My name is Paul Trot. This whole mess started on the ranch I inherited from my folks that is about 15 miles west of Los Cruces, New Mexico.
As on most small, privately owned ranches, each of our family members has a series of chores to do on the ranch. When I was my son Bill's age, 12-years old, one of my chores was to ride the fence line on my horse to make sure there were no problems with the fence. Bill now has that chore, but he uses our ATV instead of a horse.
Yeah I know many city dwellers, who were never raised on a ranch, believe that he is too young to operate an ATV. What they don't understand is ranch life is very different from life in the city. Both places have their dangers, but young kids learn to cope with their respective hazards. I started training Bill to drive the ATV when he was 9-years old and by the time he was almost 11, he was a responsible and competent ATV driver. Since he could drive the ATV on our ranch without a license, I made checking the fence line every week one of his chores.
For us the mess started while Bill was doing his weekly chore of inspecting the fence line for problems. He got me involved in the mess when he came to me and told me there was a piece of strange looking equipment sitting on our property about 200 feet inside our south fence line. We got my pickup truck and I had Bill show me where this equipment was located. I had intended to load it into the pickup and bring it back to the barn. However, when we got there it was evident that the equipment was larger than I expected and wouldn't fit in my truck's bed. It was massive for I gave it a shove that had absolutely no effect. From that shove, I knew it was far heavier than anything I might be able to lift, so I didn't even try to pick it up.
Bill pointed out what appeared to be a control panel. There were a bunch of knobs and buttons with labels that used symbols that I had never seen before. Bill asked me if I was going to turn it on and see what it did. I have to admit that I was tempted, but instead of fooling around with the control panel, I told Bill that I didn't think that would be a good idea. I explained that I didn't know what the machine did, and as far as I knew, if I pushed the wrong button or twisted the wrong knob, I might break it or have it blowup in my face.
Not knowing what it was or what to do with it, I went home and called the Sheriff's office. They sent a patrol car out to the ranch to investigate. I don't know what sort of investigation they planned to do, but when the Deputy got to the ranch house, he followed my truck out to the equipment.
The deputy walked around the machine and he examined what we both thought might be a control panel. Then he asked me what it was, what it did, and where I got it from. I told him I had no idea and that we just found it here today. I suppose that was the investigation. He scratched his head and then walked back to his cruiser to call his dispatcher. I couldn't hear what they said, but after they finished talking, he told me the Sheriff was on the way to take care of it for me. We went back to the house to wait for the Sheriff.
When the Sheriff arrived, his deputy and I took him out to see the equipment. The Sheriff did the same walk around, scratched his head, and said that he didn't know what it was either. The deputy suggested that it might be something that the Army lost during one of their tests out at the White Sands Missile Range.
That didn't seem likely to me. There was no road for a truck near my south fence line and no signs of a truck being in the area, so it couldn't have fallen off of a truck. Besides it was on my side of the fence and there would have been no reason for a truck to come on my property. It might have fallen out of an aircraft, but as heavy as it was, it would have dug into the soil. This machine was sitting on top of the grass as if someone had gently put it down, so it wouldn't be damaged. After a bit of thought, I shot down every possibility that I could think of for how the equipment got on my property.
I don't think that the Sheriff or his deputy knew what to do about it, so we went back to the house and the Sheriff called the Army at White Sands. I don't know exactly what the person the Sheriff talked to said, but the Sheriff asked if they had lost any equipment and then he described what we found to them. After hanging up, the Sheriff told me they hadn't lost anything like what he described, but the Army would send out a recovery truck to pick it up and take it back to the base. They would have their experts figure out what it was and what to do with it.
The next morning a small convoy of Army cars, a flatbed truck, and a boom truck arrived at the house. I took them out to the fence line and stood back watching them examine the equipment and I listened in on their conversation. Once again, the apparent big wigs walked around the equipment and then stood off to the side talking about it. I was close enough to hear most of what they said and the bottom line was they had no idea what it was either. They did make it clear when they talked with me that it would be best if I let them take it back to the base for a more thorough examination. I told them I didn't care as long as someone got it off of my ranch.
An hour later, the boom truck's driver had loaded the equipment onto the flatbed and its driver had tied it down. The way that flatbed's suspension was compressed explained why it hadn't moved when I gave the equipment a shove. That thing must have weighed several tons. The man in charge gave me a paper to sign giving them permission to take it with them, which I signed, and they left to return to White Sands.
I think letting someone take the equipment off the ranch was my second mistake. My first mistake was getting other people involved. I feel that indirectly, I am responsible for everything that happened. I should have dug a big hole, pushed the equipment in, covered it over, and forgotten about finding it. If I hadn't made those two mistakes, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now.
Back then, I was glad to get rid of whatever it was, and as far as I was concerned that was the end of it. Unfortunately, that device was not through with my family. Around four weeks later, my wife and I sat down to watch the news after dinner. That was when I learned about what the Army experts were calling an accident out at White Sands. Accident my ass.
.... There is more of this story ...