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Publication Title | A boy and his car

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The EV Frank Silveria built for his niece, Mary Mendes, gets noticed!

Shari Prange ©2002 Shari Prange

rank was bored and restless. Mary knew she had to find a

project for him, something big enough to hold his interest and absorb his seemingly endless energy for a while. It was a situation any mother of an adolescent would recognize. Only Mary Mendes wasn’t Frank’s mother; she was his niece. And Frank Silveria was a long way past adolescence. He was 94 years old.

“Why don’t you build me an electric car?” Mary challenged him.

“I don’t know anything about cars,” Frank said.

“No, but you know about electric motors. Build one for me.” Mary replied.

So he did.

92 Home Power #88 • April / May 2002

Early Training

Frank’s preparation to be an electric car builder began when he was a small child growing up in California’s Central Valley town of Gustine. When his mother was only twenty-five years old, she lost both her husband and youngest child. This left her as a young widow who spoke little English, with four small children to raise and a farm to run.

Frank was the second oldest, and became the farm handyman. He soon had a reputation for being able to fix any piece of equipment, as well as build original devices. Once, he built his own system for pumping water from the well by using a Model T Ford for power.

At the age of fourteen, his career path was decided by the young girl who would one day be his wife. “I won’t marry any farmer,” she told him firmly. So Frank began to look around for some other line of work. He started fixing radios. From this, he moved into repairing electric motors, and finally became a fully qualified electrical contractor. By the age of 25, Frank had his own business. When the town of Gustine got its first electric streetlights, it was Frank Silveria who installed them.

Later, the dam at nearby San Luis Reservoir started to have problems. The huge motors used to pump water into the reservoir during off-peak times kept breaking down. Frank, the local electric motor genius, was called

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