This column is more about older pickups and how they have changed over the years.

The business end of any pickup is the cargo bed. Today, one has several choices as to bed lengths. I believe all of the three major brands offer bed lengths of 51⁄2 feet, 61⁄2 feet and 8 feet. In the old days, 1⁄2-ton trucks had 6-foot beds, and that was it. Three-quarter and 1-ton pickups had 8-foot beds, and that was it, too, although I do think for a few years you could get a 1-ton pickup with a 9-foot bed. I remember the first 1⁄2-ton I saw with an 8-foot bed in the late 1950s, and it looked weird as all get-out. Today, a regular-cab pickup with a 61⁄2-foot bed looks equally weird. And, in the old days, the floors of those beds were made of wood with steel skid strips. I had a 3⁄4-ton Ford that I used as a support truck on a rig for many, many years. The skid strips eventually rusted out, but I was able to order new ones, painted them to match the truck, and the bed was like new again.

In the old days, pickups came with what today is called a regular cab; that is, two doors and a single seat, and that was it. Today, we have the choice of a regular cab, extended cab and crew cab. If you buy a regular cab with a 61⁄2-foot bed, you have got a fairly handy little truck to zip around in, even if you can’t carry an awful lot. This truck will be especially convenient if you do much city driving and parking. On the other hand, if you buy 3⁄4- or 1-ton crew or double cab with a 8-foot bed, you will have something that approaches a small bus in length; while you can carry a lot of people and a lot material in such a truck, I will guarantee you, you don’t want to do much city driving or parking with it. Next time you’re near your friendly local GM, Dodge or Ford dealer, check to see how many regular cab pickups they have on the lot. Around here, you will find one or two regular cabs (usually in two-wheel drive, bare bones trim and a small engine). You also will find they have about 50 extended cabs and 50 crew cabs. Such is the way things have changed in cabs.

I talked some about seats in my last column, but when you do get into the cab today, regardless of style, you may have a bench seat, a semi-bucket seat or a true bucket seat, often with a fold-down combination arm rest and storage box. These may come in vinyl, cloth, heavy-duty cloth or leather. We have come a long way, Charlie, in what we sit on in pickups.

If you get bored driving down the road, you can turn on your AM/FM radio, punch a music disc into the sound system, if it is not already pre-loaded or uses some of the really high-tech stuff that I can hardly name, but that you younger folks are very familiar with. In the old days, you probably didn’t even have an AM radio, just like some folks did not have a heater. The AM radio you did have had a single speaker, and didn’t pull many stations very well. I bought several pickups without a radio, and later added an after-market model. Try finding any new truck on a lot that doesn’t have at least AM/FM and disc-playing capability, along with several speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls.

Your feet probably will be resting on carpet with a rubberized floor mat, although in an inexpensive work truck, you might have plain, old black rubber floor covering. If the going gets slippery, today you will shift into four-wheel drive. Even here in the north, four-wheel drives were a rarity years ago, except for a few loggers and emergency vehicles. If you did have an early four-wheel drive, it was shifted in and out with a floor-mounted shifter that often was hard to operate. Today, we just simply push the right button, and zippo, we are right into four-wheel drive. One thing a few folks have learned about four-wheel drive is that in really slippery conditions, they don’t stop any better than a one-wheel drive.

I could go on and on for pages about the changes in pickups, but I won’t, as I think you get the idea that, over the years, these changes have been huge. I once heard – and I believe this is true – that considering all the options of cab styles, trim levels, bed lengths and drive trains, one major manufacturer said that it could build its entire year’s production of pickups and not make two exactly the same.

I have to finish my writing about pickups with a true story about a deceased well driller friend and an experience he had with a really heavy pickup. This man’s name was Ashton Hayes, and he was a well driller from Petoskey, which is the northern Lower Peninsula. Ashton worked alone with a spudder in a difficult area. They had some really nasty flowing wells with high shut-in pressures, coupled with high flows. Ashton had developed some unique methods to deal with these wells.

Ashton drilled a well for a young Navy veteran right after World War II, and this veteran later served as governor of Michigan for 14 years. His relationship with Ashton proved beneficial to the latter, as Ashton was appointed to some important governmental positions, including County Road Commissioner and a spot on the Michigan Water Well Drillers Registration (licensing) Board, among others. Ashton was a good guy who enjoyed storytelling, and was a loyal member of the Michigan Well Drillers Association, serving as a director for a number of years and also vice president of the MWDA board of directors. Ashton has been gone for about 25 years, and those of us who knew him miss him. He enjoyed the NGWA conventions, and many times drove alone to such far-flung locations as Las Vegas and Atlanta.

In the days after World War II, Ashton’s support truck for his spudder rig was a Dodge Powerwagon. This was a civilian version of a really, really heavy 3⁄4-ton pickup that Dodge had built for the U.S. military during the war. Not incidentally, you still can buy a Dodge Powerwagon in October 2010, and it is a heavy-duty 3⁄4-ton truck that has some features a regular 3⁄4-ton Dodge does not have, according to the dealer/salesman I talked to this morning. I remember these trucks had large tires and wheels, somewhat like the modern-day Hummer. Ashton had a drilling job in the Upper Peninsula, and towed his Powerwagon behind his drill rig to the job site. The Upper Peninsula was then, as now, rather sparsely populated, so Ashton probably stayed in a nearby town for this job – or even camped out, which was not unheard of in those days.

He had loaded his Powerwagon with extra bits, jars and, as I recall, some fishing tools – in other words, a lot of pounds of iron. Upon getting to the job site, Ashton spudded in, and decided he had better set up his forge as he dressed his bits on the job. This was usual practice in those days. Heat the bits right on the job, and pound them out to full gage with a sledge hammer. Needing coal to heat his bits, he headed for the nearest town and the coal yard located there. Now Ashton never told me who weighed him in when he got to the yard, but anyway, he loaded the bed of his Powerwagon full, and went to the scales to pay up and head back to the job.

Now the weigh-master at the coal yard was an older fellow, Ashton said, who wore glasses, but who could look at a truck and say within 100 pounds of what it weighed. He was using a beam-type scale, which most mills and coal yards used in those days; it’s something like the scales used yet in many doctors’ offices with sliding weights that go along a beam, an arrow on the weights points to a number, and that is what the weight is on the scales.

Ashton pulled his heavily loaded truck on the scales, and the weigh master adjusted the beam, released the beam lock and nothing happened. Removing his glasses, he looked over Ashton’s Powerwagon a second time, readjusted the beam weights, and, when he released the beam lock, nothing happened again. In other words, he had been way off on estimating what this truck weighed. Looking a little concerned, he added weights to the end of the beam, released the beam lock again, and for a third time, nothing much happened.

At this point, the weigh-master must have figured he had met his match, as he opened the glass door where Ashton sat in his Powerwagon, removed his glasses another time, and said, “Oh heck, buddy, if she’ll carry that much load, the coal is on the house.” Needless to say, Ashton had a really, really heavy-duty pickup.

You will be reading this as we near the holidays, and I wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and all the best to you and yours in 2011.