A Few Heavy Duty Service Trucks, and Some Musings

A typical service truck, upsized to heavy duty. A big rig for big jobs.

Bringing the service truck (or utility truck) saga to a close, I am adding a few heavy duty examples. Service trucks of this size and rating appear to mostly be dedicated to either maintaining and repairing heavy off road equipment, or to the maintenance and repair of the largest on-road equipment.

Economic necessity means choosing the least expensive, generally lightest capacity vehicle, with which to accomplish the assigned tasks. Few users need the largest vehicles, but when they do, the trucks tend to be dedicated to a single purpose, say, water well drilling, heavy truck or bus towing, or refueling. As such, the extensive cabinetry and layout of a traditional service truck is not necessarily part of the rig (though cabinets often get stuck here and there, around the main installed equipment).

A rig incorporating a built-in lift capability, to move men, equipment or materials to high places. An example of of a service body mounted in combination with specialized features.

That said, field service and maintenance can still require an all-in-one truck loaded with parts, tools, and the typical dedicated equipment (lift, generator, compressor, welder). As the servicing is often done far from headquarters or any permanent maintenance facility, the heavy duty service truck, when such a capacity is necessary, is put into the field. These heavy trucks typically are built on a heavy truck cab-and-chassis, such as Kenworth, Peterbilt, or Mack. They share most of the features of the medium duty trucks, but on a larger scale, with a higher rating and capacity for work. Like the lighter duty trucks, white wasn’t always the universal color, but recent builds are generally painted white.

Field maintenance of heavy-duty off-road equipment.

Heavy duty trucks for lifting heavy loads.

All service trucks can incorporate certain vanity items, such as diamond plate trim, a fancy paint job, or vinyl logo wrap. But the heavy trucks seem to be the place where excess and extravagance can be most extreme. Once one leaves behind the constraint of economy of cost to purchase, outfit, and operate, anything is possible. Service trucks are not exactly aspirational things, but that doesn’t mean that someone, somewhere, isn’t trying to build the biggest, baddest service truck ever seen. With that in mind, I present a blue and silver Peterbilt. The detailing and polish suggest that this is either a show rig, or one that is exceptionally expensively fitted out and well maintained.

Big and new and shiny (and not white).

Lots of capacity for lots of stuff.

The further one goes up the service truck pecking order, the more specialized and dedicated to a specific task is the functionality of the truck. Along the way, many of the traditional service truck features get reduced in significance or entirely done without. In the meantime, service truck features can be added to builds that ordinarily wouldn’t carry such attributes. I am thinking here specifically of heavy duty tow trucks and fire fighting rigs, that incorporate arrays of externally accessible tool and equipment cabinets that lesser versions often do not carry. As these big rigs tend to incorporate an “all-in-one” build-out philosophy, features of a service truck become part of, but not central to, the various functions of the truck.

Big-rig tow trucks often incorporate elaborate cabinetry.

Newer fire trucks often incorporate a significant number of equipment cabinets. Quick and easy access to the equipment can be a lifesaver.

Doubling back to the concept of a service truck generally, the rigs are all around us, every day. Like counting Beetles as a kid, or perhaps counting Miatas or Teslas today, one realizes how many of them are out there, invisibly going about their work and tasks. As the basic service body weighs in the neighborhood of one thousand pounds and up, none of these trucks are truly “light duty”, and their capacity starts at one-ton, and goes way up from there.

A heavy duty service truck often has a familiar layout in a higher capacity package.

Given that service trucks are largely, but not entirely, a North American phenomenon, it is interesting to me that the rest of the world has mostly failed to incorporate service trucks into their fleets of work trucks. Is the service truck an anomaly that somehow took root in the U.S.? Is the functional capacity and layout inappropriate to most of the rest of the world? Does it have something to do with a peculiarly American identity? Is the modularity of American cab-and-chassis truck construction not carried over into the rest of the world? Are the economics of service truck capacity versus intended use not economic for other parts of the world?

Vintage heavy duty service trucks are impossible to find. This antique Mack truck appears to have a newer utility body added to an older rig.

I actually lean a bit towards that last explanation, simply because work trucks are the ultimate “form and function packaged economically as efficiently as possible”. A work truck is primarily chosen for fitness to the task, at the most minimal purchase and operating cost, with maximum longevity and reliability. Perhaps the service truck pencils out in the American economy in a way that it does not do in other places. Given that the trucks, with their hefty size and weight, are not particularly fuel and cost efficient to operate, relative to other choices, maybe potential buyers in other places can’t make the economic math work out. Fuel has generally been cheaper in North America than in most other places, even as distances to job sites often tend to be further out in the field in North America.

Pushing the absolute limit of the definition of a heavy-duty service truck.

Maybe it comes down to the service truck just being an American thing, with no other significant meaning or implications. Given that transportation has been so internationalized, to the point where a car built in the U.S., Germany, or Japan usually has no real appearance or functional difference, the peculiarity of the American service truck can be celebrated for nothing greater than “they are common here, but nonexistent in most other places”. Perhaps that is enough.

“Field Service”. A grimy truck ready for more work. The heavy duty service truck is a rarefied niche in the truck world. You don’t see them on the road every day, as one sees their lighter-duty cousins.


A History of Light Duty Service Trucks

A Visit With Some Medium Duty Service Trucks