GAS STATION HOT DOGS DON’T take breaks. You may pull into a rest stop, refill your car’s tank, empty your own, grab some snacks, and peel out again. The whole time, the dogs will have been rotating, slowly, on their shiny metal rollers. When you finally turn in for the night, they may be turning still.
Once it has begun its treadmill journey, how far does your average hot dog go before it’s sent to the Great Bun in the Sky? And if, for some reason, it kept going—spinning slowly, hour after hour and year after year—how far could it eventually get?
Hot dogs haven’t always been a food in constant motion. Although the earliest patent for a roller-grill machine was submitted way back in August of 1939, a successful commercial version wasn’t developed until the 1950s, when a prolific engineer named Calvin Dodd MacCracken decided to apply his temperature-regulation know-how to the problem of lukewarm frankfurters.
Over his lifetime, MacCracken would file over 90 patents, for everything from aluminized ceilings for hockey arenas to cooling systems for spacesuits. But the Roll-A-Grill, as MacCracken dubbed it, may be his most lasting legacy.