By Mark H. Reddig
Willie Nelson once told America’s mamas not to let their babies “pick guitars and drive them old trucks” – or for that matter, grow up to be cowboys.
Now, Nelson is doing what he can to make life better for the folks who “drive them old trucks” – and help out some other folks in the bargain. The singer hopes his efforts give truckers an alternative to the diesel fuel produced from foreign oil.
In December 2004, Nelson and three partners – Peter Bell, Monk White and Carl Cornelius, namesake of Carl’s Corner Truck Stop south of Dallas – started a new company. Willie Nelson Biodiesel plans to offer truckers comparably priced fuel made from American farm products, according to the company’s Web site.
The company’s main product has already earned what is likely to be an enduring nickname: BioWillie.
The fuel involved is what’s called a B20 blend – 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent standard diesel. Nelson and his partners even offer truck stops above-ground tanks with attached pumps that can be dropped in right at the truck stop, so sales can begin without the expensive addition of separate underground tanks.
Helping out regular folks
Nelson said two things led to his involvement with biodiesel. The first was his continuing quest to help America’s farmers.
Nelson has been a giant figure in the pro-farm movement in America. He was one of the founders of the Farm Aid concerts, and has been involved with various initiatives to help small family farmers “for 19, 20 years now,” he told Land Line.
“(We’ve been) trying to wrack our brains to figure out what we can do to save the small family farmers.”
Nelson told the audience at this year’s Farm Aid concert he “punched in biodiesel on my computer, and all of the sudden I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see the future of farming and agriculture in America being really helped by being able to grow our own fuel.”
He said his biodiesel trip into cyberspace was “kind of a godsend.”
“When I first heard about it, (I) realized that this was something that could be done, and we could grow our fuel,” Nelson said.
The other reason he got involved – well, it was a card game.
Nelson is now the owner of Carl’s Corner, which is between Dallas/Fort Worth and Waco, TX. To find it, head north on Interstate 35 out of Waco and drive to where the Interstate splits into its east and west branches, just south of Dallas/Fort Worth.
“I won that place in a poker game; I wasn’t able to lose it back, so …,” he said. “All of the sudden, I have a truck stop, and here’s biodiesel, so it looked like this is a nice marriage.”
Nelson has some plans for the stop.
“There’ll be a restaurant there, and a place in the back where we might have some music.”
But don’t expect Carl’s Corner to change names any time soon, despite the new owner.
“I want it to stay Carl’s. In case I do lose it back, it’ll be his again, and we won’t have to change the signs.”
‘It’s all related’
Farmers aren’t the only folks that Willie Nelson set his sights on helping. The legendary singer says he thinks his new company will also help America’s truckers – another group plagued by tough times.
“A lot of those truckers used to be farmers,” he said. “We want to help the truckers and the farmers. It’s all related.”
On their company’s Web site, Nelson and his partners stress the benefits of biodiesel for truckers – things like increased lubricity, lower emissions, less engine knocking and the ability to switch to the newer fuel without any kind of conversion being performed on the vehicle.
“You can always go back to regular diesel, you can alternate from one to the other if you can’t find biodiesel,” Nelson said. “If you find out that you like and want to use it all the time, then you can also find it. There are maps (online) that show … where you can fuel up around the country.”
Nelson’s site even points out that biodiesel smells better.
Perhaps best of all – and unlike many alternative fuels – biodiesel doesn’t require more research or new facilities.
“People can buy biodiesel right now,” Nelson said.
Getting fuel to the people
Nelson and his partners are already talking with several truck stop chains – including TravelCenters of America, Love’s and others – about selling his product.
“They’re all very much aware of biodiesel,” he said. “They’re all planning on doing something.”
One of his partners, Peter Bell, said this is just the first step.
“We’ve kind of lit the fire and announced that we’re in the game,” Bell said. “Now our job is we’d like to recruit as many truck stops into being able to sell the Willie Nelson Biodiesel products from their outlets, so we want to make it available as widely as possible. … Hopefully we can make it available throughout the country.”
Nelson seemed confident that the trend toward greater use of biodiesel was gaining steam.
“Somebody along the way will take the lead and start having biodiesel at all the truck stops,” he said. “And that will give all the truckers an option – they can use which ever one they like.”
Nelson’s already taking the first steps toward spreading the faith.
A TA representative made the pilgrimage to Carl’s Corner recently. And just like the way he got his truck stop, Willie Nelson started his negotiations in his own, personal style.
“We played two or three hours of poker, and he seemed like a nice guy,” Nelson said. “You can tell a lot about a guy if you play a little poker.”