Fueling up in Brookings


Brookings County Now & Then

I’d never heard of a NEMA 14-50.

And unless you’re an electrician, chances are you haven’t either.

I checked, and it isn’t some complicated science fiction gizmo. It’s an electrical receptacle approved by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. 

Their endorsed 14-50 helped make our family’s Thanksgiving repast more successful.

It made it possible for our son, Matt, his wife Jen, and their son Owen to motor to Brookings from Mankato, Minnesota, and return the next day, at a cost less than what you pay for a box of Frost Arena popcorn.

It wasn’t the money they saved on the trip, but the availability of a way to recharge their electric automobile in Brookings for their trip home.

Brookings has no public plug-ins for electric cars. 

Before he left Mankato for the trip to Brookings, he purchased a full battery of Mankato electricity for $2.40. That was twice what was needed to power the car the 150 miles to Brookings, but the battery needed to be “topped off” for drives around Brookings as well as the return trip to Mankato “just in case.”

Matt’s and Jen’s Tesla gobbled up just $1.20 worth of Minnesota electricity to get them all here for the holiday.

Then, as we feasted on turkey and the trimmings yesterday, the Tesla was in our garage ingesting Brookings Municipal Utilities wattage that was “fuel” enough for their trip home plus power remaining in the lithium ion batteries for a couple of weeks of driving to and fro from their home to offices on the campus of Minnesota State University in Mankato. 

The NEMA 14-50 is now a permanent fixture in our garage. But these new-fangled electric cars of many makes and models are just too much for my 1930s gasoline-powered brain to wrap around. 

My first automobile rides were in Model A Fords. The “Tin Lizzies,” as it was called, had a small fuel tank under the cowling in front of the car’s plain glass windshield. You checked the gas level in that tank with a stick.  

Ten years after my introduction to the Model A, my buddies and I were tooling around Rapid City in my dinged-up old Plymouth. 

One day when the gas tank gauge neared empty, my buddies and I pooled our cash and I was able to buy the grand total of 29 cents worth of gasoline for a few more of miles town touring.

I remember the 29-cent transaction because the smiling attendant at the filling station asked if I wanted all of it in the tank. 

That memorable gasoline order in the late 1940s came to mind as I watched Brookings electrician Joe Tschetter install the special NEMA plug-in to which my son could tether his all-electric car for a Thanksgiving feed from the Brookings Municipal Utilities power trough. 

Public plug-ins are readily available in Mankato, but Brookings has none. The nearest are in Sioux Falls. So to be safe, we asked Joe Tschetter to connect a NEMA 14-50 to the electrical panel in our garage.     

Tschetter said he knows of only a few other electrical vehicle plug-ins for battery-powered cars in town, but I suspect that as time and technology speed by, the demand for that service here will become commonplace.

Now that we have that NEMA 14-50 in our garage, we have the opportunity to take what would be a giant leap from gas to electrical power. But as one who cut my teeth on Model As and old Plymouths with suicide doors, I tend to remain an old-fashioned fan of gasoline power. 

Interestingly, electrician Joe Tschetter’s daughter, Brookings High School alumnus Alicia, is one of about 2,500 students enrolled in the Mankato College of Arts and Humanities. Brookings High School alumnus, Dr. Matthew Cecil, the Tesla fan, is dean of that growing college that’s a big part of Minnesota State.

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