Driving a Piece of History Slows You Down

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By Tim Esterdahl

It isn't very often I get to go back in time, but when a local farmer needed a driver to help with harvesting, I jumped at the chance. Spending a day behind the wheel of a 1976 Ford F700, hauling nearly 14,000 pounds of corn a few miles to a bin, showed just how far pickups have come — and it taught me to slow down.

We used three classic medium-duty trucks to harvest the corn: the aforementioned 1976 Ford with a 361-cubic-inch V-8, a 1978 Chevrolet C20 with a 350-cubic-inch V-8 and a 1966 GMC with a 305E V-6. The trucks were in various states of disrepair, but the Ford had good brakes, a strong clutch, usable power steering and a powerful engine. I even had lights and heat.

While classic work trucks crisscrossing the countryside may look odd to some travelers, it's a common sight in rural communities. The F700 had barely 50,000 miles on the odometer, yet it looked like it went through a war. Farm miles are much harsher than city or highway miles.

Inside, the trucks felt almost bare compared to modern pickups. We were lucky to have working gauges and, after a while, I realized those extras don't really matter. It was all about windows that roll up and a functioning heater after the sun goes down.

I made five trips from fields to grain bins and back, and never exceeded 40 mph. And the truth is I never wanted to go faster. With a two-speed rear-end lever attached to the four-on-the-floor stick, I could have gone faster, but there was no reason to. Hauling corn is a game of steady work and tipping a truck is a real possibility. Plus, the corn combine and auger can only work so fast.

With the window down and the setting sun off my shoulder, time slowed down. Taking in the scene through the spider-web-cracked windshield and holes in the floorboards, the truck was perfect the way it was.

It's likely in the next decade these old trucks will be put out to pasture like their forefathers, the rust-pocked 1940s and '50s International, Ford and Chevy heavy-duty trucks found dotting farm fields across the country. They'll be replaced with newer and more efficient trucks, capable of hauling corn faster, safer and with more creature comforts. But there's nothing like driving a piece of history. It's hard to argue that newer trucks aren't better in just about every way, but there's something about driving an old pickup that slows you down.

Cars.com photos by Tim Esterdahl

 

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Comments

There aren't to many of these trucks left. As farming operations get bigger and bigger semi's have taken over in my area at least. Just a few ma and pop farmers that haven't sold out yet running these rigs. Kinda sad

Many farmers around me have gone to used tractor trucks with grain trailers. Few farmers use these old trucks because there are fewer smaller farmers. My granddad had a 53 Dodge and then a 68 IH Loadstar both gassers for grain and cattle. My granddad also had gas tractors which you hardly see anymore. It is sad to see the family farms disappear.

I would say the trucks exteriors were in decent shape for their age.

Cool old trucks! The Ford is a nice example from that era and the GMC V6 is a rarity today. That Chevy's not a C-20, more like a C-60.

Fun article.

Echo the comments above. Grain Trucks in Europe and Australia are either Semi's with multiple trailers or MDT's

Yes it does feel good! I love medium duty trucks like these! We still use them in the mountain regions of the south where I'm from. These trucks looked pretty good!

The GMC and Chevy probably put out 160-180 hp and 260-300 lbs ft or torque.

Kind of puts the 450 hp 900+ torque over-kill trucks of today into perspective.

The GMC and Chevy probably put out 160-180 hp and 260-300 lbs ft or torque.

Kind of puts the 450 hp 900+ torque over-kill trucks of today into perspective.
Posted by: Jack | Dec 6, 2017 3:10:06 PM

Yeah, but them old trucks are geared for work. Not for MPGs like the new trucks.

Those interior shots really took me back to my youth. Miles rolled up on a farm truck are so different from Interstate miles.

You can work a farm truck hard all day and not put 5 miles on the clock.

Not too many trucks like this even if half ton form. Harder to find any truck with vinyl seats, rubber floors, manual transmission, and nothing but gauges. My favorite of these trucks is the 66 GMC with the V-6 which was a very durable engine for its time. At that time it was more expensive to produce the GMC V-6 than the V-8 but the V-6 was one of the best engines GM ever made. These trucks do get hard use despite their mileage but they were built for hard work. Most of the time my granddad's trucks sat in the barn except during harvest season and when he was taking cattle and hogs to market.

The GMC appears to be a 63, not a 66.

Mark Williams - - -

Wow! Beautiful photos. Real works of art. Thanks.

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F700 is a MDT.

Most of the tree service companies have these older trucks. I won't follow one on the highway..., the exhaust is awful!
Funny thing..., People usually compliment me for having a clean and shiny truck and equipment..., but when one of those tree service trucks pull up, I'm gawking and admiring their old truck. Lots of talking gets done!
Great article - Thx

How convenient. Spend all day feeling all warm and nostalgic in old trucks wondering why they aren't made like that anymore, yet all the writers do on this site is shill for every option to be standard and scoff at base models and call any truck that is older than two model years "obsolete".

Fantastic article, beautiful pictures, and the best darn trucks from the best truck makers of all time.
Memories came rushing back of working on my Aunt's ranch in the Texas hill country.
What a time, what a place to be as a teenager.
Thanks Tim. Thanks PUTC.
Gonna look for some of those old pictures of the ranch now.

How convenient. Spend all day feeling all warm and nostalgic in old trucks wondering why they aren't made like that anymore, yet all the writers do on this site is shill for every option to be standard and scoff at base models and call any truck that is older than two model years "obsolete".


Posted by: BD | Dec 7, 2017 1:04:59 AM

And many readers here reminisced over these old trucks but are lightning quick to criticize some truck companies for not stuffing their trucks full of tacky "innovations" or for sticking with "old school" (aka tried-and-true) pushrod engines.

Speaking of pushrods....
I read an article that was leaked on the Corvette Form (since deleted) that indicated the 6.2 was done as of 2021. It will be replaced by smaller displacement (4.2 & 5.5) DOHC V8s. These will be turbo motors with huge hp/tq numbers. If this is true, it will be the end of quite an era of motors.

Love those trucks.

The GMC and Chevy probably put out 160-180 hp and 260-300 lbs ft or torque.

Kind of puts the 450 hp 900+ torque over-kill trucks of today into perspective.
Posted by: Jack | Dec 6, 2017 3:10:06 PM

Yeah, but them old trucks are geared for work. Not for MPGs like the new trucks.

Posted by: johnny doe | Dec 6, 2017 4:10:45 PM

What it says to me is that HD Diesel market is nothing more than fashion statement. The smart money now days is on the gas powered 2500 and 3500 trucks. If you actually have a need for a Diesel to tow you'd be better off with a medium duty.

@jack
Totally agree! There was a time Ford had that great 300cid straight 6 with the right gearing, was a great work truck in an F250/350. I don’t think that motor made 200HP

Looks like it would be easy enough to restore all three of them to pristine condition, given a little time and money. Those guys are worth saving.

My brothers still mostly use old tractors and gravity wagons for hauling corn, although one of them did get a mid-70s Chevy C20 truck to haul grain a few years ago....he was pretty tickled about it. They are slow compared to a pickup, but faster than a tractor towing a four-wheel wagon.

The bigger farmers around here use the giant two-wheel grain carts behind tractors to haul grain from the combine to the road, then usually offload to an 18-wheeler. If they are close enough to the grain bins, they will just pull the carts all the way to the bin. Some sell their grain immediately (or ahead of time via contract), while others store it and wait for better prices.

One of my brothers still uses his '87 Dodge W250 pickup daily on the farm. I think one of the keys to its longevity is no options (it does have an AM radio, but no A/C), and it's only been washed once or twice in its lifetime.

Old trucks are some of the funnest vehicles to drive. They might not be as comfortable as modern trucks but I do miss the manual locks, windows, and transmission. Repairs and getting to parts was a lot easier on them too.

Thanks for the article, your help and time. The pictures are exceptional.

@BD--What is wrong with a little nostalgia? I enjoy reading articles like this and seeing the old trucks being used. Does that mean that I want one? No, can we just enjoy reading and seeing these trucks, admiring their longevity and simplicity. I doubt most of today's vehicles will last as long mainly because of their more complex electronics. Today's vehicles have better drive-trains, safety features, efficiency, and less maintenance. There are always pros and cons on new or old. I enjoy Leno's site and respect that many old vehicles have been preserved, but that doesn't necessarily mean I want to own one. Leno gives a history of the owner and the vehicle which I find interesting.



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