SEQUIM — When Jerry Pino pulls up with his horses, you may feel a sudden craving for Chinese food.
“My truck smells like fried wonton,” he acknowledged, shrugging at his white Dodge pickup and trailer full of horses.
Pino, a former rodeo athlete who worked the circuit from Southern California to New Mexico, is now a vegetable-oil-powered hauler of animals ¬– quarter horses, dogs, cats, whatever needs moving.
To fill his fuel tank, he recycles used-up fryer oil from two Sequim eateries: Fortune Star and the Dynasty Chinese Restaurant.
Nearly two years ago, Pino converted the Dodge to run on vegetable oil with a $1,500 kit from www.Greasecar.com.
Back in late 2006, diesel for the truck was selling for a mere $2.92 a gallon.
Now that it’s well over $4, Pino is burning more restaurant oil than ever, and enjoying some long trips: to Arizona, Las Vegas and North Hollywood, Calif.
Fortune Star and Dynasty have given him a new career as a cross-country hauler ¬– and last summer, Pino threw in a soybean oil-fueled family vacation for good measure.
These are some smooth rides, with no mechanical woes, in a well-greased rig.
“I’ve put over 50,000 miles on it,” Pino said.
You might say hometown relationships are also keeping him going.
Fortune Star and Dynasty could sell their used oil to biodiesel companies, as restaurants across the country are doing now.
Instead, they give it to Pino, provided he hauls it away promptly after they change their fryers two or three times a week.
“We used to have to pay for someone to pick it up,” said Melissa Guan, who with her husband, Kevin, has owned Dynasty for five years.
“I would rather give it to a local person,” and not some national company, she added. Besides, “we’re friends.”
Pino, 55, was a heavy equipment operator for many years, and had planned on retiring with some help from real estate investments. Then the market, as he put it, “took a dive.”
Via the World Wide Web, Pino started picking up hauling jobs — bringing animals and furniture and even a load of house plants from one state to the next.
And last Easter, Pino took his family and their horses on a vacation that covered Oregon, California and Nevada.
His next trip involves hauling a trailer full of furniture from Sequim to Prescott Valley, Ariz., that he figures will cost all of $50.
It would be even less if he didn’t have to use some petrodiesel to get the truck started in the morning.
“It runs all day on vegetable oil,” Pino said, adding that the truck by itself gets 23 miles per gallon.
Sixteen miles a gallon
Pulling a full load — three horses, say— it’ll go 16 miles on a gallon from Dynasty’s or Fortune Star’s fryers.
The fuel tank holds 45 gallons, and Pino can carry some drums of grease from Sequim. But on his farther-flung travels he cultivates vegetable-oil sources.
He’ll pull up to a restaurant, hop out and hear some variation on the question: “What kind of fuel are you burning?”
They detect the Asian-food aroma, Pino believes.
He’ll take the oil from any cuisine, however, as long as the restaurant changes its fryers frequently. The cleaner the oil, the smoother his trip.
Pino used to have other suppliers in Sequim, but with the demand for biodiesel rising, some are selling their used oil to refiners.
Restaurants can now get 15 cents or more per gallon of fryer oil, he said. And in many cities, the oil is being stolen from restaurants’ rear parking lots.
“It’s a true commodity,” valuable like other recyclables, said Robert Beausoleil, manager of Frugal’s in Port Angeles.
He’s been selling his used vegetable oil and hamburger grease for years, and watched it become more sought-after in the past two.
Frugal’s puts out 150 to 200 gallons of oil a month, Beausoleil said.
There was a time when restaurants like his had to pay companies to pick up and dispose of their used grease.
But now that the stuff is an ingredient in the biofuel economy, the tables are turned: Income from recycled oil gives Frugal’s a little boost.
And that, Beausoleil said, is something a locally owned eatery can use these days.
What of Pino’s grease-fueled trips?
“More power to him,” Beausoleil said.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.