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Buying an older truck

I wasn’t looking for a new truck for the farm, but you know how things happen.

Being in the salvage business, I was looking for some old trucks to part out, so I could sell the parts to needy farmers. I bought a couple of trucks and brought them home.

Both were in the antique class — well over 30 years old. One was a bit of a clunker, but the other one, which I thought would part out quite nicely, caught our son Dan’s eye. “You know that would be a better farm truck than that old blue Chev we have,” he said.

The 1969 Chev had been in our fleet for 10 years or so, but it had seen better days. It had a strong power train but the chassis was on the light side. It was actually a 40-series truck which would likely be called a ton and a half truck. When we put a good load on it, it would creak and groan ominously. The hoist would still go up, but had a tendency to creep down as you were unloading grain. Other than that it was okay. Sort of. Mousy cab, cracked windshield, rusty box floor, lights that worked for about a week or two after you fixed them — well, I guess it was kind of junky.

So the Chev is going and our new farm three-ton is a 1971 Ford cabover that we bought for $2,000. It’s got a nice 18-foot box and hoist, it starts and runs well and is a much better truck than the Chev. It needs a bit of work though. The exhaust gaskets are shot, the park brake needs a cable, the hydraulic brakes need adjusting and the shifter needs tightening up. If you’ve ever driven one of those old cabovers you know the shifter has about as much feel to it as a stick in a bucket of tar on a hot day. We’ll fix up a few things and hope to get 10 or 20 years out of the truck.

Here’s a few things to look for when you’re shopping for that two- or three-ton truck.

Get a heavy truck

If you want to do heavy work get a heavy truck. There are lots of light trucks out there with big grain boxes. Our old 69 Chev 40 will haul 260 bushels, but it sure doesn’t like it. For heavy loads and long life, look for a good heavy suspension.

See the table for a very rough chart of models and load capacity. This includes most common farm trucks including cabover models.

Gas Engines

Likely, you’ll find the cheaper trucks have gas engines. These are usually okay if they run well. A poor carburetor will cause lots of grief and can cause engine problems by diluting the oil with gas (caused by flooding), or cause fires if they flood over. Diesel engines are better and cheaper on fuel. However the typical three-ton on a farm today sees very few miles so the savings in fuel between gas and diesel might be very little.


Automatic transmissions are nice to have but hard to find. They are also expensive to repair. Standard transmissions are more common. A five-speed is best, and in a Ford or a GM the Clark or Spicer transmissions are better than the New Process. Most five-speeds have a tag on the right side of the transmission, or it might be on the built sheet inside the cab (if it is still there and readable).

Rear Axle

Single speed axles are okay but a two-speed rear axle is best for pulling out of the fields with a big load. The best two-speed is the 18,500 Eaton found in the heavier Ford, Dodge and GM trucks. It has the 12-bolt axle shafts instead of the eight-bolt.

IH uses six- and eight-bolt axle shafts. It’s a bit more difficult to decipher what size axle the trucks have, but the more bolts on the axle the heavier they are. The smaller Eaton and GM two-speeds are okay, but they are lighter and more prone to damage. GM two-speeds have a five-bolt cap in the centre of the hub. Heavier GM’s will use an Eaton with the 12-bolt axle shafts.

Steering and Brakes

Power steering is a welcome option, but some of the older trucks don’t have it. Brakes are necessary and can cost a lot to repair. Look for new master cylinders and brake boosters. Make sure all the brake lines are hooked up and there are no signs of leakage on the backing plates. Air brakes are nice but check your license requirements first, to make sure you can legally drive them.

Wheels and tires

Dayton wheels are preferred nowadays because you can put 22.5 inch dayton wheels on the same hubs. Twenty inch tires are getting harder to find these days; newer stuff all has 22.5 inch tires.

Budd wheels are common but cost more if you want to switch to 22.5. Some of the older budd wheels split in the centre to change the tire. These are called “widow makers” because of the number of fatalities they’ve been involved with. No tire shops will change them anymore, so try to avoid these. If the budd wheel has a removable outside lock ring, you should be able to reuse it.

Check the tires for cracks and wear.

General advice

Look for signs of recent repairs or maintenance. A truck that has been stored inside is nice. Check for serious rust on the box and cab. An original farm truck is preferable, but there are lots out there that have been old highway or delivery trucks that have been converted to grain trucks. These often have a lot more miles on them.

Check the springs for broken leaves and uneven height. Look for signs of maintenance, such as new parts.

Talk to the owner and find out about the truck. Be careful of this statement: “Best truck I’ve ever owned! I’ve had it for x years and it hasn’t cost a penny for repairs.” This means that nothing has been done for maintenance recently and lots might be needed.

There are lots of nice trucks out there but also a lot of clunkers. Shop carefully. †

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