My sister Glenda’s rapidly settling into life in central Florida, where she has rented a home and golf cart for a couple of months in a gated community. I decided to find out about Snowbird life by asking her about her electric vehicle (EV). She shouted answers into the screen of her laptop over a fresh breeze. To gain Internet access she parks her cart close to the clubhouse to pick up wireless reception. Spotting her online, I called her on voice, then switched to video. At that point Glenda stood up and showed me around the cart and the adjacent area with the camera on her laptop. She took great pride in reaching around the display to point out the little Canadian flag on her cart.

1. What services does the electric vehicle provide for you?

All transportation within the park, which means I cannot go out on the highway. If I could I would go shopping with it, but I can’t.

I go to everybody’s houses, to the pool, to open houses, I run all dreadful errands, like delivering grapefruit off my tree to those who want it, and I check out all of the houses for sale and nobody knows that I am doing it. Of course if I were a golfer the cart would be crucial. For me it’s just fundamental. There’s a difference. Sometimes I am challenged to a race by 80 and 90-year-olds who want attention because to them I appear young.

Yesterday was interesting. Connie and I were travelling in tandem and Carol turned out of a side street and cut us off. Three of us were stopped talking in the middle of the road on all different angles. A truck came along, so we pulled into Mary-Anne’s driveway and the renter came out to find out what’s going on, so before long we were all sitting in our golf carts, engaged in a four-way conversation.

Most people have a Canadian flag, sometimes teamed up with their provincial flag on their cart. I’m going to buy some Canadian paraphernalia at the Dollar Store for next winter.

2. In what situations does the EV do a better job than a car?

What I like best is that there are no noise or fumes. It’s very easy to drive. When all of the carts are lined up they take very little space in comparison to the car parking lot. There’s no privacy and so you can wheel up beside somebody and chat. An old guy this morning was taking his dog for a joyride in the rain. Dogs love their chariots.

3. How well accepted is the EV in your environment?

Listen, it’s major for fun. There’s also the functional aspect, but I would suggest you really need one here in order to maximize the pleasure. Some owners of adjoining houses pour shared concrete runways for the carts so that the driveway isn’t blocked.

4. Do you have to break the law in order to drive your EV?

No. But if I were to look at the regulations, you need to be 16 with a driver’s license, and you’re only allowed two riders on a regular golf cart. Some put their kids where the golf bags go, but you don’t want to have an accident.

5. What changes would be required to allow the use of a similar EV in the Smiths Falls area?

I would only be able to use it on my property, and that would be confining. We’d need a change of mentality because cars would over-run you on the Golf Club Road. The same applies for the ZENN electric car produced in Quebec for $12 k but we aren’t allowed to drive it. That’s what I’d love to have to go shopping.

They have the laws in place for EV’s on low-speed roads in Quebec and B.C., but not in Ontario. I would love one of those cars. They’re designed with lots of space for groceries, and they’re easy to park.

6. Do you miss a gas engine when using your EV?

Absolutely not. I don’t miss the price, either. I like the roof over my head. This one is well designed and I have a windshield if I want it and a fold-down cover at back, but I don’t have side curtains.

7. How would you improve your current ride?

Ideally EVs would come in designer colours. Your house should match your golf cart, or at least the shutters should. I’m sitting next to this EZ-Go and it’s white and black like mine, but it has a burled elm dashboard, and I’m turning green with envy here, looking at that dashboard.

I don’t have signal lights, so I have to use hand signals. I can’t quite remember what they are, so I just turn around and wave.

8. So life in the sunny south is good?

It’s gorgeous here at this time of year. I’m surrounded by hibiscus plants and palm trees. The house backs up onto an orange grove at the back and the third hole of a golf course at the side. What’s not to love?

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This morning dawned clear and cold, with a strong wind from the north. If ever there would be a day this year for running on the crust, this would have to be it. As soon as I got to the farm I took the Ez-Go out on the rock-hard snow. Great. A quick tour of the property located a couple of dodgy areas where I fell through but had enough momentum to get out again. It looked as though the cart could see some action today.

The first chore was to deliver gas to the stranded Alpine back in the woods. That done, I backed out on my track to the safer fields, then headed north to visit the maple orchard. The cold forced me back to the house for a helmet with visor, but then I did a one-mile circuit of the farm at a great rate.

Play comes before work, but the next task was to take four 55 gallon drums of accumulated sawdust and wood scraps back to the pile at the edge of the property. These had accumulated over the winter and seriously cramped my style, so I was glad to have the drums empty, even if I found the trip out very cold in each case.

A trip to the gas station for fuel for the cart, and I was ready to play in full snowmobile attire. Charlie had shown up by this time and he snapped the action shot above.

Off to the woodlot.

That looks ominous on the page, and I should have known better. Fifty feet along the first trail and I felt the back tires break through the crust. Then I made my second dumb decision: I decided to push the cart ahead, speed up, and hope the crust got better. Three hundred feet further into the woods (and further from the house) I dropped my visor and jammed the cart through the dead branches of an overhanging tree, but it was for naught. All four wheels dropped into the suddenly-weak snow. Oops!

On the brighter side, I was quite close to the abandoned Alpine, so I gassed it up and the engine caught on the first pull. That refurbished primer makes all of the difference. It warmed up readily, but wouldn’t move. The front ski was frozen to the ground, about two feet below the back of the machine, which was sitting pretty on the crust. I raided a nearby rail fence and jammed, prodded and pried until the front tip came free. I thought I’d try it at that, so I fired up, dropped the Alpine into forward, and eased it out of its mid-winter burrow.

The single ski proved to steer very well on the crust. That was odd. I don’t recall ever driving the thing when it was easy to steer. Anyway, I swung around and picked up the Ez-Go’s track, then eased by it and backed in front. I tied a short length of rope from the towing eye on the cart to the hitch on the Alpine, then fired up and eased ahead.

Mistakes travel in threes, right? The Ez-Go pulled much harder than I expected, but the Alpine has lots of torque and so the driverless cart soon popped up on the crust, tried to overtake the Ski-Doo, then veered into a tree, stopping with a crash. It’s a credit to the cart’s design that it wasn’t damaged (see below)*. The polycarbonate fender bent out of the way and the front tire took the impact. My pal J.P. once told me, “The golf cart is the only motor vehicle ever designed to be driven by drunks.” Perhaps I should add “fools” to his definition.

Once it had shaken off the odd bit of tree bark the cart was fine, so I drove it around the remainder of the trail and back to the house in disgrace, collected Charlie, and returned for the Alpine. Charlie’s a little more cautious than I when it comes to crust, and he made me jump out of the cart as he did a loop close to the Alpine, then booted it out of there.

So I brought the Alpine in from the cold after its prolonged session in the woods. All in all, I guess it was the better vehicle today, though the Ez-Go certainly did its best.

UPDATE: March 22, 2008

Today it was still cold and the crust proved more reliable for the Ez-Go. With it I took a tour of the farm and exposed many pixels on the digital camera. The Alpine stayed where it sat. For a photo shoot the golf cart wins, hands down.

Alpine: 1 Ez-Go: 1

UPDATE: March 24, 2008

The crust is still holding well in the cold weather. After a tour of the southern half of the farm, today the Ez-Go earned its keep moving wood for the renovation project from the barn to the house. Boards too long to ride in the truck can be balanced across the Ez-Go’s dash board and the sweater basket for quick transportation when the trailers are all frozen in.

Once again the golf cart keeps finding uses in all seasons, now that its cold-weather fuel supply problem has settled down.

Today I also used the trailer hitch and a tie-down strap to yank two 18′ boards out of the bottom of a lumber pile. The cart offers good low-end torque in a confined area. I can’t see the Alpine doing this.

The papers today are full of the story of the guy who rigged his electric golf cart with a snowplow and remote controls. He clears his driveway from a standing position in his living room window. I don’t know about that, but the Ez-Go is definitely the sanding vehicle of choice on the farm. Put a plastic tub of sand on the back, fill it, add a shovel and away you go. The advantage over the tractor and loader is that it is much easier to get on and off to move the vehicle. The advantage of the cart over boot leather is that it’s much healthier to skid on the ice than to fall on it.

Alpine: 1 Ez-Go:4

* May 25th, 2008. I spoke too soon about the lack of damage from the impact with the tree. The front axle bent a bit. The left front wheel now tows out, and the suspension sits a bit lower on it than the others. This has caused some binding of the suspension on short turns, and it has reduced the turning circle to the right by a foot or two. Apart from that the cart has still worked normally in the many hours of operation this spring. I guess Alpines handle crashes into trees more readily than do Ez-Go’s.

Alpine: 2 Ez-Go: 4