Deep-Fried Fuel: A Biodiesel Kitchen Vision

Carl Cornelius in front of his truck stop. i i

Carl Cornelius turned a truck stop into a town — Carl's Corner, Texas. Willie Nelson persuaded him to offer biodiesel for sale. 1989 photo by Robbie McClaran hide caption

itoggle caption 1989 photo by Robbie McClaran
Carl Cornelius in front of his truck stop.

Carl Cornelius turned a truck stop into a town — Carl's Corner, Texas. Willie Nelson persuaded him to offer biodiesel for sale.

1989 photo by Robbie McClaran
Peter Bell, Carl Cornelius, Willie Nelson and Steve Gilcrease, gather at Carl's Corner. i i

Willie Nelson Biodiesel Co. partners, from left, Peter Bell, Carl Cornelius, Willie Nelson and Steve Gilcrease, gather at Carl's Corner. A fifth partner, Monk White, is not shown. Courtesy Willie Nelson Biodiesel Co. hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Willie Nelson Biodiesel Co.
Peter Bell, Carl Cornelius, Willie Nelson and Steve Gilcrease, gather at Carl's Corner.

Willie Nelson Biodiesel Co. partners, from left, Peter Bell, Carl Cornelius, Willie Nelson and Steve Gilcrease, gather at Carl's Corner. A fifth partner, Monk White, is not shown.

Courtesy Willie Nelson Biodiesel Co.
Hand-painted biodiesel fuel tanks i i

Hand-painted biodiesel fuel tanks at Carl's Corner. "We want to create an alternate fuel city. Wind power, diesel power, solar power, soybeans, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds — all kinds of alternate fuels," Cornelius says. "We're thinking about family farms with this BioWillie." The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

itoggle caption The Kitchen Sisters
Hand-painted biodiesel fuel tanks

Hand-painted biodiesel fuel tanks at Carl's Corner. "We want to create an alternate fuel city. Wind power, diesel power, solar power, soybeans, sunflower seeds, mustard seeds — all kinds of alternate fuels," Cornelius says. "We're thinking about family farms with this BioWillie."

The Kitchen Sisters

'Hidden Kitchens' Excerpt

Truckers have been calling our Hidden Kitchens hotline since the beginning. Bob "Trucker Dad" Stanton told us this story, included in 'Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes & More,' now in paperback.

'Hidden Kitchens' by The Kitchen Sisters
BioWillie fuel pumps at Carl's Corner i i

BioWillie fuel pumps are at Carl's Corner, outside Dallas on the way to Waco, Texas. Willie Nelson, a longtime friend of Carl Cornelius, sparked the idea of converting Carl's gas pumps to biodiesel. Nathan Malone hide caption

itoggle caption Nathan Malone
BioWillie fuel pumps at Carl's Corner

BioWillie fuel pumps are at Carl's Corner, outside Dallas on the way to Waco, Texas. Willie Nelson, a longtime friend of Carl Cornelius, sparked the idea of converting Carl's gas pumps to biodiesel.

Nathan Malone
18-wheeler atop Carl's Corner i i

This 18-wheeler, which was atop Carl's Corner until recently, was adorned with giant dancing frogs that were designed by artist, Bob "Daddy O" Wade. Carl's will be closed for about four months during construction and will reopen as Willie's Place. The Kitchen Sisters hide caption

itoggle caption The Kitchen Sisters
18-wheeler atop Carl's Corner

This 18-wheeler, which was atop Carl's Corner until recently, was adorned with giant dancing frogs that were designed by artist, Bob "Daddy O" Wade. Carl's will be closed for about four months during construction and will reopen as Willie's Place.

The Kitchen Sisters
Kinky Friedman at the Sweetwater Wind Farm

Kinky Friedman, shown at the Sweetwater Wind Farm in Sweetwater, Texas, calls Willie Nelson "the hillbilly Dalai Lama." Brian Kanof/Courtesy Kinky Friedman for Governor hide caption

itoggle caption Brian Kanof/Courtesy Kinky Friedman for Governor

Sometimes we find the stories, sometimes the stories find us. This is one of the latter.

I was getting my hair cut by Gigi Brestle and asking her what she had done for the Fourth of July. She described her visit to Carl's Corner, a wild truck stop outside of Dallas, where Willie Nelson, Shooter Jennings, Leon Russell and dozens of groups had performed. Kinky Friedman was there campaigning, and every biodiesel entrepreneur known to man was sharing their wares. Truckers were filling their tanks with BioWillie, and the barbecue was good.

We had always wanted to include Willie Nelson's infamous July Fourth picnic in Hidden Kitchens. Suddenly, Brestle was opening our eyes to a world we never considered.

I left the beauty salon, called Nikki Silva, and a few days later The Kitchen Sisters were pulling into Carl's to get the lowdown on this hidden highway kitchen. — Davia Nelson

Filling Up on BioWillie

"Without a vision, you perish." — Carl Cornelius, Carl's Corner Truck Stop, Carl's Corner, Texas

Carl's Corner, Texas, is a truck stop between Dallas and Waco, Texas, where a little revolution has begun. Where truckers fill up on American fuel made from farm crops. BioWillie, they call it, because Willie Nelson is the driving force behind this biodiesel vision. His tour bus runs on it, (so do Bonnie Raitt's and Neil Young's) and a brigade of 18-wheelers barreling down the nation's highways; a growing fleet of semis whose exhaust smells like French fries.

With its dancing frogs on top of the truck-stop sign, Carl's is a well-known landmark for motorists who travel Interstate 35 outside of Dallas. Owner Carl Cornelius bought the land in 1979 and incorporated the town in 1986 so he could sell alcohol in an otherwise dry part of Hill County. He's been mayor ever since.

Willie Nelson, a longtime friend of Carl's, sparked the idea of converting Carl's gas pumps to biodiesel. (The singer's wife, Annie, put a bug in his head after she saw some biodiesel cars in Maui.) Willie — an advocate for reducing America's dependence on foreign oil, putting the family farmer back to work and cleaning up the environment — partnered with Carl, Earth BioFuels, and Distribution Drive in 2004 and created the Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company. Carl's Corner became the first truck stop in the nation to sell BioWillie.

Recently the company broke ground for a biodiesel production facility on the land behind the truck stop that will have a capacity to refine 8,000 gallons of fuel a day.

"The idea is for a community-based facility," Nelson says. "This is important because we're starting wars over oil. This will help truckers and small-time farmers that we've neglected for too long."

In Hawaii, Pacific Biodiesel has been converting used cooking oil from restaurants and hotels into a fuel, producing 10,000 gallons a month. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, its most recent client, is switching park vehicles to biodiesel as part of a U.S. Department of Energy program.

And in Houston, Chris Powers, founder of Houston Biodiesel, produces fine-grade biodiesel. He advises, educates, assists, and "takes the mystery out of using biodiesel" by offering homebrew biodiesel classes for alternative-energy enthusiasts. You only need to spend a little time on the Web to find a host of like-minded people pursuing their desire to clean up our environment and lessen dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil.

Along the Road

"If the farmers and the truckers get on board in a big way, the soccer moms won't be far behind." — Kinky Friedman

Kinky Friedman is a self-described "compassionate redneck," guitar player, songwriter, mystery writer, entertainer and leader of the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys. He has recorded 10 albums, and written 26 books including The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover and Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned.

His latest stint: political candidate, running for governor of Texas. "Why the hell not?" and "The last independent governor of Texas was Sam Houston. The next will be Kinky Friedman" are just a few of his ear-catching campaign slogans.

Friedman calls Willie Nelson "the hillbilly Dalai Lama," and has drawn a lot of inspiration from Nelson about his positions on biodiesel and renewable energy sources such as solar power and wind farms.

Friedman's newly unveiled energy plan for Texas aims to reverse the state's position as a net importer of energy by expanding existing development of renewable energies while improving conventional power generation. If elected, he plans to fuel the fleet of 35,000 Texas school buses with biodiesel and to appoint Nelson as "chief energy Texas head."

Friedman has a lot of big and wild ideas, including using food to raise funds to fuel his visions. He started an olive oil company while stuck in a limo with his friend Farouk Shami, a Palestinian hairdresser who pioneered the Chi Iron. Farouk & Friedman Olive Oil, "Oil from the Holy Land," is a collaborative effort with proceeds donated to Oasis of Peace, a charity dedicated to creating peace between Arabs and Jews.

Profits from another venture, Kinky Friedman's Private Stock Salsa, "goes directly to the dogs," he says. It supports the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, what Friedman calls a sort of "orphanage, hospice, leprosarium, soup kitchen, halfway house and rescue for stray and abused animals" that he co-founded with his cousin Nancy. It's located on his ranch outside of Medina, Texas.

"I do it because I like stray dogs a lot better than I like fat cats," he says.

A Biodiesel Community

The biodiesel community is such an unusual and far-reaching group of people around the country. It brings together truckers, farmers, celebrities, restaurant people, chemical engineers, journalists, musicians, renewable-energy entrepreneurs, and alternative-energy enthusiasts.

Following is a small smattering of the intriguing characters that have fueled this story. Check out your own community and find out who's digging into grease traps and harvesting algae, willow and grasses to make energy for America.

We tip our hat in thanks to: Willie Nelson, Kinky Friedman, Carl Cornelius and the truck drivers fueling up at Carl's Corner on I-35, Peter Bell & Rob Reed of Earth Biofuels, Bill Mack, The Satellite Cowboy, The Open Road: America's Trucking Channel on XM 171, David Anderson, Elaine Schock, Michael Pollan, Joe Nick Patoski, Bill Kisinger (The Biodiesel Rebel), Chris Powers and Houston Biodiesel, Chris Saladino at Champ Burgers in Houston, Shannon Davis (Grease Collector), Jason Hardison, WNYC and Neil Golub, Wayne Shulmister and Rex Doane, KERA and Jeff Wittington, David Alvarez, Hawk Mendenhall, Stewart Vanderwilt, and Will Leon, Cal Zecca-Ferris, Laura Stromberg, Gigi Brestle, Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, Roy Garrett & Linda Elaine, The Sons of the Pioneers, Los Straitjackets, and Stephanie Loleng.

Books Featured In This Story

Hidden Kitchens

Stories, Recipes, and More From NPR's the Kitchen Sisters

by Nikki Silva and Davia Lee Nelson

Paperback, 276 pages | purchase

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