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Firing Order: Pickup Truck Envy

Posted in Features on May 15, 2017
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I’m writing this on a plane, shortly after Pickup Truck of the Year 2017, and for some odd reason I’m thinking about pickup trucks. Go figure. Thinking about pickup trucks is not unusual for me actually because I have a deep-seated love of pickup trucks. Never met one I didn’t like. Even the most poorly designed pickup truck still has a cargo bed and tailgate.

My first pickup truck memory is of riding in the back of my neighbor’s old pickup, which had holes in the well-worn wooden cargo bed floor. I would look through the holes and watch the pavement go racing by, which was pretty cool stuff to a seven-year-old. It was cool to ride inside the truck too. It had a column-shift transmission, and I was transfixed as I watched my neighbor shift through the gears. My neighbor’s old truck had zero refinement, but I envied my neighbor for owning such a cool truck.

Pickup truck envy hit me hard in high school in 1980. My buddy worked on a farm and used his earnings from slingin’ manure to buy a black ’78 Ford F-150 pickup. Even parked next to my other buddy’s ’79 Pontiac Trans Am in the school parking lot, the F-150 held my attention. After all, the Trans Am didn’t have a cargo bed and tailgate.

Another case of pickup truck envy hit hard a couple years later. Fresh out of high school, I landed a job at an Illinois newspaper. One of my jobs was working with the chief mechanic to help maintain the newspaper’s fleet of cars and trucks, and one of the fleet trucks was a ’79 GMC 1-ton 4x4 pickup. It was a dark-blue regular cab longbed with plain white wheels and small chrome hubcabs. The truck was used to push snow in winter and was a general do-it-all truck in summer. I loved that truck. It had a 350ci V-8, automatic transmission, a manual shift T-case, and a shockingly spartan interior. It was simple and a workhorse. I called it Big Jake.

Shortly after high school, I moved from the city to farm country, where it seemed that almost everyone drove a pickup. Farmers in the area referred to 1/2-ton trucks as “half a truck,” 3/4-ton trucks as “three-quarters of a truck,” and 1-ton trucks as simply “a truck.” I quickly learned that a pickup truck is one of the most valuable work tools on the farm. It wasn’t long before I bought half a truck and thought I was the “man about town.” Well, actually the “man about farm.”

I haven’t been without a pickup truck for years, and through those years pickups have certainly changed. For example, remember the days when a tailgate was just a painted metal gate with a latch? Nowadays, some tailgates have electric locks, pull-out steps, built-in protection in areas destined to get beat up, and the ’gate opening is damped so it doesn’t just loudly drop open like Big Jake’s used to do.

At the 2017 Pickup Truck of the Year, we tested seven of the latest and greatest production pickup trucks. It was an interesting collection of rigs and even though each had a cargo bed and tailgate, each truck had its own personality. After a week of testing, we learned a lot about each rig, and we’re excited to share our findings with you in the “Magnificent Seven” story (page TK).

Long live the pickup truck.

–Ken Brubaker

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