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