Vintage Harvest Trucks Still Getting the Job Done!
Still Getting the Job Done
Each fall throughout the Great Plains, decades-old Chevrolet, GMC, Dodge, and Ford medium-duty trucks are awoken from months of slumber for the few weeks of harvest. Equipped with rear or side dump beds, these trucks help carry the harvested crop to nearby grain depots or bins. Recently, we had an opportunity to get behind the wheel of a few of these old trucks, and it was quite an experience.
During our day in the field, we had the chance to drive a ’76 Ford F-700 with a 361ci V-8. We also spent time with a ’78 Chevy C20 and a ’66 GMC complete with a unique airplane hood ornament and no brakes.
Throughout the year, they sit in barns, sheds, or out in the open. It’s common to mistake them for broken-down, old trucks waiting for the crusher; this is not the case, although they are don’t quite “run like new.” Under the hood of the different trucks we drove was a mash-up of shade-tree mechanic tricks to keep them on the road.
“They only need to drive a mile or two a few times a year,” explains John Carey, a former National Guard mechanic who helps the farmers keep these trucks on the road. “A pair of pliers and bailing wire can do wonders for keeping them going.”
Batteries are pulled off tractors or farm pickups along with cables. Carburetors are hastily rebuilt or pulled off a shelf, and tires are aired up with the hope they last through harvest. Brake and engine oil is filled or changed, and a good day or better is spent trying to get the engines to turn over.
These mechanical “fixes” create an interesting day of driving the different trucks. One truck has brakes that don’t work well (or really at all). Another has a choke you need to be “gentle” with. All of the trucks have manual transmissions; two have an additional lever to change the speeds on the two-speed rear axles.
The lack of power steering on the older GMC, plus the sheer size and weight of the load, made the driving experience quite memorable. We did more “pointing” the truck in the direction we wanted to go and smashing the gas rather than “driving” it. The lack of any current technology brought back the pure driving experience many modern cars and trucks lack.
With a top speed hovering around 30 mph and the window down, we cruised the backroads and fields of western Nebraska enjoying the sights and smells of a fall harvest. With little regard to time and the whole day to spend behind the wheel, we steered the trucks up and down the road with our only real concern being about gaining enough speed to carry us up and over the next hill. The combine noise was our radio, the windows our air conditioning, and the sun provided the heat on our seats.
While newer trucks certainly have their appeal, there is definitely something pure about driving an old, classic, medium-duty truck to harvest your grain. And while corn prices stay low, plus the fact they are only used for a few weeks of the year, these old trucks will continue to be pressed into service for years to come. That’s just fine with us. They are the pure essence of what a work truck truly is.