Harvesting Corn with a 1976 Ford F-700
FTE‘s Tim Esterdahl puts a classic F-700 medium-duty truck to the ultimate test to see how it stacks up in comparison to today’s Ford trucks.
Anyone who has rented a large U-Haul truck lately knows that today’s medium-duty trucks drive surprisingly well and have plenty of power to haul thousands of pounds. But what is it like to roll back the clock and drive a 1976 Ford F-700? I got just that opportunity to drive the truck while helping a farmer bring in his corn crops. A day behind the wheel really showed how far trucks have improved.
The 42-year-old F-700 I drove was a medium-duty truck with a 361-cubic inch V-8 and four-on-the-floor transmission. It also had a 2-speed transfer case and a Harsh power-take-off system for a rear-dump bed. The odometer showed it had 50,000 miles on it, but those are farm miles, and the years of sitting outside showed. The interior was worn and the exterior’s blue paint wasn’t quite as bright as it was when it was new. However, these things didn’t really matter. This is a work truck, after all, and it isn’t heading to a car show anytime soon.
The F-700 is part of the sixth-generation of F-Series trucks that date back to 1948. This model was produced from 1972-1979, until the introduction of the seventh-generation in 1980. Today’s F-650 and F-750 were introduced in 2000 in collaboration with Navistar.
The 1976 model is a far cry from today’s medium-duty trucks in nearly every way. But these trucks were made to be workhorses, and that is exactly how they perform.
The 1976 model is a far cry from today’s modern medium-duty trucks in nearly every way; from the interior comfort, exterior styling, size and driving comfort. But these trucks were made to be workhorses, and that is exactly how they perform.
I got lucky and had the best truck of the group, mine had power steering, power brakes, lights, and a heater. It was the most luxurious model and these simple amenities made driving and working a lot better compared to the two less-equipped trucks we were using. The fact I had working brakes was a matter of contention among the other drivers.
Trucks like this F-700 are only put to use for harvest time, which amounts to just a few weeks running each year. The rest of the time they sit waiting to be used for driving the few short miles from the field to the silo bin. This means there really is little incentive to work on them. They were ran the gamut in their condition, and yes, disrepair. For example, one utilized a bungee cord to hold down the air cleaner cover, while another had a vise grip to keep the power take-off line attached to the lever, and one had just a working park light and that was it for lighting. Compared to these, I was riding in style.
For family farms, like the one we were helping at, these trucks are perfect and they last, rust not being an issue out west. Their simplicity makes them easy to get running each fall. Just a few hours of work were needed to get them ready to work, such as swapping a battery off a farm tractor, spraying some starter fluid in the carburetor, and checking the fluids. Fill it up with gas and these trucks are rolling.
During my day on the farm, I made four trips from the field to the silo loaded down with 14,000 pounds of corn. Once at the silo, an auger run by a power take-off shaft on a tractor transported the corn to the top of the bin. It is a simple operation, and with the auger and combine only able to run at a certain speeds, there isn’t any need to rush. Harvesting the corn simply takes the time it takes to get the job done.
Crisscrossing over the county dirt roads and over the rutted fields, driving the F-700 is a fun experience albeit stressful at times. While today’s medium-duty trucks can sometimes feel remarkably the same loaded or unloaded, the 1976 F-700 was substantially different.
Unloaded, the truck took off and shook considerably driving over the ruts or hitting a pothole. It also turned quickly and easily.
The F-700 loaded down was an entirely different story. It was sluggish off the line and hitting the ruts or potholes was decidedly muted compared to the unloaded experience. Turning a corner was something else entirely. The fear of tipping over is real and required much wider turns to navigate the truck through the corner.
What about tight cornering? Forget it about it. Leaving one field required such a maneuver and resulted in a mandatory three-point turn. There was simply no way to do it differently.
Throughout the entire day, I never pushed the truck faster than 40 mph unloaded, and less than that loaded. The truck had the power to go faster, yet there was no point, really. With three trucks working in unison with one combine (sometimes two when it was running), the trucks developed a work rhythm. As I pulled up to get loaded down, one unloaded truck was heading back towards the fields, and the third was finishing at the silo. Going faster, as a newer medium-duty truck would allow for, would only mean more time sitting around waiting for the combine and auger to keep up.
It was a memorable day and a nice change of pace from driving new trucks. These old workhorses still get the job done. Unfortunately, their time of usage is likely coming to an end in the next decade.
As parts get harder to find and prices for newer vehicles fall, trucks like the 1976 Ford F-700 will replaced with 1980s and 1990s trucks. Driving across the countryside, you can literally see the progression of farming equipment. Permanently parked in the fields are 1940s and 1950s International, Chevy, and Ford dually trucks. Their presence a somber reminder that the same fate awaits trucks like this 1976 Ford F-700 eventually.
It is a sad fact, and losing the driving experience of an old medium-duty truck is a shame. I enjoyed my time and I look forward to many more years of helping with the harvest before the F-700 is put out to pasture. I look forward to being reminded, each time I climb behind the wheel, how simple life used to be and what a pure driving experience truly feels like.