Repair Shop On Wheels

November 27, 2008 06:00 PM
A service truck without a boom is only half a truck, say Ron Henggeler and son Keith, who farm and operate a center pivot irrigation setup and maintenance business near Schuyler, Neb.

"A knuckle boom is one of those things you don't think you need,” Ron says. "But if you get one, you'll find yourself using it every day.”

When the Henggelers acquired their first boom truck for their business, they used a ¾-ton pickup as a service vehicle. "We outgrew that service truck,” Keith says, "and we were running out of places to store stuff.”

When they spotted an ad for a used municipal flatbed truck with a knuckle boom, inspiration struck: Why not combine their boom truck and service truck into one unit? The vehicle they put together won them $500 in the service trucks category of Farm Journal's 2007 "I Built the Best” contest.

"The boom truck was a package deal from the factory,” Ron says. "We had already looked at what it would cost to move the boom from our old truck to a new one, and this cost a lot less.”Hydraulic and engine oil are stored in a com-partment under the bed in 5-gal. buckets. The cutting torch (inset) stores in a cabinet framed partially by the truck's headache rack.

The 35' telescoping boom simplifies jobs ranging from everyday tasks, such as removing saddle tanks from a tractor, to major breakdowns. "Our combine was on the highway when the hydrostat locked up,” Ron says. "It tipped forward, and the rear spindles broke. Using the boom, we just lifted the combine, put on new spindles and winched it onto a semitrailer.”

Other jobs have included removing dual hubs from a tractor and lifting the roof off a grain bin. "We've lifted anything and everything,” Keith says.

"A nice thing about the knuckle boom is it has check valves,” Ron adds. "That makes it safer than a fork lift.”

All seasons, all weather. The Henggelers equipped one side of the bed with tools and supplies for farming and set up the other side for their pivot business. They store seasonal machinery parts in metal containers, using the truck's boom to lift one container off the bed and replace it with another. They store parts and manuals in the cab. They also carry spare tires for whatever machines are in use.

For cold-weather starts, the truck engine is equipped with intake heaters. A multifunction auxiliary air tank on the air compressor doubles as an antifreeze inductor. "In cold weather, we put air system antifreeze in the tank,” Ron explains. "From there, it gets carried into the air lines, so our air tools don't freeze up.”

The Henggelers made the 25-gal. air reservoir by capping the ends of a 7"x7" toolbar. The reservoir also serves as a quick-draining condensation tank. "At night, we park the truck on a slope, open a gate valve and the air pressure blows out water and contaminants,” Ron says.

The two-stage compressor, with 200' of air hose, runs off its own gasoline engine. Extra fuel is contained in a 25-gal. auxiliary tank. During farming season, the truck pulls a 300-gal. diesel fuel trailer.
"We couldn't think of farming without this truck,” Ron says. "In some ways, it's more valuable than a fancy shop.”

Designed to haul heavy loads and carry a full supply of tools, Jared Loesch's service truck see frequent use.

Jared Loesch's custom-designed toolbox, which won the miscellaneous category in the 2007 "I Built the Best" contest, spends the farming season bolted to the bed of a service truck, which he also built. Along with a complete set of tools, the service truck carries an air compressor and welder in the bed.

Loesch, of Hoisington, Kan., started with a salvaged 1984 1-ton Chevrolet truck with a 6.2-cc diesel engine, dual wheels and four wheel drive. "The engine was blown, and the last owner purchased it for the axles," he says.

Loesch installed a 454-cu.-in. engine, a new four-speed transmission and 1-ton axles. He added overload springs in the rear. "I may replace them with air bag shock absorbers," he says. "The tools I carry are heavy."

The bed, which has been on two other pickups, was a project that Loesch's brother originally started as a high-school student. "I finished it up," Loesch explains. The sides are 6"x2" channel iron, and the center beams are 2"x5" channel iron. Extra stringers of 1½"x3" channel iron reinforce the underside.

The deck is beaded plate steel. "I applied five or six coats of rubberized coating to keep things from sliding around," Loesch says.

The hitch, salvaged from a wrecked pickup, was rebuilt and strengthened with heavy side brackets and extra gussets. For safety, Loesch built a rollbar from 2"x4" steel tubing.

Louvers behind the rear window cool the cab without limiting visibility. The four-door cab provides room for storage or additional passengers.

The truck earns its keep answering frequent service calls from farmers for whom Loesch works (in addition to a full-time job in town). "So far, I haven't found a thing to change," he says.

You can e-mail Darrell Smith at
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