The current craze for ever bigger pickups makes them more big boy toy than tool for men at work. What are you doing? Mr. Hall shouted from his tractor. He owns the farm next to my friend Dans. Dan was hoping Mr. Hall wouldnt come by that part of the field today.
Oh well. There was Dan, shoveling manure out of the back of his Ford Explorer. Im shoveling manure, he replied.
The old man thought it over for a minute. Then he asked, Why dont you use your truck?
Dont have a truck, Dan explained with great dignity.
Mr. Hall eyed him. Youre ill equipped for farming, he said. Then he put the tractor into gear and rolled off.
Its not Dans fault. Like most smallholders, he inherited the land from his grandparentsthe land, and not much else. He bought his SUV from a family friend, for way less than it was worth. It fits his wife and two kids. Lay the seats down and it will carry fence posts and firewood. Spread a tarp down on the hatch and it can even haul manure.
Sure, Dan would love a truck. But like most smallholders, money is tight. Every truck he looks at falls into one of two categories: (A) Its the right size, but so old its not worth the money. (B) Its the right age, but so big that he cant afford to fill the tank.
Thats the irony of the modern pick-up. It used to be that, if you drove a truck, you were either a farmer, a rancher, or some kind of handyman. It wasnt a status thing. It didnt make you tough or macho. It just meant thatwell, you needed a truck.
While productive sectors of the economy like agriculture and manufacturing continue to decline, and the trades are starved for manpower, we’ve never had less of a need for pickups. Yet sales continue to rise, and spiked even more sharply in 2020.
Trucks are also getting bigger. Way bigger. Look at the old Chevrolet C/K. Its half the size of the new Silverado. The 2021 Ford F-150 boasts a towing capability of about 13,000 lbs., or three dumpsters. Which is cool. But you know that 99 percent of the guys driving them wont haul anything bigger than a 2×4 to patch up their front decks.
Meanwhile, the old-school two-door is going extinct. Most of the models you see on the road now are like SUVs with a tiny bed stuck on the back. The new F-150 looks like it skipped leg day. The 2022 Denali seems to have a vestigial tail. The Hyundai Santa Cruz has a trunk underneath the bed, which is only wide enough to fit two backpacks. The promotional photos show folks riding around with their bicycle hanging off the tailgate. You cant make this stuff up.
Then there are all of the aftermarket enhancements. The whistling turbo. The roaring muffler. The glaring light bar. Folks pay up to $5,000 to make their diesels roll coal, which is a huge waste of fuel.
Car and Driver says the new Ram 1500 sounds like it ate a band of demons. Seriously, who are they marketing these things to? Not the farmer, who has to worry about waking up his kids when he goes to work at 4 a.m. Not the landscaper, who probably wont get much business if his truck rolls up to the clients house sounding like the Gehenna Symphony Orchestra.
These pickups arent designed for work. Just the opposite, in fact. The truck market is compensating for the decline of its traditional constituents: the independent, blue-collar worker.
This past March, Bloomberg did an interesting profile on the rise of these supersized pickups:
Since 1990, U.S. pickup trucks have added almost 1,300 pounds on average. Some of the biggest vehicles on the market now weigh almost 7,000 poundsor about three Honda Civics. These vehicles have a voracious appetite for space, one thats increasingly irreconcilable with the way cities (and garages, and parking lots) are built.
Styling trends are almost as alarming. Pickup truck front ends have warped into scowling brick walls, billboards for outwardly directed hostility. The goal of modern truck grilles, wrote Jalopniks Jason Torchinsky in 2018, seems to beabout creating a massive, brutal face of rage and intimidation.
Fair enough. Though Im still not exactly sure how we went from Farmer Brown toting hay bales in his little C/K to a whole culture of pickup-themed assholery.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old in a shiny new F-250 was rolling coal at some bicyclists when he plowed into six of them. When I was his age, I was driving a Ford, too: a prehistoric two-door the size of a new Camry. It didnt have seatbelts, let alone power windows. It didnt sound like it ate a band of demons, either. More like a big bowl of franks and beans. But it hauled as many bushels of strawberries as I could pick in a day. Which, you know, is what trucks are for.
At least they used to be. Pickups are quickly becoming part of the whole blue collar chic thing. Its like how actresses and politicians are really into wearing Carhartt jackets.
Country music used to be about going steady with your girl or getting eaten by alligators. (Or both!) Now its all about getting drunk, driving too fast, and blasting rap music. But in a truck! So its downhome, all-American, yada yada.
Its the same with guns. As farmers make up a dwindling share of the pickup market, hunters now make up a smaller portion of the gun market. Theyve been overtaken by shooters, which is a polite term for collectors. That means fewer gun owners today have a real, visceral association between pointing a weapon at something, pulling the trigger, and taking its life. Which probably doesnt make for a kinder, safer America.
Dont get me wrong. I love guns even more than I love trucks. But the culture is changing. More and more, trucks and guns are what my priest calls big boy toys. Theyre not tools. Theyre not for anything. Theyre just another consumer good, a fashion statement, an accessory. And they look great with a Carhartt jacket.
The market is flooded with big boy toys. Men arent focused on starting families and buying property the way they used to be. That makes owning a truck (and a gun) harder for folks who need them. Theyre more expensive and more heavily regulated. They also carry more of a stigma as the kids would say.
Too often, this Americana becomes a substitute for the American values theyre supposed to represent. Its performative, as the libs would say. We want the strength, stability, and independence that the yeoman farmer representsbut thats too hard, so well just roll some coal on a Prius instead.
Its easy to forget that neighborliness and modesty are small-town values, too. Just like its easy to forget that a nationalist loves, not only his country, but his countrymen.
Not for nothing, but truck and gun sales both spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 election. These big boy toys make you feel safe and strong as the world slips out of control. Like voting for Trump, theyre good in themselves. But (also like voting for Trump) theyre not going to save the country. Not by themselves.
Still, we can be too quick to judge these folks. Theyre trying to be real men in a culture that despises manhood. Theyre trying to be patriots in a nation racked with self-loathing. Theyre doing their best to make sense of a world gone mad. Just like you. Just like me.
Those big-booty pickups are still dumb-looking, though. Fair warning, guys. You can peel out of your suburban ranch, flying the Stars and Bars from your jacked-up Tacoma, blasting that FGL on the way to your job at Home Depot. But John Wayne will be up there laughing at you from the Great Beyond.
Michael Warren Davis is author of The Reactionary Mind. Subscribe to his newsletter, Noreaster.