Maker Mayhem: Low Moments in How-To History, Part 7


The author wouldn’t recognize cool if fifty pounds of dry ice bit his ass.


Growing up we had a Vanagon camper van and took a long trip with it every summer. It had a mini-fridge sized refrigerator that ran off the alternator while the car was running and off LP gas when we stopped. Priming and igniting the fridge with the little piezo pumper thing was an important ritual before hiking up to see the thing.

Prior to that we had had an older-style VW camper with an icebox. The fridge was a huge improvement.


This could be a solution for a few hours after the car off but the engine block is still hot.


Yeah, this is a low point for this series. This is a legitimately useful and practical project, as evidenced by the wide array of commercially available vehicles that come with fridges built in. It’s a pretty big stretch to imagine that it will somehow lead to some kind of Deliverance scenario, rather than building extra power storage into the car or one of the other, non-electric options other commenters have pointed out.

It’s interesting to me in that fridge modifications are a big thing for homebrewers. I’ve been fantasizing about the ideal customized kegerator for some time. This seems to entail the kind of heavy modification to the fridge itself that is generally discouraged, due to the risk of damage to the most expensive piece of the project if you accidentally cut part of the cooling system.


LP gas refrigerators are expensive! No wonder Mr. DIY chose this route.

That said, converting an old home fridge to run on 12V is too impractical for sane people to bother with.


This series should get a reboot without the dismissive tone. This was an era when things were designed to be repaired rather than replaced and there were lots of people who had these kinds of skills.

We have one of those old handyman encyclopedias and there was a project that used the differential of a car hooked to external drive shaft of a tractor to make a post hole digger. That impressed me. Many accomplished engineers got their start on the farm, putting together equipment from the hardware scrap pile.


So you install a 12v model; problem solved. They DO exist, you know, usually as a hybrid electric/LP system, these days.

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The 12V/120V/LP versions are even MORE expensive. The 12V version will kill your battery (some sooner than others), and they are also very expensive.

I was seriously contemplating the options prior to our trip to Burning Man. I decided that I could buy a metric buttload of ice blocks for the price of a car-powered fridge.

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Take out the tone, and what’s left? “Today’s random page from the archives of Popular Mechanics”?

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And why not? Popular Mechanics contains quite some gems.


Timely advice. I face exactly those choices. LP is going to win.

For now. The batteries aren’t getting any worse, and with good nanotech we can have batteries, supercaps, and fuel cells likely to leave smelly ground-hugging propane in the cellar where it flown to wait for a spark.

OTOH, there are now some bacteria discovered that produce propane, and I can quite see floating farms of self-replicating barges that “mine” the gas from the sea…

I like the cut of your jib.

I simply chalk it up to his succumbing to the Power of Snark. We all carry within us the sneer of or teenage selves, to be honest. Sure, it was a little ahead of its time, but it showed real ingenuity if you ask me. I can more easily imagine this cropping up as an idea not because of the hypothetical cold beers in the wilderness, but the ice cream thawing once too often on the trip home from the new supermarket, now that the corner store has closed its doors.

Well, Frauenfelder might have waxed on about how neat the idea was, if impractical. The Maker credo being that even if a project seems ill advised, you still learn from it. I just hope Matt’s future contributions don’t merely poo-poo these weird ideas, but point out how these early, dangerous (to modern standards) projects were the granddaddies of some cool stuff we have today, like coolers that run off of the cigarette lighter adapter in cars in this case.


12V-only fridges are pretty common options these days. The one in this Ford will hold 7 12-ounce cans, or some sushi, apparently. It’s got an actual compressor & will chill things down to 23 degrees F, if you so desire.

Another snotty article from someone who is completely devoid of any historical perspective.


When I was a kid, we had a Terra Marina houseboat, which needed no trailer because it had permanently attached wheels. You could pull it out of the water, park it at a campground, plug in electric and water, and it’s a camp trailer. It also had an ice box. One big block could last us a weekend on the water.

Low Moments series shows a generally interesting DIY project and then makes fun of it. These would have been much more fun with a positive or at least joking neutral attitude, niche applications are why DIY is so powerful.