We all learned in school, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Later, we learned, "In 1903, the Brothers Wright, built a plane to be first in flight." After that, "In 1969, on-top a rocket, Armstrong came home with a moon rock in his pocket." Someday, our great-grandchildren will learn, "In 2063, Mr. Zephram Cochrane, went faster than light to meet a Vulcan." OK, we have 50 years to work on a better rhyme, but you get the idea. We are explorers and travelers. For now, the average person is stuck exploring the hunk of rock third out from a giant ball of burning gas at the center of our solar system. By space standards, traveling around it is nothing, but on wheels, even a trip halfway across one of its landmasses is an adventure.
Ram sent over a concept truck built to showcase the best the company currently offers and tease some ideas that might be coming in the next few years. It's called the Long Hauler and, aside from the premium interior bits, performance upgrades, and exterior badging, its real party trick is being able to carry 170 gallons of diesel fuel spread out among three separate tanks. The gargantuan cruiser is based on a Ram 5500 frame with a custom Megacab and a fifth-wheel-specific tailgate. From a distance, the average person won't realize it is anything more than a big dually. On closer inspection, however, you can't help but notice the 24-foot overall length and a separate box sandwiched between the bed and the cab.
As the name might suggest, the idea of the Long Hauler is to cover great -- almost astronomical -- distances in comfort and with minimal stopping. We set out on a trek with a starting point, but no real destination. We would discover what covering huge swathes of land reveals about this truck's abilities and scientifically determine if road food is better when the restaurant choice isn't determined by a fuel gauge.
Our story begins in Roswell, New Mexico, the heart of the American Southwest and a geek mecca. The epicenter of Roswell's current reason for being is the International UFO Museum, Research Center and Gift Emporium. Located in the heart of this sleepy desert town, it houses the compendium of non-classified human knowledge that relates to the incident that happened during a thunderstorm one night in July 1947. Newspaper clippings, documents, photographs, and artistic renderings line the walls of this theatre turned intergalactic shrine. The story of the crash, discovery, and cover-up unfolds before visitors' eyes -- as long as they're walking through the museum counter-clockwise. A clockwise stroll might lead one to think our government started a PR campaign to raise awareness about a group of sick aliens trying to fly home in a shiny balloon before finally realizing what they needed was a spaceship.
While we don't know what crashed that night, we have several stories corroborating what happened after. This is what we know, as close to fact as is possible through the distorted lens of time: A rancher by the name of Mac Brazel was making the rounds of the property he managed after a fierce storm the previous night. Sad to say, eyewitness accounts are a bit cloudy, but he is believed to have said something to the effect of, "I came up the ridge overlooking the clearing where all the sheep normally graze. I looked down into the empty gully where stood a single sheep. It was clear something had scared the flock out of it." Mac's investigation turned up the wreckage of what he believed to be a flying alien disc.
Brazel first reported his findings to Chaves County Sherriff George Wilcox, who passed the information on to Major Jesse Marcel, an intelligence officer with the 509th Bomber Group. Within four days, the Army had issued a press release on the AP News Wire announcing they had recovered the wreckage of a flying saucer. That release was rescinded the following day and the now-famous weather balloon story was released under the orders of Brigadier General Roger Ramey, commander of the 8th Air Force. The wreckage was reportedly flown out of the area during the following week on B-29 Bomber flights and, for several weeks following the event, witnesses were visited by military officers and the United States Secret Service. Walt Whitmore Sr., owner of the local radio station, was even threatened by the FCC over an interview with Brazel. It is hard to believe this much attention would have been given to a simple weather balloon crash.
It took nearly three hours but we had learned all we were going to learn at the UFO Museum. We had also bought all our corporate credit cards would allow us to buy in the gift shop. It was time to head out into the field to search for real hard evidence. The first stop, an eight-story brick fortress simply labeled "Petroleum Building," was right around the corner. On the first floor of this desert monolith sits Big D's Downtown Dive, which we found abuzz with activity. While the turkey sandwich and cheesesteak were amazing, the object of suspicion turned out be the best shrimp tacos this side of Baja. As Californians, we are taco experts, and finding big, plump juicy fried crustacean in the middle of the desert is not normal. Is it alien activity or just a government experiment in matter transportation? We also discovered a piece of information crucial for our alien investigation. Although no mystery is solved, this is marked down as an early success.
After lunch, we filled the truck in Roswell in preparation for a drive with an uncertain destination. Luckily, with 170 gallons of liquid energy sitting behind us, we knew we could make it just about anywhere short of Magrathea. Our first fueling experience with the big Ram was an exercise in patience. The truck still has the standard 22-gallon fuel tank beneath the bed and the mid tank, sandwiched between the cab and bed, holds an additional 38 gallons. The third tank, the polished diamond-plate box in the bed, carries a whopping 110 gallons. We were only 100 gallons down, not even 60 percent of our total capacity, but we still raised eyebrows at the local Gas and Snack.
A half hour and $500 later, we headed east on State Route 246 into the high desert plains surrounding Roswell. We had heard from a local source at Big D's about a dirt road marked simply with a mailbox roughly 60 miles away by country highway. The Long Hauler was surprisingly laid back on the small two-lane ribbon of a road. It settled into a cruise tracking easily between the lane markers just inches off of each rear tire.