A Visit With Some Medium Duty Service Trucks

A step up in capacity and capability from the basic service truck. A late model Cummins diesel Ram.

The service trucks in this post are heavier duty than the basic one-ton trucks discussed in A History of Light Duty Service Trucks

These mid-size trucks are often more specialized in equipment and fittings, both because the trucks themselves have the capacity to handle the tasks, and also because the specialized equipment itself is bulky and difficult to make portable.

A typical medium-duty service truck, here a Ford, includes a lift, a generator, and a welder, which are generally all built-in to the bed of the truck.

Here is an aerial shot of a Ram, showing the Miller welder in blue (welding equipment, like agricultural implements, have brand-specific colors), a lift, and a generator hiding in the forward section of the truck bed. The reinforced bumper carries a solidly mounted vise.

The typical mid-size service truck, generally based on a cab-and-chassis foundation, can be built around either a dedicated service body, or constructed around a solid flatbed foundation, with modular units added to the flatbed frame. The service bodies themselves tend to have major reinforcement (and weight), in order to support cranes and lifts. These trucks are not always specialized, and some are simply extended-length, higher-capacity versions of the basic service truck format. These extended-length trucks are actually hybrids of sorts, a lighter-duty service truck, extended a bit. Their length makes them more difficult to maneuver in tight places, but they aren’t fully peers with the other, heavier-duty trucks described here.

The flatbed truck origins are visible on this Ford truck. The service boxes have been added above and below the existing full-width bed. Stabilizing jacks are mounted between the bed and the cab, and at the rear corners of the truck, but are not extended in this photo.

The basic white Chevrolet service truck, actually a relatively lighter-duty vehicle, though the extended cab makes this truck very long. The roof rack will keep the truck out of many parking garages, due to overhead clearance issues.

While the light duty service trucks mentioned in the previous article can typically fit in an ordinary parking spot, and can navigate many covered parking garages without issue, the longer and larger trucks begin to run into issues. As people with “dually” long-bed pickups and “lifted” trucks have found, they need to park across multiple spots in the backs of parking lots, and their trucks often don’t play well with tight covered parking garages.

Another element of these trucks is that the exposed equipment assures they are typically parked either at a work site or in secure storage. Unattended, open parking is not a good habit with one of these (Home Depot parking lots are a common exception). They are not trucks to be parked unattended for significant lengths of time in places accessible to the public.

While a handyman may use a light-duty service truck for daily driving, and can typically keep everything locked up and mostly out of sight, it gets more difficult to do so with the larger, more elaborate rigs. The economics of such larger rigs also comes into play. The cost of such heavier duty equipment is relatively very high, and the equipment is typically dedicated to accomplishing specific tasks, so the trucks are usually employed at job sites full-time.

These larger trucks are typically seen at job sites or en route. The open areas provide stable and useful work spaces, but the open-air construction means that equipment is open to outside access.

Similar to their light-duty brethren, these trucks have significant segregated storage capacity. Add up the installed equipment and the inventory of parts and tools carried in the cabinets, and these trucks will reach their rated capacity very quickly. This one is a Ford.

Generators and air compressors tend to be standard equipment in these rigs, but other features tend to be more job-specific. Many of these trucks are used to service other heavy equipment, so lifts are used to move heavy parts around. Other trucks are used for aerial work, so will have scissor lifts for materials or cherry pickers for workers. Water well maintenance rigs of this size are common, too. All of these jobs involve extending people or tools out in different directions, often leveraged out to the side of the rig, which means a particularly stable platform is required. It is typical to see stabilizers or jacks either extended from or placed around the perimeter of the frame of the truck, to keep the rig from leaning or tipping while loads are being moved around.

A Ram truck with stabilizers supporting a cherry picker.

A stabilized Ford truck with its crane extended.

A stabilized Ford truck servicing a water well. Three photos, three trucks, and three different versions of stabilizers.

Trucks in this range serve some other varied roles as well. They can carry lubricants for servicing off-road construction equipment, or they can be used to change the tires on large on-road trucks or off-road equipment. Road maintenance crews can use specialized service trucks for painting stripes, setting cones, or as sign trucks, directing traffic. Gas and electric companies will use this size truck for service and maintenance of their infrastructure, and oil rig servicing firms will often use this type of truck for general maintenance out in the field. Once you start looking around, you will see these trucks everywhere.

This Ford truck appears set up for heavy equipment servicing.

Heavy equipment tire changes create a need for service vehicles.

Snow and other materials need to be pushed around at times…this diesel Ram can do it.

It is very difficult to find vintage medium-duty service trucks, or even photos of them. They seem to have emerged out of a marriage of the lighter-duty service trucks and the heavier-duty flatbed trucks of decades past. While medium-duty cab-and-chassis units have always been available, medium-duty service trucks, as we know them, seem to have become mainstreamed only in the last few decades. Like the smaller trucks, the older examples tended to be painted different colors, if the photos are to be believed, while the more modern iterations are almost universally white.

An older (late ‘80s/early ‘90s) Ford medium-duty service truck. It’s not white!

Another older, higher capacity Ford rig, faded and aged, but also not white. Somehow, the wear and tear on these older trucks can look good and appropriate.

While the basic layout of the medium duty service truck is universal, there are still so many variations that can be had, as the manufacturers are quick to step up to offer “improvements” or “customizations” (for a price).

A covered high-roof bed on a Ford. This one combines features of a service truck with those of a panel truck. It has a tailgate lift and roll-top rear door as well. Stahl was one of the original service truck body manufacturers, three-quarters of a century ago, and it is still going.

Stake sides and tail added to the rear floor area, for either carrying space or working space. Also a substantial roof rack on this Ford. The options list can be endless.

The price tags on these rigs are not for the faint of heart, as they can often exceed $100k new, if equipped with lifts, cranes, or other options. Medium sized fleets may have rows of trucks, though they are often leased or otherwise carefully financed.

Someone has quite an investment in Ram and other trucks. They will need to be put to quite a bit of use to make the purchase or lease an economically sound one.

This time around has been a bit of a survey, like an adult version of the Richard Scarry children’s car and truck books. These service trucks are vital to building and maintaining our way of life, yet they are largely invisible to the average person (but we aren’t average around here, are we?). The service trucks go larger and heavier yet, so there is one more collection to follow.

The Ram truck used to service our water well a few years ago. These trucks are everywhere, when you look for them.