Friday, November 9, 2012

A Revolution In Rural Transportation

When I seemingly had more free time, I used to occasionally publish articles in various journals.  This posts has its origins in one such article, which came about, as a concept. right about the time that I became to busy to really keep at that endeavor, so I never wrote it.  Perhaps, if worthwhile, I'll develop this blog entry into an article later.  I'd also note that this is a topic which I've actually posted on here before.  And its a topic I consider every year during hunting season.  The topic of back country travel, and indeed travel in rural areas in general.


Now, in 2012, we can hardly conceive of how recent the revolution in rural travel has been, or even how little rural travel occurred not all that long ago.  While I've never accommodated myself to them (I'm sticking with the 4x4 for road and the horse or shoe leather for everything else) the ATV, or "four wheeler", is seemingly everywhere.  Or at least its more places than it arguably should be.  But not all that long ago, even the automobile didn't go most places.

And, indeed, people didn't go most places, truth be known.

On one of my other blogs I attempt to catalog Wyoming's history on a daily basis.  On occasion, that notes people going here and there early in the state's history, for one reason or another.  To give a bad example today, October 31 (the day I started, but not finished) this entry is the anniversary of the 1903 Battle of Lightening Creek, a freakish event related as follows:
1903  The Battle of Lightning Creek occurred in Weston County Wyoming when Sheriff William Miller and a party of men under his leadership, having already arrested twelve Sioux in the area for hunting violations, engaged in a firefight with Sioux under Chief Charley Smith.  Miller, Deputy Louis Falkenberg and Chief Smith died in the battle.  Nine Sioux men alleged to have participated, and twelve women, were later arrested by Crook County Sheriff Deputy Lee Miller, but they were released for lack of evidence.
Now, nothing in this entry says anything about how Sheriff Miller and his party, nor how Chief Charley Smith and his party, arrived at Lightning Creek.  But the answer is pretty evident to most, they rode horses there. But this somewhat obscures what the reality was of that era, while illuminating at the same time.  And what that illuminates is that rural travel was by horse.


Now, that would hardly seem to be an illumination. But, in this modern era, few people really know what that meant.  It's common to assume, "well, of course, everyone traveled by horse."  But, in fact, most people did not travel by horse during the horse era.  And not only in the 19th Century horse era in North America, but during the horse era in almost all (but not quite all) societies everywhere. That his, during the eras in which the fastest mode of travel across the land was the horse, most people walked.

This is as true of Wyoming as anywhere else, as surprising as it may seem, and what that meant to average life is difficult for most of us to now really grasp.  Perhaps, however, before looking at that, it would be helpful to look at why that was true.

As folks with horses know, you really can't keep a horse anywhere.  For that reason, only rural people or aboriginals can keep an individual mount relatively easy, although certainly not without cost.  Some people like to imagine that in the pre automobile era they would have somehow kept a horse in town and rode where they drive today, or perhaps they'd have kept a buggy in town and have driven a team or single draught animal to pull it.  This is a really common depiction in films.  Some fellow lives in town doing this or that, needs to go somewhere, and hitches up his wagon.


But in reality few people could or did keep horses in town, which does not mean that there were not horses in town.  Average people, however, didn't do that.  If a person kept a horse in town, and worked in town, there was a specific reason for that.  Why was this true.

Well, those who own and keep horses probably instantly know.  Horses are expensive, and they have to be fed.  Additionally, they die.

Feeding a horse, in and of itself, would have been a very difficult endeavor any average person, even in a small Wyoming town of the late 19th or early 20th Centuries.  A person's yard, and yards were much smaller (as a quick glance around at most older neighborhoods in Wyoming demonstrate) certainly doesn't provide adequate forage for a horse, even during the summer growing season.  So any in town horse has to be fed.

Today horse owners feed their horses in the winter, at least, depending upon the forage they have available in their pasture.  Buying hay is certainly an option, but an expensive one.  It would have been more problematic in the late 19th Century, however, than now, as hay was not really a significant Wyoming crop until after the disastrous winter of 1888.  Indeed, at that time ranchers began to cut hay for cattle, not for horses, but the pattern of working horse usage also began to change, due in large part to barbed wire.  From early in the state's history up until around 1900 most ranchers simply turned the remuda out for the winter, where it fended for itself, grew semi wild again, and then was rounded back up in the Spring.  Only a few saddle horses were kept in.  After the range started to be fenced, and after cattle started to be fed, it no longer was as practical to simply turn horses out, as they were both needed to do winter work that hadn't previously existed, and it wasn't as possible for them to range where they might need to go.


In town terms, of course, what that meant is that anyone keeping horses in town, and of course there were some who did, had to find a source of hay to feed them all year long.  Not a cheap thing to do.

People who did keep horses in town essentially had two options.  They could stable them at home, or in a livery.  The few people who did stable a horse at home were well off.  There is, in Casper, at least one very old, early 20th Century, home that has a carriage house.  That would indicate that at least the original owner of that house in fact did keep a horse or horses, in town, for a carriage.  Unfortunately, I no longer know the history of the house's ownership, as I once did, so I can't recall why that person was likely to do that, if I ever knew.

 Grand Central livery in Casper, from Wyoming Tales and Trails.

Livery stabling was more likely, but that was also not inexpensive.  A livery boarded horses and every town had one or more.  Casper's Livery was the Grand Central, located downtown on what is now Yellowstone Avenue.  Liveries also served the purpose of allowing the rural employed to board a horse for a day, if they needed to come into town, as well as allowing town people to keep a horse if they needed to.  Photographs of Western liveries generally show that they were not all that large, which demonstrates that at any one time they were not housing vast numbers of horses.

So, if people didn't keep horses, what did they do?  Largely, they walked.  Henry Fairlie, in his famous essay The Cow's Revenge, gives some of the fascinating details on that.  In larger and industrial cities, the number of miles a person walked on a daily basis was staggering by modern standards.  "Mechanics", those individuals employed as skilled machinists and the like, often walked as far as seven miles one way just to get to work, and walked the same distance back to get home, after days that were endless by current standards.  This is not to laud 19th Century industrial conditions, but as Fairlie noted in his essay the necessary expenditure of calories at the time makes our current modern effort to artificially replicate that seem fairly pathetic in comparison. Of course, for a town the size that Casper, or Cheyenne, or Laramie then were, walking to work, whatever that work was, would not have been much of a burden, or wouldn't have seemed like one.  For many years at that, I walked to and from work, which was a distance of about 1.5 miles, and I used to (and sometimes still do) ride a bicycle to work.  In the late 19th and early 20th Century that would have simply been routine and unremarkable for anyone living in a smaller town or city.

Also, of course, quite a few people lived above their places of employment.  This is starting to become common once again, but was very common, even in smaller towns, at that time. Several of the older buildings in Casper, for example, have a second story apartment.  And by apartment, I mean sufficient living quarters for an entire family.  This was quite common for shopkeepers, but it wasn't uncommon for some other professions.  Doctors often operated out of their houses early on, and the term "office hours" meant that they kept "office hours" for an office in their house.  At least one lawyer I knew as a kid worked out of his home, and this was as late as the 1970s.  Houses were simply more public than they now are, in the pre automobile era.

Many more people than, as opposed to now, worked in rural occupations everywhere, however, and it's really rural travel that we started out writing about.  Even after World War One statistically half of all Americans lived in "rural" areas, although that statistic is deceptive as rural doesn't equate with working on a farm or ranch.  People who live today, for example, in Shoshoni or Meeteetsee live in a "rural area", statistically, even if they have nothing to do with farming or ranching.  Be that as it may, certainly working on a farm or ranch, or being part of a farm or ranch family, meant having access to horses.  And, for that matter, residence in a very small town, and there were many very small towns, probably meant that there was a greater need to own a horse no matter what you were doing.

So what was rural travel like for those folks?  In watching movies, a person gets the impression that if you wanted to go from here to there, or hunting or fishing, or just go somewhere, you went out the front door, jumped on your highly compliant already saddled horse, and off you went.  But that's not correct either.  Much more work was often involved in a trip of that type than that.

To illustrate what I mean, perhaps there it's best to cite a couple of written examples.  A few  years ago Wyoming Wildlife, the journal of the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, ran an article about a notable  figure who went on an extended hunting/camping trip with his family around the year 1900.  I've now forgotten who the figure was, but he was a Wyoming figure.  Photographs were included.  What was remarkable was that the family of about four had been requiired to take several saddle animals and a wagon, in order to get out, ot the out back.  It was a remarkable effort that took weeks to undertake.

Likewise, Theodore Roosevelt, who was admittedly rather wealthy and therefore probably not the best example, wrote a Colliers article about going hunting in Wyoming while he was a rancher in Medora South Dakota.  The trip likewise involved a wagon and several hands, and took weeks.  Indeed, in order to supply themselves the hunting party had to hunt all along the way, even though their plan was to go into the Big Horns to hunt elk.  A trip of that type turned into a rolling hunting trip just to make it.

Yet another example is provided in the book by B. B. Brooks on his life up until about 1920.  Brooks, who started off as a well educated prospective rancher and trapper and who became Governor took a hunting/fishing trip from his home in Natrona County to Fremont County.  I've forgotten the year, but it would be in approximatley 1900.  This trip with his family involved several horses and a wagon, and ultimately ended up discovering an unnamed lake in the high country of Fremont County.,  Again, it took weeks.

Rather obviously not everyone had weeks to devote to such endeavors and it would be completely untrue to suggest by this that only those with lots of time, and perahps lots of cash, engaged in outdoor activities.  Many average people did as well. But what that does mean is that for people who lived in towns such endeavors were almost certainly normally quite close to town.

Pioneer Wyoming rancher, Dick Latham, with antelope.

Another thing that this should make plain is that inter state travel was not what we might imagine.  Today it's a well known aspect of life in the rural West that travelling enormous distances in any one day are routine, far more so than elsewhere.  I've driving, for work, from Casper Wyoming to Lewistown Montana, and back, in a single day and I don't regard that as particularly abnormal. Generally, if a trip is 300 miles or less, I regard it as a one day deal.  If a trip is only 100 to 150 miles one way, I regard it as a short trip.

This would not have been the case, however, in the pre automobile era.  150 miles on a horse is a three day trip, normally, if a person is really pushing it.  Four days, or five, would be more likely.  There are examples of riders riding 100 miles or more in a day, but they're noted examples simply because they are extreme.  The Army standards was "forty miles a day on beans and hay", a rhyme which is not only notable because it is a rhyme, but because 40 miles is a long ways to riding on a horse.  It'ts particularly a long ways to ride if you have to do it day after day, as it becomes very hard on the horse.  Cowboys, then and now, generally never rely on one horse.  The 19th Century standard was seven horses to a man.

Travel long distance was normally by train, if a rail line existed, and quite frequently it did.  Wyoming had a few 19th and early 20th Century rial lines that carried passengers which are now completely absent, and the nationwide existance of rails to trails programs provides ample proof of that.  Most business or commmon people, if they needed to travel, took a train, if they could.

A nice example of how this worked is provided in Davis' book Goodbye Judge Lynch, about law in Big Horn County Wyoming.  Prior to the railroad coming in a practical trip in and out of the basin took weeks, not days.  And as a result, there was really no law in the basin, particularly as the distant sheriff of Johnson County, who had to travel by horse over the Big Horns to get there, could not really be there for any practical policing.  The railroad changed all that however and a person could then get there from many Wyoming localities in a day, or no more than two. This certainly made a huge differeance to lawyers, who could then actually defend cases in Big Horn County even if they lived in Natrona County, or Fremont County, or Laramie County.  It also made a big difference to the court too, as the judge didn't have to engage in an expedition to get there, even if he still had to travel a circuit from his home.  Indeed, harkening back to a much earlier era, it's interesting to note that East Coast circuit judges of colonial and early US history were in a mounted occupation, as the judge, and the lawyers, rode together from town to town in a circuit to adjudicate their casees.

All that must have come to a crashing halt on September 27, 1908, when the first Model T left the plant at Detroit Michigan, correct?  Well, no.

This is not to say that the Model T's introduction wasn't a big deal.  It was.  Automobiles, and motorcycles had of course been in manufacture for some time prior to the Model T (the first Harley Davidson came out in 1903), but they were extremely expensive and beyond the means of most people.  Model Ts were much more affordable, and indeed had been designed to be.  Ford's hope was that Most Americans could buy one, and he came darned near close to realizing that goal.  The car, and very rapidly modified examples that became early pickup trucks, were a huge success.  And no wonder. For the first time, people living in towns could buy a vehicle that didn't require storing a horse to move it, and which simply sat idle, ready for use, when not in use.

The extent to which cars spread very rapidly after the Model T, and because of the Model T, is almost impossible for us to imagine today.  Starting in 1908, by World War One the simple, and frankly rather primitive, car was everywhere.  The impact it had on town and city travel was enormous.  Fairly quickly after its introduction, and indeed even before it, the phenominon of driving into the country, or "touring" became quite popular  So popular in fact that more expensive models of automobiles, and there were a tremendous number of automobiles, offered "touring cars".  Americans rapidly became car crazy, although the evolution was not entirely welcome everywhere by everyone.  In farm regions cars were at first not particularly welcome, as they were conceived as a threat to livestock.  Once farmers realized, however, that owning a car. . . or truck, allowed them to get to town and back quickly, that soon changed.


In an area like Wyoming, this change was impressive.  For the first time ever it became easy for people living in a town like Casper or Laramie to travel some distance outside the town for a day.  And early cars were very high centered, almost like 4x4 trucks today, and very low geared.  Indeed, although they were 2x4 vehicles, they were quite well suited to rural travel.

 Ranch Truck, Big Horn County Montana, 1939.

This didn't, however, necessarily make long trips really easy.  Early newspaper articles from Wyoming are full of tales about locals driving long distances, such as between Cheyenne and Casper, and note that the trip took one or two days.  It now takes under three hours.  Of course, the trip was being made over roads that were really wagon roads.  It took some time before improved paved highways, at first very narrow, came in.  Indeed, interstate highways were non existant until after World War One, when an Army experiment gave them a boost by demonstrating that cross country automobile travel was possible, if extremely difficult.  After that an interstate highway system, the remote predacessor to today's Interstate Highways, started to come in, with the early highways named.  The highway across southerin Wyoming was the legendary Lincoln Highway. 

 Ranch truck, 1939.

Ford built the Model T up until 1927, an impressive twenty year long production run. By that time, more modern cars with some improvements had entered the scene. As the 1920s and 1930s arrived, cars became more recognizable to us today in terms of their features.  The Great Depression killed off the vast number of car compaies that existed up until that time, and fewer more productive companies remained, such as Chrysler, Chevrolet, Ford, Studebaker, Willys, Kaiser and Hudson.  By modern terms, the cars remained surprisingly suitable for dirt road travel, although they were much less the "truck" that the Model T had been.  An even later car, a 1954 Chevrolet, I once had was quite easy to drive on dirt roads as a rule, and I often took it fishing while I owned it, something I'd never do with any later car I owned.  Given its relatively low gears, heavy weight, and low horsepower high compression engine, it was also pretty good in snow.  It's no wonder, therefore, that you see photos of hunters with deer strapped over the hoods of their cars.  The cars could get a fairly far out, as long as the driver wasn't crazy about it.

1954 Chevrolet Four Dour Deluxe Sedan.

 1954 Chevrolet Deluxe in wintertime conditions.  While I'd hesitate to drive it in conditions like this, the car exhibited pretty good winter characteristics, save for the lousy vacuum wipers and the iffy personnel heater.

None of which meant that wintertime and really outback travel was easy.

As a rule, up until sometime after World War Two, families that owned a car; owned a car.  That is, they owned one car.  Most of those cars, even in the rural West, were cars, not pickup trucks, although pickups were always more popular in this region than in others.  Prior to World War Two, however, even those trucks were two wheel drive, not 4x4.

That fact is really significant in terms of the ease of travel.

Prior to the 4x4 vehicle, much of Wyoming was either periodically, or completely, closed during the winter.  We travel from town to town now when nobody, or only the foolhardy, would have attempted it prior to seemingly everyone owning 4x4 vehicles.  And if they did try it, tire chains were in order.  We still see tire chains, of course, but not like we once did.  Even as a kind in the 1960s and early 1970s I can recall tire chains being fairly common on cars.  Now I usually only see them on 4x4 trucks, and only when conditions are really awful out back.

And people just didn't drive to the back country after the weather started getting bad.  It just wasn't really possible. 

The impact of this was vast.  Ranches, for example, had started using trucks almost as soon as they were available, but the trucks were 2x4, not 4x4 trucks, up until after the war.  This meant that they couldn't go where 4x4s can.  Wintertime feeding operations, therefore, retained a lot of hay wagons.  Horses continued to haul sheepwagons up to summer pastures, and sheep tenders were horse drawn as well.  In the winter, ranches that had distant pastures, and sometimes even mountain pastures, kept a cowhand there all winter long.  He couldn't be driven in or out, he just stayed and came down in the spring.  The less motorized operation meant that more cowboys needed to be employed than current are.

 Heavy truck in Army use, 1917.

For outdoorsmen, this meant that seasons shut down, except those close to town, once the heavy snows came.  Nobody was fourwheeling in and out of a high country elk camp after the snows.  It couldn't be done.  Even prarie travel could be difficult.  People guaged the weather and stayed in accordingly. 

Most long distance travel continued to be by train, which are much less plagued by snows.  If, for example, a person wanted to go from Casper Wyoming to Lincoln Nebraska, they were likely to take the train, not drive.  Now, of course, you can't take the train, although you can probably take a couple of airplane commuter hops. 

Even summertime trips weren't as easy.  It's routine now to find people who will drive a 4x4 far into the backcountry to fish, for example.  But they can due that due to the 4x4 and would be much less limited, or at least have to take alternative travel, if they lacked one.  Many now will take ATVs even further, and it's not uncommon to see somebody haul an ATV up into the hills with a 4x4 truck.

The 4x4 truck, and for that matter the all wheel drive car, is a byproduct of World War Two.  It wasn't until the war that they were anything more than a specialty item.  The U.S. Army began to develop the 6x6 truck in earnest in the 1920s when no suitable commercial artillery "tractor" (i.e., truck) was available  The developed truck was what the artillerymen wanted, but it was very expensive to produce.  Fortunately for the Army, by the 1930s commercial manufacturers were ready to pick up what the Army had started.  

 6x6 2 1/2 ton Trucks on the Alaska Highway during World War Two.

The 6x6 truck was  the workhorse of World War Two, and it arguably was the single most significant item produced by the United States during the war.  People like to imagine that tanks, or guns, or aircraft won the war, and of course a good case can be made for any of them, but as the old saying goes, professionals study logistics, amateurs tactics.  The 6x6 truck gave the US such a  logistical advantage over its opponents that it would be difficult to exaggerate.  That advantage extended to all the Allies, as the 6x6 was supplied by the Army to all of them.  Indeed, for years after the war the Soviet Unions 6x6 truck bore a striking resemblance to the Studebaker variant of the 6x6 supplied to them by the US during the war.

The Army didn't limit itself to 6x6 trucks of course, it also put out specifications for 4x4 trucks.  While Chevorlet, and International are part of the WWII 4x4 truck story, it was principally Dodge that filled that need with trucks and a car that are the parents of almost all larger 4x4s today.

The father of every 4x4 pickup on the road today. . . a Dodge 1/2 ton Army 4x4 truck.

Dodge started in the late 1930s by making a 1/2 ton 4x4 truck for the Army. That truck soon gave way to a 3/4 ton truck.  It also made "command cars" for the Army, which predicted the large SUV of later eras.

The original SUV, a Dodge 4x4 command car.  Note the tire chains on all four wheels.

Dodge 3/4 ton Weapons Carriers, a 3/4 ton pickup truck.
Nice preserved 3/4 ton command car.

Most vehicle fans, in terms of World War Two U.S. Army vehicles, will immediately recall the 1/4 ton Jeep, which of course was also a very significant 4x4 car of the war.  It's really misunderstood in some ways thought, as it was an extremely light weight vehicle, and arguably not as important as the vehicles mentioned above.  None the less, it can't be ignored.

Franklin Roosevelt in a Jeep at Casablanca

A striking feature of the 6x6 and 4x4 trucks of World War Two is that they all used existing engines.  Therefore, to some extent, putting them into post war manufacture was fairly easy.  This did not occur as the 6x6s, as there was only limited civilian application for them, but Dodge and Willys both understood that there was a market for what they were making post war.  Willys, one of two manufacturers of Jeeps, basically kept its World War Two production line up and running and introduced the wartime Jeep as the CJ2A, which varied only slightly from the military Jeep (including the addition of a tailgate).  Dodge, for its part, restored the enclosed cab to the 4x4 3/4 ton truck it was making for the Army, which had been omitted in favor of a soft top in the military edition, simplified the box, and introduced the truck as the Power Wagon, a name it was already using during the war.

Both vehicles were phenomenally successful, although the Jeep never really lived fully up to its promise.  Marketed as a vehicle that could be used for anything, including being used as a farm tractor, it really could not be.  Nonetheless, it was a popular vehicle with sportsmen, and it continues to be to this day.  The vehicle probably more closely resembles a vehicle of the World War Two than any other vehicle made today.
1958 Willys M38A1 Army Jeep, in civilian use and repainted.  This version was introduced to the public as the CJ5.

4x4 trucks took off a little more slowly than Jeeps.  The Dodge Power Wagon, introduced in a 3/4 ton and 1 ton variant, were heavy duty vehicles that were a little more truck than most civilians wanted.  The original Jeep wasn't a very good "daily driver", but the heavy Dodges were definatelty not.  None the less, the original Dodge Power Wagon, resembling the Army product very strongly, was made all the way up into the 1970s.  In the 1950s a second, equally beefy, version came out with a V8 engine, which bore the name "Power Wagon" as well, but which were marketed as Power Giants, reflecting the fact that they were actually larger than the Power Wagon.  While finding only a limited market with sportsmen, the truck was a huge success with commercial and agricultural users.  I recall seeing Power Wagons still in use as late as the 1990s on some ranches.  In the meantime, Dodge began making lighter 4x4 trucks in the 50s, reflecting a less industrial marekt.
Dodge Power Giant.

While the Power Wagon was really too stout for use by most non business or non agricultural users, the utility of 4x4 truck wasn't lost on outdoors men and all the American automobile manufacturers soon started offering a lighter truck, often with running gear actually made by Chrysler or Marmot Harrington for that market.  In 1959 Ford finally introduced its own, all Ford, 4x4 truck, a good decade plus after Dodge.  Chevrolet followed suit in 1960, although it had been selling Chevrolet and GMC trucks with NAPCO parts since 1956. 

As this might reflect, while there was a market, the manufaucturers were unsure of it at first, and frnakly all the early 4x4 trucks were very heavy duty.  For that reason, in Wyoming, a lot of 2x4 trucks were around well into the 1970s, and they were the rule for town truck owners up through the 1960s.  4x4s were bougth by sprotsmen, but they tended to shy away from them as they were very heavy duty, rough riding, and there was a common well founded belief that they more expensive to maintain.  Even some ranchers and farmers were reluctant to really heavily use 4x4s, tending to keep a Power Wagon just for when a 4x4 was really needed.
1956 Chevrolet 2x4 pickup truck.

This means that the change 4x4s brought was slow in coming, but it did come.  The first big impact they had in Wyoming was on ranching.  The Dodge Power Wagon, in both its civilian and military surplus variant, ended the career of many cowboys just at the same time when many of them were returning from World War Two and looking for other employment in any event.  Equipped with the Power Wagon, there was no longer any need to keep a cowboy in the high country all winter long, as the rancher could drive there if he needed to.  And the Power Wagon replaced the hay wagon on many outfits.  

The 4x4 also meant, that for the first time, many really dedicated sportsmen could get into the back country muchlater in the year. The post snow fall elk camp became a possiblity for hte first time, with the hunters equipping themselves with pickup trucks or Travelalls (early full sized SUVs) and heading to the high country.  Quite a few Jeeps also were employed by them in that capacity, and the Jeep as a backcountry summer time vehicle came on rapidly.
Modern Dodge diesel 1 ton truck with stock trailer in heavy snow.

The WWII Dodge 4x4s were the predacessors of every 4x4 truck and SUV out there today, unless they're smaller, in which case the Jeep is.  That's opened up the country for us year around, an evolution which occured extremely rapidly.  In 1944 ranchers and outdoorsmen still couldn't reach the high country, or go out in heavy snow far from their home bases.  By 1949 they could.  Not everyone switched right away, particularly in town, but by the 1970s a high percentage of pickup trucks in  Wyoming were 4x4s. By the 1980s, they majority of them were.  Now, a 2x4 truck is a freakish oddity.
Dodge D150 1/2 ton truck, a direct descendant of the WWII Dodge military 4x4.  Indeed, with this body style, the Army would employ the same truck in a 1.5 ton version as the D880.

4x4s are now everywhere in the American West, and indeed, they're everywhere in general.  But that hasn't been the end of backcountry vehicle evolution.  Motorcycles made an early appearance on rural roads and then the "dirt bike" became a big, but temporary, hit in the 1970s. Following them was the 3 wheeler, a popular if dangerous light motorized trike.  Both the dirt bike and the trike came and went, but a newer vehilce, the ATV, appears to be a permanent addition to the scene, and not one that's an unqualified good thing.  Light, somewhat dangerous, but capable of going many places that even a Jeep could not, the hills are crawling with them.  Contrary to the expectations of some, they have not replaced the horse by any means in ranching, and like the dirt bike they've appeared and then started to disappear in that application, but many outdoorsmen now seem almost permanently glued to them. 

The ATV for those too cheap to buy an ATV.


Rich said...

I don't know if it was common anywhere else except in my area of OK, but my grandfather used to drive a 2WD 1/2-ton pickup (usually with a locker in the rear-end) around the farm.

But, he also had bigger trucks that did all the heavy work. You would haul the wheat harvest with them, take the grain bedsides off and haul hay to the barn (little square bales), then put the stock racks on and haul some steers to the stockyards.

He didn't own any trailers or stock trailers, so he didn’t really need anything bigger than a 1/2-ton. He was feeding square bales out of the back of the pickup, so he didn’t need a 3/4-ton with a bale bed to feed his hay. He moved cattle from pasture to pasture by walking them across or down the road, or by using the underpasses on the railroad (a railroad cuts through the farm), so he didn’t need to load cattle on a trailer to move them to the farm down the road.

Now, using bigger trucks to haul cattle is pretty rare (I used to see the loading ramps all over, now they are all seem to be gone). Square bales of hay are almost as rare, so people drive 3/4-ton 4WD trucks with bale beds to feed round bales and pull stock trailers.

Of course, the 2WD trucks of today are nothing like the 2WD trucks of 30 years ago. Plus, the dirt roads seem to be in a lot worst shape than they used to be (after 30 more years of the county grading them over and over again?), so a 4WD is almost required to get a truck that is stout enough to handle the mud and roughness of the local dirt roads.

Pat and Marcus said...

It wasn't just Oklahoma. I didn't address that in my overly long entry above, but 4x4s have really come on strongly post 1970 in some ways.

My father ever only owned one 4x4, and it was one he bought from me. Otherwise, he stuck with 2x4s. And it wasn't just him. My father in law told me once that his father, a life long farmer and rancher, never owned a 4x4. He just chained up a 2x4 when needed. A rancher friend of my father's, whom I knew fairly well, didn't get a 4x4 until the 1980s, relying on 2x4s prior to that, and he lived way up in the mountains year around.

Trucks were stouter at that time. And it was also commonly, and accurately, believed that 4x4s were simply more expensive to own. For that matter, most trucks, and cars, were worn out in that era by 60,000 miles, so people didn't keep them as long, and there was likely a disincentive to buy an expensive 4x4 if you could avoid it.

Of course, some ranchers did buy 4x4s as noted, perhaps most did. But what I should have additionally noted is that they were often the heavy Dodge Power Wagon. They didn't drive those every day. Most days, if they were driving, they were likely driving a pickup.

And it's also the case that people got by with lighter weight trucks, or rather ones that were rated to haul less. Again, my father never owned a truck that was rated at anything heavier than 1/2 ton. Those 1/2 tons were often pressed into service for weights higher than that, but they'd do it. My first truck was a D150, a 1/2 ton, but what a stout truck it was. By comparison most modern 1/2 tons are much lighter.

An odd part of this story is that at some point trucks really started migrating into town. Here we always saw some, but a lot of people didn't have trucks. Now, here, they're everywhere (although this has always been a truck heavy region). One of the byproducts of that is that trucks have gotten lighter or more car like over time.

They sure last a lot longer, however. And at least as to trucks, this is one area where manufacturers do make a big difference. Not all trucks are the same by any means.