The Toads Head to Burning Man

For 2004, Team Toad is taking a break from fighting robots and we're preparing for a major expedition to attend the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

(10-Jul-2004) We're done with our modifications to the family trailer, and ready to start our massive summer vacation season. This update describes how we modified a standard Innsbruck towable travel trailer into a desert habitat.

The most important aspect was electrical power. Generators are the bane of Burning Man, since 30,000 gasoline engines would make a horrendous racket (especially when most of them are used to power stereo amplifiers).

We bought a windmill and a solar panel to provide quiet electrical power. The windmill is mounted on three 6' sections of 1-1/2 inch schedule 40 aluminum pipe with a separate diagonal brace made of three 5' section of 3/4" pipe. These are bolted to 2" aluminum channels that are screwed into the joists in the trailer's roof.

Danny help wire and test the windmill on our Kawasaki mule. As it turns out, we don't really have enough wind here in PA to properly use the windmill. It needs 8 mph winds to generate any power at all, and peaks at about 24 mph. Since the available energy in the wind is proportional to the cube of windspeed, below 12mph the windmill is basically useless.

We'll see whether the winds at the Black Rock Desert are steady enough to provide enough power to charge a battery.


But we were very pleasantly surprised with the Shell Solar Panel. It provides 110 watts of 12v DC power. It's 26" wide and 52" long.


The trailer came with a standard car-sized battery mounted in front. We supplemented that with a huge 220 AH gel cell battery. The control panel seen above at the right allows us to charge one battery while using the other. We also installed an 1800 watt inverter to allow us to run the microwave from the big battery.

In testing here at the Lazy Toad Ranch, we collected an average of 40 AH at 12 volts in a single day. Because of the threat of thunderstorms, we mounted a hail-shield made of 3/8" Lexan over the solar panel (we have LOTS of Lexan lying around). We found the Lexan cuts the solar output by about one-third, but a large hail-stone could cut the output 100%, so we're happy with the tradeoff. We'll probably remove the hail-shield once we get to the desert.

Since this is an art festival (amoung other things), we tried to make the trailer a little prettier. We repainted the Gulfstream Logo on the windscreen, and trimmed the trailer in purple EL wire.


We had originally planned to bring a small generator mounted in a noise-reducing enclosure on top of the trailer. We decided to scrap the generator altogether because of three factors:

In fact, the batteries store enough power to run the basic trailer systems for the whole event. But the solar output will allow us to run the swamp cooler and incandescent lights as much as we want.


We also turned our creative efforts to transportation on the Playa...motorized vehicles other than art cars are prohibited on the desert, so bicycles are the rule. We welded together a shade cover frame that bolts to two standard bicycles, giving us a four-wheeled drive two-human powered playa-friendly vehicle. It comes with dual-steering, but both riders have to coordinate braking.

The frame also supports a large basket for drinks, snacks, and a towel. Valuables can be locked in a steel box mounted to the rear of the frame. The umbrella holder supports a standard patio umbrella.

We'd have built an art-car, but then we'd have to drive it all the way to Nevada...maybe next year.

If you're on the playa, look for our windmill...we'll probably add EL wire to the mast to make it stand out at night.


(7-Apr-2004) This is an art festival and social event that requires extreme survival...all 35,000 attendees must bring both their art and their life support systems hundreds of miles into an empty desert and then transport everything back out, leaving the desert in an undisturbed state.

Our first goal is to modify the family camping trailer, shown here

For use in the isolated, harsh, and crowded environment of the desert playa.

We plan to add solar cells and a windmill to provide a renewable energy source for charging the 12 volt system, and a generator box to muffle the noise from a generator for times when we just can't live without 110 volts (microwave, air conditioner, cloudy-windless days).

And because this is an art festival, we're adding lots of Electroluminescent wire to jazz up the outward appearance of the 20 year old trailer.

The result should look like this:

Last updated 10-Jul-2004 by, from The Lazy Toad Ranch   Web Site contents Copyright © 2000-2004 Michael L. Mauldin