The illustration above is from a 1949 Studebaker advertisement… that Never-never Land where everyone drove a Studebaker.
I grew up on a cattle ranch in the 1950’s. Back then, I was not so interested in nature and practical pursuits so much as I am today. What I liked most back then were the Beat Generation (or what I imagined it to be) hot rods, and Donna Kay McAlister (not necessarily in that order).
So when I hear stories today about how “ah growed up on a farm, and mah daddy taught us all to work hard and blah, blah, blah…”, I reflect that one can grow up on a farm and not really learn all that much about hard work etc. and I offer myself as living proof.
However, when the ’70’s came along and the back-to-the-land movement was luring young people my age into our rural area, I came to realize that even though I hadn’t even been paying attention, just growing up on the farm had taught me quite a number of things that city kids didn’t seem to have a clue about.
In fact, quite a few of these folks seemed completely unaware of how to even exist beyond pavement.
I realized that many of them were innocent of things I had learned, despite myself, as a bored, eye-rolling teenager.
In fact, compared even with someone as hopeless-appearing as myself, they seemed like complete sissy-boys, even the girls.
If you have just recognized yourself as a complete sissy-boy (or girl) this page is for you. If you’re not sure, keep reading.
The complete sissy-boy makes his first mistake before he ever leaves the metro area. That is, he doesn’t trade his car for something more appropriate to the back roads while he still has a job.
Do not make this mistake. You will need a pick-up truck from the first day you arrive on your land in the country. The good news is that you don’t need the kind of truck you see towering over you at stop lights, the kind with sumptuous paint jobs, enormous tires and rumbling exhausts.
Those aren’t really trucks, they’re a young man’s misinterpretation of what turns young women on.
What you need is more of a tool than a toy, or a lure.
However, the sissy-boy’s next bone-headed move is to buy a truck-wanna-be, perhaps because these wimpy half-steps seem less intimidating than a full-gendered real truck.
Again, you need a truck, not a car, and the fact is that a truck must begin its life as a truck—otherwise, it’s a car—and always will be.
The homesteader or small-holder needs a vehicle with the following characteristics:
High Ground Clearance
Ground clearance doesn’t matter much when you’re on pavement all the time, but when you sink far enough into the mud, when one or both bumpers come to ground crossing a ravine, or when you drive across a rocky field, it’s good to have the whole body of the vehicle sitting fairly high off the ground. Partly, this is achieved in the original design of the vehicle. Real trucks have a design in which the body sits high relative to the wheels, and which isn’t too long with too much overhang.
That’s not enough though, you also need to keep the differential(s) off the ground (see photo above). I order to do this, you’ll need…
Unless you have something hanging loose that shouldn’t be, the lowest part of your vehicle will be the differential housing on the axles between the wheels (what hillbilly mechanics call “the punkin”). The only (cheap) way to raise the differential height is with taller tires and/or wheels.
The monster-truck guys solve this problem with enormous, wide doughnuts that cost lots and lots of money.
However this is Homestead.org, not InfantileRichKids.org, so we’re looking for something a little different.
Super-wide tires do have some innate advantages, they can float across boggy ground. Being very wide, they deliver a lot of traction in some situations.
What no-one ever tells you is that they are practically helpless in snow, especially crusted snow which they also want to float over. A narrower tire, with an equally aggressive tread, breaks through the snow and sinks into it enough to find traction on the earth beneath. If you think you’re more likely to need to drive in snow, and less likely to want to jump over a line of school buses, choosing the narrower tire is a no-brainer.
Also, besides being terrifically expensive to begin with, wide tires are hard to keep in balance and rarely wear evenly, so they wear out prematurely.
Had you been paying attention to such plebian concerns rather than devoting your life to interpretive dance, you might have noticed that tires have been getting constantly wider down through the years. Somewhat less obvious is that they have also been getting lower, that is, what tire companies call the aspect ratio, the ratio of the tire’s width to its height, has been getting lower. Typical passenger car ratios are now around 60% and the delinquent in the modified Acura with the megaphone exhaust and dark-tinted windows probably has tires with a 50% aspect ratio.
What the homesteader wants is a little old-fashioned, but still readily available and quite affordable. Look for at least a 75% ratio, you can read the ratio of the side of the tire. If yours says, for example, LT235/85R16, the “LT” refers to the speed rating, which we needn’t worry about here, 235 is the width of the tire in millimeters, 85 is the aspect ration, or profile, R denotes a radial tire, and 16 is the wheel diameter.
This is a pretty good size for a homestead/farm tire. When you’re buying a vehicle, look for at least 75% aspect ratio and at least a 15″ wheel size, for a quarter-ton truck, more for a half-ton.
Time was, even here in the hills, the four-wheel-drive was considered an expensive rarity, but now-days it’s so common-place that you really shouldn’t consider anything else for your backwoods ride. If you’ve never driven a 4WD, then you need to know that it provides a lot more pull than just twice what a two-wheel-drive can do.
Once again, there is the truck/not-quite truck divide.
If the truck you’re considering has a system referred to as Four Wheel Drive (a/k/a part-time 4WD) then that almost certainly means a system which is truck-based, where the front-axle drive can (probably) be disengaged when on the highway by means of a two-speed transfer case.
What the homesteader should probably avoid is ALL Wheel Drive (a/k/a full-time 4WD) meaning a car-based system which probably began as front-wheel-drive system to which a drive-shaft has been connected to drive the rear axle as well. Usually on a full-time basis.
Four-wheel-drive has benefits on the pavement as well as in the meadow, so full-time sounds like a better deal than part-time, but in today’s world, that’s not the case.
Technical esoterica aside, nearly all of the full-time AWD systems are of a lighter construction than the part-time 4WD systems, which are designed to withstand heavier loads and more extreme conditions, such as towing.
[One bit of warning here: in my experience, it’s better to have controls on your 4WD system which are activated by long levers from which you can hear a satisfying “clunk” when you engage them as opposed to a button on the dashboard which engages an electric motor, or in the case of a Mazda B3000 I once owned, a deviously-complicated system that was supposed to lock and unlock the hubs, until it failed, at least. When I investigated the design – which involved sucking open a tiny switch in the front hubs with suction from the vacuum line, I was amazed that it ever worked in the first place. Very expensive to fix.]
The Truck Bed
Despite how it looks in today’s market, there are really only two bed sizes: those that will hold a 4×8 sheet of plywood lying flat, and those that are too small. The eight-foot length in particular is important because there are a LOT of things you’ll be buying which require an eight-foot bed. Since you can get a bed with greater than 4×8 inside dimensions in even some of the smallest trucks, it’s a good idea to make this choice.
Interestingly enough, the engine is one of the less important considerations, partly because you don’t have a lot of choices anyway.
A diesel engine would be superior for farm or homestead use (and probably any other use, for that matter) but currently, diesels in light trucks are very rare in America. Izusu used to import a diesel pick-up, but those are getting harder and harder to find. Mahindra, the Indian tractor people, will be importing a small diesel pick-up with an 8-foot bed next year, and more diesels are headed our way in the future.
As for today, it would be hard for any earth-conscious person to choose a V-8 engine in anything as light as a quarter- or half-ton truck. You probably won’t find any V-8’s in quarter-tons at all, and six-cylinder half- tons are quite plentiful. You can get all the pull you need from lower gearing with a good four- or five-speed manual transmission, leaving us to the last item…
You can’t operate a manual transmission? My goodness, you really are a si… well, let’s not go there.
Being limited to an automatic transmission may be okay for a teenage girl (although I made it a point to teach my girls how to get home on their own, no matter the circumstances) but it’s a very expensive weakness in the country.
Here’s what you need to do before you leave the city, honey…
You need to learn how to use a clutch. The best way I know to do this is to go out and buy yourself a truck with a strong, truck-style transmission, with what’s referred to as a “granny gear” low. By the time you get it home, you should know everything you need to about how to use the clutch, after that, the rest is just a matter of developing finesse.
A standard transmission and clutch system is simple, strong and repairable. An automatic transmission is none of these things; when one fails, the only practical solution is to replace the whole expensive mess.
In fact, that’s probably the most beautiful aspect of the perfect homestead truck—it’s the one with the fewest options, the lowest cost, and the most economical operation. Keep it lubricated and maintained, and you can depend on it for a lifetime of hauling, pulling and getting you in and out in the worst of weather.
It may not make you feel more macho, but you’ll spend less time in the ditch, and save enough hard cash to be a panty-waist in style.
The future of the pickup? Mahindra, the tractor people, promise to assemble this homely little truck in Ohio. It has an eight-foot bed, six-speed (automatic) transmission and is powered by a clean diesel that’s said to deliver 30 mpg and 300 ft lbs. of torque. A diesel/hybrid version will follow.