Fall was beginning to set in; the grassy hills were golden and the air was cold. I had departed New Mexico under darkness, watched the sunrise over Texas, and now charged across the Great Plains. My ambitions were to make the 1,700-mile trip to American Expedition Vehicle’s Michigan facility within 40 hours of departing the Borderland in NMBR’s brand new RAM Power Wagon. Like a small-town kid road tripping to Disneyland, I was excited [understatement]. The purpose of the trip? I would be delivering the Power Wagon to American Expedition Vehicles for a full Prospector build to include AEV’s lineup of RAM Trucks (2500 and 3500) parts. The hypnotic mile markers and the Great Plains’ vast landscape caused me to reflect on the experiences and thought process led to NMBR’s acquisition a full-sized truck and the decision to have it outfitted by AEV.
In May of 2015, New Mexico Backroads guided American Expedition Vehicles on the 400-mile Gila Legends Expedition. The trip, as recounted in NMBR’s previous article “NMBR Prospector Preface: Detroit Built and New Mexico Proven” [LINK], described my strong first impression and experience with the AEV outfitted RAM Power Wagon. The truck was equipped with AEV’s soon to be released RAM suspension, raised air intake, stamped steel front bumper, wheels, and other upgrades. To summarize the Gila Legends Expedition with regards to the AEV Prospector, I was surprised by the truck’s capability, ride comfort, and nimble handling given its sheer size and weight. This was also paired with my previous experiences with heavy-duty trucks in the field. Seeing the Prospector excel over a variety of challenging terrain paired with an extended test drive, provided the basis for considering the Power Wagon platform paired with AEV upgrades to handle NMBR’s growing (heavy-duty) needs.
From towing the NMBR F-Toy (rock crawler buggy), hauling the gear and necessary equipment to support groups in the backcountry, to providing four-wheel drive training for (full-size truck driving) Federal law enforcement officers, a powerful, well equipped, and capable truck became necessary. While I was able to conduct truck clientele specific training and guiding services in the NMBR Rubicon, it presented some challenges. For example, a guide leading in a 114-inch wheelbase JK Wrangler, asking those behind him with 30 (or more) inches of wheelbase to follow him through tight tree sections and technical rock gardens was asking for a bit much. Enthusiast and professionals that drive trucks day in and day out like to be trained by 4WD instructors that own trucks themselves.
West of Oklahoma City, severe weather warnings, dark skies, and howling gusts had emptied Interstate 40. Lightning flashes, followed by shattering thunder, hinted at the weather event that would soon arrive. The drone of the Power Wagon’s 33-inch DuraTrac tires and the hum of the 410-horsepower HEMI engine were drowned out as light sprinkles transitioned into pounding drops. Though the gail force winds and horizontal rain laid the prairie grass flat, the truck only required the slightest steering correction to compensate. The RAM was unimpressed by mother nature’s spectacle. With its 7,000-pound curb weight and 149-inch wheel base, the stability the Power Wagon provided was confidence inspiring. Detroit or bust!
A few weeks earlier I had walked onto a dealer lot in El Paso kicking around the idea that I’d test drive a stock RAM 2500 (crew cab, HEMI, 4WD) and give myself a few more months to think about the prospect of having a full-sized truck along NMBR’s most common backcountry fieldwork and guiding routes. A few hours later, I drove off the lot in a Bright White Power Wagon Tradesman—the deal was too good to walk away from. With the unexpected purchase came a wave of possibilities for setting up the truck’s bed. Commercial topper, aluminum tray bed, bed rack with roof top tent—all were pondered. The increase in cargo volume and payload from the NMBR Rubicon was like moving from a studio apartment in the city to a three-bedroom home in the burbs. If you hadn’t guessed (by the article accompanying photos), the majority of most important upgrade parts were already decided—AEV. I reached out to my friend Matt Feldermann (AEV’s Marketing Manager) for guidance on outfitting the truck for New Mexico Backroads unique scope of fieldwork. As a fellow four-wheel drive professional, Matt was able to provide detailed information on all of AEV’s RAM Trucks 2500 and 3500 parts. More importantly, he was able to provide straightforward and candid feedback based on his own experience driving an AEV equipped RAM on a daily basis—be it for a daily commute or romping in the snow on the Upper Peninsula. He explained that AEV’s approach to designing and manufacturing parts for RAM Trucks followed the same fundamentals as their Jeep Wrangler products: complement OE design, utilize the highest quality materials and finishes, and maximize performance.
On the outskirts of Joplin, Missouri, man and truck emerged unscathed from the powerful storm. Through the clouds, the sunset laid rays of light and long shadows across the surrounding landscape. To the west, rolling hills and farmland. To the east, the Neosho River emitted a silvery reflection affront the Ozarks. During the planning stages for this trip, my initial thoughts were that a solid axle[d], high-clearance, 7,000-pound full-sized truck would be less than ideal for a 1,700 mile [paved] road trip USA. Today would be the longest I had spent behind the wheel of the Power Wagon. Early expectations were left at the roadside somewhere near Santa Rosa, New Mexico. I cracked the windows allowing the rain scented air to fill the cab and raised the volume on Chris Stapleton. With my eye on St. Louis now, I gently pressed the accelerator. The 6.4-liter HEMI emitted throaty tone that could be felt in the floorboard. There is something about driving a full-sized truck across the Heartland of America that just feels right.
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate the most about the NMBR Rubicon is its suspension system; American Expedition Vehicle’s DualSport RS kit. From creeping the granite boulder fields of the Dusy Ershim Trail, to running at high speeds on southern New Mexico’s washboard dirt highways, the performance, control, and comfort provided by the AEV’s suspension are exceptional. Through my discussions with Matt Feldermann on building the NMBR Power Wagon, it became apparent that AEV followed the same [proven] guiding principles for RAM Trucks as they did for the JK Wrangler’s suspension. The primary goals with the suspension system design was to yield a comprehensive lift that did not reduce payload capacity, allowed for running larger tires, increased ride comfort, and enhanced handling control. Through meticulous engineering, shock tuning, and field testing, AEV produced the Ram HD 3" DualSport SC suspension system. My interest in suspension system performance is paramount as New Mexico Backroads’ field work entails over 15,000-miles of travels a year over un-paved roads. Handling, stability and comfort can mean the difference between feeling fine or fatigued after the completion of a weeklong backcountry traverse.
After reviewing the plethora of information provided by Matt, and careful consideration of New Mexico Backroads’ needs, I opted to have the new Power Wagon fully outfitted by American Expedition Vehicles. While I did all the work myself for both stages of the NMBR Rubicon build; I opted to have AEV perform a full Prospector package build, bumper to bumper at their Wixom, Michigan facility outside of Detroit. With a full scouting, guiding, and training schedule well into Winter 2017, I would not have been able to commit the time or energy into building the truck on my own. The thought of wrenching under the truck by night and working in the field by day was a bit daunting. I was also knee deep in the NMBR F-Toy (rock crawler) build. The idea of AEV’s pros performing the work in a brand new, world-class, multimillion dollar facility, where quality and workmanship takes precedence, provided a considerable benefit. Covering every detail to the Nth degree, Matt and the American Expedition Vehicles Team provided excellent guidance on equipment specifications, upgrade options, and the AEV Prospector build process. From start to finish, the build would take approximately four to six weeks. As for the NMBR Prospector's build sheet, I let Matt write the specifications.
-AEV Premium Front Bumper with AEV Power Wagon Winch Install Kit
-Vision X LED Light Bar and 100w Halogen Fog Lights
-AEV RAM DualSport Suspension with custom AEV Tuned Bilstein 5100’s
-AEV RAM Heat Reduction Hood and AEV RAM Raised Air Intake with Air Ram and Pre-Filter Assembly
-AEV RAM Front & Rear Differential Covers
-AEV RAM Front & Rear Splash Guards
-AEV RAM Salta HD Wheels (Black finish) with BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2 tires
-AEV RAM Leather Seating with Embroidered Headrests, Prospector Badging, Emblems and AEV Windshield Banner
With a simple email reply to confirm the build specifications, start date, and a few small details, the NMBR Prospector was set in motion. The next full-sized chapter for New Mexico Backroads started.
Ahead of schedule and only a few hours short of the Motor City, I pulled off the highway and found my way onto the shores of Lake Michigan. For a desert dweller, the sunset view was something to behold. Waves crashed against a jetty while seagulls circled overhead. Barely evident on the west skyline was Chicago. The curvature of the earth produced an optical illusion that the lake had submerged the buildings some 10-stories deep. I gazed at the stock Power Wagon against the magnificent background. This was one of the last full views I’d get of the truck before it’s Prospector transformation. Somewhere between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Wixom, Michigan; a friendship between man and machine was formed.