The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era 

Local couple says small-engine LP gas conversions can benefit SH


September 18, 2013

CLARENCE MANSFIELD demonstrates a conversion kit installed on a generator, for which he and his wife Mary have signed on as West Coast distributors for AltFuel, an Ohio company that makes conversion kits to retrofit small four-stroke engines so they can run on LP gas.

A Sweet Home couple is launching a new business enterprise that they say will provide local jobs and save customers money and grief with their small engines: liquid propane gas conversions.

Clarence and Mary Mansfield, who operate Sweet Home RV Center at 4691 Highway 20, have been named West Coast distributors for AltFuel, an Ohio company that makes conversion kits to retrofit small four-stroke engines, ranging in size from one to 45 horsepower, so they can run on LP gas.

“This is cutting-edge technology,” said Mary Mansfield of the kits, which range from $300 to $800, depending on the engine size.

She said they got interested in the conversion kits after Clarence Mansfield converted his 1978 Ford pickup to run on hydrogen in 2011 and because their RV repair and supply business sells LP gas.

“Through our affiliation with Ferrell Gas as a propane dealer, we get an industry magazine and this company has been written up in it two or three times,” Mary Mansfield said.

LP gas, which burns more cleanly than gasoline – particularly the gasoline with ethanol that is sold at stations throughout Oregon, is also cheaper.

“We got interested because we’re selling LP gas for $2.55 a gallon compared to $3.80 for gasoline,” she said. “When you look at the big picture, when you’re saving 30 percent on fuel and 30 percent on maintenance, you’re coming out ahead.”

According to AltFuel literature, converting to propane not creates less pollution, but it increases the life of the engine and improves performance.

Mansfield said that professionals who use small engines are their biggest prospective customers.

“You can use it on your lawn mower in the summer and your leaf blower in the fall,” she said. “For the little guy, who has 20 acres, it would probably be beneficial.”

Their first sale was some 50 units to an area business – the name of which she wouldn’t disclose – that plans to convert motors on its machines. She said that some 30 people showed up recently for a training meeting with AltFuel, including sales representatives, golf course operators, small engine repair specialists, and more. They anticipate interest from landscapers and others who put a lot of hours on small engines, she said. ATV owners who run four-stroke engines are another likely market.

The conversion kits do not preclude the use of gasoline – equipment that has been modified are “dual-fuel” – they can run on either propane or regular gas.

Thus far, AltFuel has sold the most products in the South, particularly Florida and Georgia, but it has started focusing more aggressively on the rest of the country, she said.

“They’ve been selling in this area, but they’ve only been responding to calls. Until now they haven’t been aggressively seeking dealers.”

Mansfield said they plan to hire local people to handle sales and distribution of the conversion kits throughout their territory of Oregon, Washington and California. She said the Mansfields anticipate quite a bit of travel as they get the territory set up.

Conversion kits for engines under 20 horsepower consist of an AF2 regulation system, which feeds fuel to the engine according to signals it receives from the vacuum produced by the engine, a fuel supply line, intake adapter and cylinder (fuel tank) attachment line.

Kits for larger (20 horsepower-plus) commercial-use engines that include a canister air filter include all the components of the smaller kit, plus an intake restrictor.

According to the company, the conversion kits generally take less than an hour to install and are recommended for engines that have been broken in (25 hours of operation) but do not have more than 500 hours on them unless they are very well-maintained.

For smaller engines, fuel economy with propane is as good or better than gasoline, while larger engines may burn slightly more propane.

CLARENCE AND MARY Mansfield, above, stand next to a generator equipped with an LP gas conversion kit. Above left, Clarence holds a weed eater equipped with a similar converter.

Mansfield said that benefits of propane include the fact that it is easier to obtain in a disaster and doesn’t gum carburetors, as ethanol gas does.

She acknowledged that there are competitors in the small-engine conversion industry, but she said it is a “spotty” process to try to convert a small engine by assembling parts without buying a complete kit.

“You might be able to get a regulator, but you’d have to hunt for components, and they’re kind of unique,” she said. “When someone orders a kit, they get the information and they get the right pieces.”

For more information, contact the Mansfields at (541) 367-4293.


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