cleaner environment because of clean tailpipe emissions from the vehicle, energy self-sufficiency and renewability, less dependency on foreign oil and less of a trade imbalance because of the purchase of foreign oil.”
Considering Cliff a good friend all the way from college days til now, I asked him was this also a part of his “bucket list” in a round about way. He told me, “I just knew this was something I had to do. I have worked on this so long and knew it would work. My goal has been to prove that it is possible to produce a low cost fuel source from sun and water, and I’ve shown them I can do it. But the dream doesn’t stop here. I now have to drive coast to coast, hopefully next year, and I plan to do it using only 10 gallons of gasoline.”
Over Cliff’s 34 years of teaching agricultural education and science, he has made a difference in providing educational skills for hundreds of young people. His dedication to his classroom,
university and now even making scientific history in the advancement of man’s travel on earth, is something to be appreciated. Pretty good for a farm boy, but of course, we have always known that farm boys and girls can do miracles with a piece of baling wire and Vise grips. There is no end to what they can do when you team them up with university backing, TVA and sponsors willing to offer help.
A lot of folks didn’t take the Wright Brothers very seriously back at the turn of the last century and all you have to do today is just look up in the sky and see the results of their dreams. We are now at the turn of the beginning of another century and Dr. Cliff Ricketts has proven his dream could run across Tennessee on sun and water. Do you reckon in several years we will be dodging hydrogen cars all because of a MTSU ag professor’s idea? Maybe so, and I was there to see it happen.