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November 2011 From The Back 40 Editorial

Posted in Features on November 1, 2011 Comment (0)
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Out here in Illinois farm country, pickup trucks are the vehicles I most often see pass by my Four Wheeler Midwest Bureau office window on our one-lane country road. It’s mid-afternoon, and so far I’ve seen 18 vehicles pass by, and 13 of those were pickup trucks. The other five vehicles consisted of a UPS truck (it didn’t stop today), our mailman’s XJ (just bills), the neighbor’s Prius (no comment), a Buick carrying Jehovah’s Witnesses (they stopped), and my semi-retired, lifelong-farmer father-in-law who treats his Mercury Grand Marquis like a pickup and as such had it tethered to a pair of wagons (it actually looks pretty cool).

The vast majority of pickup trucks that have passed by today are local farmers. Around here, we associate a farmer with his truck and a truck with a farmer. It’s not hard to, because most of these men have owned their trucks, like, forever. In an age where many people trade their vehicles often to get the latest and greatest, many of our local farmers could be considered an anomaly. They buy their truck new and drive it until the “wheels fall off.” The trucks aren’t washed much, but most farmers are sticklers for routine maintenance, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the trucks last as long as they do.

Within just a mile or so radius of my office are three examples of trucks that were bought new by their owners, and between the three of ’em, these guys have 50 years of combined ownership of their pickups. Take, for instance, my friend Merle and his ’97 Dodge Ram 1500. He special-ordered the truck in late 1996 from a Dodge dealer in Monroe, Wisconsin. Out the door, the price was $20,400, which included the dealer-installed DMI bumper. The truck is equipped with a 360ci V-8 and automatic transmission. Typical of a farm truck, it has been used to haul a variety of cargo and it has towed numerous things like gravity boxes and livestock trailers. It has about 90,000 miles on the ticker and has spent most of its life out in the elements. The intake manifold gasket let loose at 35,000 miles and again at 70,000 miles. The engine doesn’t burn any oil, and he reports there have been no problems with the transmission or axles.

His brother, Mark, owns a ’91 Dodge Power Ram 250 that he purchased new from a Dodge dealer in Freeport, Illinois. This 12-valve Cummins-powered, automatic transmission, leaf-sprung, solid-axle truck has graced his property for 20 years. Used for typical farm chores, it has 138,600 miles on the ticker, and both the engine and transmission have never had a failure or been unbuttoned for internal work. The owner reports that he had a rear axle bearing failure once, and he has never really liked the brakes. The truck gets washed when it rains.

Finally, there’s Dale’s ’95 Chevy 3500. This diesel-powered, five-speed manual, regular cab, carpet-free dualie with a Layton bed was purchased new in Missouri and driven home. During its life so far, the truck has seen a significant amount of gooseneck towing. The 6.5L turbodiesel lived to see 116,000 miles before it went away. Not ready to give up the truck, the owner replaced the 6.5L with a 12-valve Cummins. The IFS has been trouble-free, as has the 14-bolt rear axle.

Rust is the greatest enemy of trucks around here (they call it the Rust Belt for a reason), and all of these gents lament the fact that their trucks are beginning to rot. But here’s the thing: Even though these pickups are getting up in years and beginning to show their age, not one of these men said they had any plans to replace their trucks. It may be loyalty, or frugality, or both, that fuels their truck contentment. Ultimately, the reason really doesn’t matter. Someday, these trucks may be towed out behind the barn and left to the tall grass, but for now it’s just cool that these men have owned ’em since they were brand spankin’ new, and years later they still have ’em and they’re still using ’em.

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