Orphans Preferred: Conquering the Pony Express Trail in a Mahindra Roxor

Pony Express Trail in a Mahindra Roxor

Jered KorfhagePhotographer, Writer

The year was 1860, and between St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California, lay roughly 2,000 miles of snow-capped mountains, barren desert, and danger. This route could be covered in as few as 10 days by riders of the Pony Express, tasked with delivering the mail between the two cities. As described by an alleged classified ad, riders were to be “young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.”

Though in operation for just over a year, the Pony Express quickly became a symbol of the American West—its riders crossed the region’s iconic landscape on horseback and lived a life fraught with danger and excitement. Horses were laden with a pouch called a mochila, which was held to the saddle only by the weight of the rider. The mochila carried about 20 pounds of mail between several padlocked cantinas, or pockets, located at its corners. Riders often carried no more than a water canteen and a revolver.

Riding at a hearty canter, a single horse could cover about 15 miles before needing to be changed out at one of the 186 Pony Express stations, which ranged in their level of hospitality from existing military forts to meager stone windbreaks and were spaced along the route every 10-15 miles. A rider would change out his horse at swing stations during the ride, and upon completing a leg of the journey, he would find room and board at the more accommodating home stations.

After carrying nearly 35,000 letters across the country, the Pony Express was put out of business by the telegraph in 1861, leaving behind the stories of intrepid riders and a path that to this day crosses some of America’s roughest terrain. In our quest to discover this historic trail, we needed a 4x4 that offered not only the capability to cover hundreds of dirt miles, but its own sense of ruggedness and nostalgia—the Roxor.

With a wheelbase of 96 inches, the Roxor is similar in length to a typical horse, but when it got moving, we heard its 2.5L turbodiesel engine, not hoofbeats. The Roxor’s steel body, solid axles, leaf-spring suspension, and manual transmission worked together reliably, inspiring a no-frills retro feel while meeting the needs of our expedition. We loaded two rigs with a weekend’s worth of food, water, and camping gear, filled the 12-gallon gas tanks (and spare jerrycans) with fuel, and set off into the Nevada wilderness to explore the Pony Express Trail.

So You Want to Haul the Mail?

Portions of the Pony Express exist today as 4x4 trails and offer many opportunities for backcountry exploration. Conditions vary from graded gravel to narrow, rocky shelf roads in the mountain passes—passable by most vehicles with high clearance and four-wheel drive. Dry lakebeds, however, can become impassable after rain. Backcountry campsites are frequent, but don’t expect electrical or water hookups. Fuel and water are limiting factors in this region, with long drives between filling stops. Spare tanks of both fluids are recommended, along with survival gear for emergencies.

Roxor Rundown

The bare-essentials Classic Roxor starts at $14,999 and can be found nationwide at powersports dealerships. Our pair of Roxor LE rigs came ready for adventure with Warn M8000 winches; Bestop Bikini Soft Tops; 40-inch KC HiLites lightbars, mirrors, and grab handles; and BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tires—a combination totaling $18,636.95 on the company’s website. Mahindra offers accessories for the Roxor including windshields, hardtops, spare tires, camouflage vinyl wraps, Warn manual locking hubs, OX Locking Differentials, and more.

Quick Specs

Engine: 2.5L 4-cyl direct-injected turbodiesel
Horsepower/torque (lb-ft): 62/144
Transmission: 5-spd manual
Transfer case: 2-speed
Axles/differentials: Dana 44-style 3.73 gears/open
Payload (lb): 349
Towing capacity (lb): 3,490
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