How much harder do trucks work on a ranch?

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The day starts early on the J Bar W Ranch in Frederick County, Maryland. Rebecca and Sonny Williams wake up at 5:30 a.m. and within the hour are busy at work. She feeds the horses, gets their daughter ready for daycare and, by 7 a.m., is out the door in her Chevy Tahoe. On her way to her job, Rebecca drops off her daughter at her mother's house and then drives an hour to work at the Maryland State Fair. The one-way trip is 53 miles (85 kilometers), primarily on highways, with few stops in between. In the afternoon, the routine reverses, and Rebecca is home by 6 p.m.

Sonny, who begins his workday at 6:30 a.m., also drives a truck to work, but his workhorse is a Dodge "dualie" (dual-wheel pickup truck) and the 75 miles (121 kilometers) he accumulates daily are within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of his house. Sonny works 12 to15 hours a day caring for the 600 to 700 rodeo cattle he raises on six properties. He also uses his truck, with a trailer, to transport bulls to rodeos across the country and into Canada.

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Both the Chevy Tahoe and the Dodge are about three years old. Rebecca's Tahoe is in good shape, thanks to regular maintenance. In comparison, Sonny's Dodge has had three new clutches and four new sets of tires.

For a rancher, a truck is a necessity. For a truck, life on a ranch is hard work. Today, a truck is a tool of the trade on a ranch. Let's look at how trucks are used by modern cowboys.

Using Trucks as Tools

There was a time when a cowboy on horseback, driving cattle across the plains, epitomized life on a ranch. Fast-forward to the modern cowboy. He or she is still rugged, but you probably picture that person driving a pickup truck. In the past 50 years, ranching has become a primarily motorized operation, and a truck is a necessity [source: Renteria].

A ranch truck is used solely for chores on a ranch. The ranch truck doesn't have to be an actual "truck," but can be any make or model of four-wheeled vehicle. While horses remain part of ranch culture, pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) now are commonplace on a ranch, too.

Here are a few of the different sizes of trucks that ranchers can pick from:

  • Compact pickup: The compact is the most popular size truck. It has a four-cylinder engine and conventional cab. The cargo bed is too small for a 4-foot-by-8-foot (1.2-meter-by 2.4-meter) sheet of plywood to lie flat.
  • Mid-size pickup: Introduced in 1987, the mid-size pickup has a V6 engine and a cargo bed large enough for a sheet of plywood.
  • Full-size pickup: The largest pickup comes in four sizes, from 0.5 tons to 1.5 tons (0.45 to 1.36 metric tons), which indicates the payload. Full-size pickups are more rugged and ride higher off the ground than other pickups. They often have V6 engines or something even more powerful.
  • Dual-wheeled pickup: "Dualies" are the largest full-size pickup trucks. Along with the front two tires, they have four rear tires, two on each side, and may be equipped with a fifth wheel (with a hitch in the cargo bed) for towing heavy trailers.

Whatever size truck a rancher drives, it's bound to be different from a regular truck. Unlike regular trucks that travel the highways, ranchers guide their trucks over fields and dirt roads with no speed limits. They are functional, serviced when and where they break down, and are usually dirty and dented.

Ranch trucks spend much of the day traversing the property doing a variety of heavy chores, which require them to be versatile and rugged. Ranchers use their trucks to check on their herd, haul and distribute feed, and maintain fields and fences. They often modify their modern workhorses in the following ways to meet the needs of the operation:

  • Install a removable ball hitch in the truck bed to haul a trailer and load hay
  • Replace the standard bed with a lightweight flatbed
  • Mount a winch on the front
  • Add grill guards and high-intensity discharge (HID) lights
  • Upgrade the suspension, wheels and tires
  • Modify the engine to give the truck extra power for climbing and hauling

[source: Stover]

Keep reading to learn how trucks make raising livestock a little easier.

Using Trucks to Care for Ranch Animals

Effects of Ranch Life on Trucks

Ranchers tend to keep their trucks until they give out, and then they hold on to them for parts and storage. Because wear and tear is expected, they don't worry about dents or scratches. After years of driving on poor or no roads, ranch trucks may not look pretty, but they are dependable.

Because most ranch trucks haul heavy cargo, they get low gas mileage, and tires and gears must be replaced frequently. Automobile manufacturers recognize the importance of trucks to ranchers and the variety of needs and conditions in which they are driven, so some offer specialized vehicles aimed at ranchers and the like.

For example, Toyota's Tundra comes in a work package for industries like ranching and farming that require a truck with plenty of cargo space and towing capacity. The no-frills package replaces chrome bumpers with black bumpers, and rearview mirrors are manual instead of the newer power version. Farmers and ranchers may appreciate the washable vinyl bench seats and rubber floors, which make it easy to wash away dirt and other remnants of their job. In addition, the stripped-down work package eliminates most interior lighting and simply has warning lamps instead of gauges on the dashboard. [source: Western Farm Press].

Perhaps the most popular ranch truck is the Ford F-150 pickup. The half-ton, full-size pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., outselling all other trucks and passenger cars [source: Ford Motor Company]. To accommodate hauling and off-road driving, Ford's 2010 Raptor version of the F-150 features improved suspension thanks to its base, which is 7 inches (18 centimeters) wider than an F-150. Experts describe the driving experience as "a magic carpet ride" or "a cross between a roller coaster and a bucking bronco" [source: Holt].

The Chevrolet Silverado may suit those ranchers who like luxury as well as ruggedness. After all, they spend much of their day behind the wheel. The full-size truck has a comfortable, fully appointed, leather interior. Reviewers say it can easily handle off-road driving over rocks, through streams, on loose gravel and up steep grades [source: Jones].

Given the hard work performed by ranch trucks, it's no wonder that cowboys develop an affection for these modern workhorses.

Keep reading for more links to ranch life you might like.

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