Our dog, Toby, is about 80 pounds of fur, slobber, and love. He’s a quirky boy, with an angled racing stripe down his face, one ear shorter than the other, and a tail like a medieval club.
He also has a long history of being unable to relax while traveling in the back seat of the truck. This has led to great frustration for all of us.
He was always ready to travel; he just wasn’t very good at it. He would jump into the truck, enthusiastically, rather than be left behind. And as soon as we pulled out onto the highway, he would commence to whine. For hours; working himself into such an anxious state that he would be exhausted whenever we finally got wherever we were going. As were we.
We had a major breakthrough a few years ago while returning from a trailer camping trip to Death Valley. After an hour or so of Toby’s annoying, distracting, incessant whining, he laid down in the back seat. I don’t remember that ever happening before. He had always been too agitated to do anything but whine and slobber all over the side windows.
So we rejoiced at this new development and continued to hope for—and occasionally enjoy—an hour or two of a reclining and less-agitated Toby in the truck. But this was still a rare exception rather than the norm.
When we sold our house and hit the road full-time, this became a serious issue. It was impossible to ignore Toby’s anxiety. His whining made it difficult to concentrate on driving while towing. We began to seriously reconsider our decision and commitment to travel full-time.
And then, just a few days after setting out in the middle of a Northern Nevada winter, our truck began to fail. We had towed our trailer with this truck lots of times before and it had always done okay. It wasn’t the best possible tow vehicle for us and our toy hauler, but it usually did the job with minimal complaints.
But somewhere on a steep hill in Arizona it became obvious that this truck was no longer reliable enough to tow our home around the country all the time. It was showing its age after a decade of hard use.
We realized pretty quickly that we would have to replace it or travel with the constant stress of worrying that the truck would just give up and leave us stranded on the side of the road.
This situation was not unexpected. We had been talking about when to replace the truck, and what to replace it with, for at least a year. We figured the truck would probably deliver at least six to 18 months of reliable full-time towing and we would have plenty of time to, thoughtfully, get something else.
And all of that came together a few hours outside of Phoenix on our initial launch trajectory.
As soon as we found a place to camp for a few days I began searching Craigslist for an appropriate replacement truck within about 500 miles or so. We wanted an older Dodge Ram 2500 with the legendarily durable Cummins diesel engine, preferably with as few electronic potential failure points as possible, an eight-foot bed, and a manual transmission. These trucks have a well-earned reputation as fantastic tow vehicles. They can and regularly do achieve 400,000-plus miles while frequently towing trailers much larger than ours.
The truck that was rapidly failing underneath us was also a Dodge 2500. A 2007 Power Wagon that I bought in 2008, with about 30,000 miles on it. The Power Wagon is a specialized variant of the Dodge 2500. It is optimized for much greater off-pavement performance, with locking differentials, some fancy suspension trickery, and a factory-installed winch. It also has a gasoline engine which is less than ideal for extensive towing. And an automatic transmission which is prone to fail when subjected to pulling heavy loads for long periods in hot weather.
I’d certainly gotten my money’s worth out of the Power Wagon, but it was clear that it was no longer up to the task ahead of us.
So that’s how we found ourselves on a used-truck lot in Phoenix, in the rain, on Christmas Eve, 2019. And how we found ourselves driving off that lot a few days later in our newly purchased 1999 long bed four wheel drive Dodge 2500, with a Cummins diesel engine and a five-speed manual transmission.
These trucks have a few well-known weaknesses with fairly predictable failure points. We wanted to proactively address these issues, get a few reliability enhancements installed, and get a baseline service performed. So we found a diesel garage in Phoenix with a great reputation, dropped the truck off with them, and picked it up about a week later.
Then we drove back to our campsite, about an hour away, with Toby in the back seat.
Lying down, calmly, quietly, enjoying the ride.
We were, and still are, flabbergasted by this remarkable achievement. For reasons that we don’t understand, Toby is completely calm while riding in the diesel truck. Maybe it’s the sound, or the vibration, or that the back seat is smaller and more like a den. But he nearly always lies down, stays quiet, and regularly falls asleep for long stretches of time.
If we had known this would happen, we would have replaced the other truck years ago.