Motor Trucks on the Farm

Early farm motor trucks drove farming into a new era.

| January 1999

We always had a truck on the farm when I was a kid, although it was strictly for field use and was never licensed for the road. The first one I remember was an ancient Dodge Brothers flatbed that Dad re-roofed with oil cloth and painted bright red with a brush. Just before World War II, it was sold and a 1936 Chevrolet 1-1/2 ton flatbed took its place. The farm truck was used for, among other things, hauling hay and grain from the field to the barn, and coal from a mine at the back of the farm. Sometime during the war, we got a hayloader and I was deemed old enough to drive the truck, pulling the loader, while Dad and my uncle built the load. Once, when we were loading hay, my father suddenly jumped down on the hood, then to the fender and onto the ground. It seems that a black-snake had come up on the hayloader, causing Dad's sudden departure from the top of the load. 

I built a box-like backrest from boards to brace me up in the seat far enough to reach the pedals and see out the windshield. I thought I was really something, and only wished I could get that old truck out on the road so I could put it into fourth gear (most of my driving was in creeper gear).

Many farmers in our neighborhood had trucks, often in place of a family car. I remember an early '30s Reo Speed Wagon pickup, a '29 Ford AA flatbed, a '38 Ford cab over engine flatbed and a '36 IHC pickup. One neighbor brought us our lime in an old Chevy dump truck from the early '30s.

Farmers recognized the usefulness of trucks early in the twentieth century and, during the teens and '20s, many tractor manufacturers also got involved with motor trucks. Two of the more famous, Ford and IHC, continue to build trucks today.

A 1908 ad (aimed at prospective dealers) for the International Harvester Company's International Auto Wagon, claimed "Every businessman or farmer in your vicinity is a prospective customer." In pictures, the vehicle resembles a light wagon with a seat and steering wheel at the front, the engine being mounted under the machine. IHC continued to build trucks of every size and shape; in 1979 it was the leading North American producer of medium and heavy trucks. In serious trouble by the mid-'80s, IHC sold its farm equipment division to Tenneco, and then formed the Navistar Company to build trucks.

Henry Ford began producing trucks in 1917 with the one ton Model TT. This machine was especially popular with farmers for the same reasons as the Model T car: low cost, dependability and ease of repair. Until the late '40s, Ford built only light and medium duty trucks, although in 1926, several experimental Fordson three-ton trucks were built. These were of cab-over-engine design, and a picture shows a radiator, identical to the Fordson tractor, sticking out beneath the windshield about a foot. In 1948, Ford began building its F-7 and F-8, 2 1/2- and 3-ton models, and continues to make light, medium and heavy duty trucks today.