The Vehicle that Built America

dodge pickup

If you ask a group of people what type of vehicle best represents the fabric of America, you are likely to hear “the pickup truck.” It’s easy to understand why; this vehicle has been the primary mode of transportation for working men and their equipment for close to 100 years now. It has played such a critical role in the building of America that it’s almost hard to believe that there was a time when there weren’t any.

In the early 1900s

The first pickups were a DIY affair. As soon as reliable automobiles were being made, farmers, tradesman and merchants started buying them in stripped-down form (just chassis and cab) for foundation of what was be called a “truck.” These DIY trucks were being built all over America and an entire third party industry sprang up just to help to builders. After a decade or so of this, the major automobile manufacturers decided that they should get involved.

Ford started first

In 1925, Ford introduced the Model T runabout. This was a standard Model T chassis that Ford attached a small (56-by-40 inch) steel bed, adjustable tailgate, and heavy-duty rear suspension springs to. It was enormously popular.
It didn’t take long before ordinary car frames couldn’t handle the payloads that truckers were hauling. In 1929, Dodge built the Merchant Express truck including a heavy-duty cab, frame, and body. This shift in design and engineering set up trucks to get stronger and bigger over time.

Truck builders have been one-upping each other in power since the ‘30s, when Ford dropped a V8 engine into the Model BB. Its 65 horsepower bested all the competing V4s and V6s in the marketplace.

The Dodge Power Wagon

Through World War II, troops were the first to experience four-wheel drive in their Willys Jeeps. In 1943 Dodge brought out another famous four-wheel drive, the Power Wagon. By delivering power to all four wheels, the truck could haul huge payloads on either 7.5- or 9-foot beds over rough pavement, rocks, and dirt. After the war, ex-military wanted Dodge Power Wagons for civilian use. According to Kindle Dodge of Cape May Court House, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Cape May Court House, NJ, Dodge obliged and came out with their civilian version shortly after the war ended.

Creature comforts

Over time, burly trucks got easier to drive thanks to additions like automatic transmissions, independent front suspensions, and power brakes and power steering. But they also got better at being trucks: The 1973 Chevy C-Series “Dooley” was the first to feature dual rear wheels, which allowed it to haul up to 10,000 pounds.


Dodge wasn’t the first to drop a diesel engine into a heavy-duty truck, but the 1989 Ram was the salvo that sparked the great pickup power war. Built around a Cummins turbodiesel, which was common in commercial trucks, the flatbed had 160 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque.

Steel vs Aluminum

Steel has always been the backbone of the pickup, but efficiency standards have forced automakers to experiment with metallurgy to reduce weight—without crippling strength. Ford ditched the steel body on the F-150 and replaced it with heat-treated aluminum. And a 2019 update to Chevy’s Silverado will feature a cab made from a new lightweight steel composite.


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