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November 12, 2002

Cross-Country Trip on Rigged Gas Tank Is Stopped Short

From: Washington Post, DC Nov. 12, 2002

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 12, 2002; Page B05

Richard H. Barnes Jr. of San Antonio set off for New York City in what sounds like a cross-country driver's dream: a car that never needs to stop for gas.

To make that possible, Barnes placed a 100-gallon fuel tank on a small trailer, bolted it to the back of his burgundy Mazda 626 and connected the two with a small hose. He displayed a sign declaring his intention: to drive 30 hours without refueling in honor of Veterans Day, U.S. Capitol Police said.

He drove about 1,600 miles -- 220 short of his goal -- before police spotted the rolling fire hazard parked on First Street near the U.S. Botanic Garden. Barnes -- who was snapping photos while wearing a full camouflage outfit -- was ticketed and his fuel contraption disassembled.

Jessica Gissubel, a spokeswoman for the Capitol, said Barnes was approached about noon because he had stopped on First Street between the Capitol and its Reflecting Pool, where no parking is allowed.

When the officer saw the gas tank -- and another sign in small letters that said, "One 100 gal tank on all way to NYC," he flagged down a group of D.C. firefighters who happened to be at the Botanic Garden, Gissubel said.

A fire department sergeant looked at the tank and asked that the department's hazardous materials unit come to the scene, fire department spokesman Alan Etter said. Firefighters disconnected the hose that led from the tank to the car, making sure that no gas leaked out, Etter said.

Barnes was cited for operating an unsafe vehicle, Gissubel said. That ticket carries a fine of $50.

Barnes explained that he was driving to New York as a way to honor his father, a veteran, Gissubel said. On the dashboard of his Mazda, propped up in the crack around the passenger-side air bag, was an old photograph of a man in Army uniform, as well as other pictures.

Stickers on the trailer also mentioned the Fire Department of New York and the World Trade Center. Barnes said he intended to visit the World Trade Center site when he arrived in New York, Gissubel said -- though officers at the scene speculated about what might have happened when he reached the busy New Jersey Turnpike.

Gissubel said that Barnes would be allowed to continue in his car, though "it's not going out the way it came in," she said.

After writing his name in the notebook of a photographer for The Washington Post, Barnes, who is deaf, was asked: Are you a veteran?

No, he wrote. A patriot.

Staff photographer Gerald Martineau contributed to this report.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company