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Equipment Hub: The pickup toolbox

Brad Nelson for Progressive Dairy Published on 18 October 2019
Pickup toolbox

At one end of the scale there’s the gargantuan service truck. It has more neat stuff on board than most people have in their shop.

An industrial size air compressor, generator, at least a 250-amp DC arc welder, a powered crane, battery jump-starting cable attachment points at both ends of the vehicle and a full set of hand tools (up to 2 ½ inch, plus anything specific to the operation above that size which could need attention in the field). It probably has a wind-proof sun and rain shield (monster-sized umbrella) which is attached and only needs to be unfurled, air and battery powered hand tools plus corded hand tools (since there is an on-board generator for AC current) and fluids that may be needed in the field – hydraulic fluid, motor oil, coolant, gasoline and diesel fuel. Of course, a good acetylene torch and a propane bottle and a weed-burner attachment, which can warm engines to get them to start in sub-zero temperatures are handy.



A first-aid kit including an AED (automatic electronic defibrillator), directions for summoning fire help, an ambulance and medivac helicopter from whatever far reaches the service truck will be called to, and fire extinguishers are helpful – all types, so there’s capability for dealing with dry grass fires, fuel and oil fires and electrical fires. And PPE (personal protective equipment) is a must – gloves, both leather and protective latex, dust masks, safety glasses and grinder-use face masks in addition to the welding hoods and cutting glasses for the welder and torches. That gargantuan service truck might even have a plasma cutter. It might even have a sign that says, “I can fix anything except a broken heart.”

I’ve seen dedicated service trucks mounted on heavy truck chassis (which would require the operator to have a commercial driver’s license) down to the size of a flatbed on a Ford Ranger pickup. What’s adequate depends on the operation. It depends on what machinery will be serviced in the field and how far it is from the home shop.

At the other end of the scale is the vehicle which is used as the “church car” or “date car.” On a good day, such a vehicle may have a screwdriver or a multi-tool in the console or jockey box (and on a good day, a flashlight that works).

The in-between service truck is your daily driving pickup. (If you knew the guys you were checking on were having a breakdown party, you would have driven the service truck.)

So “how much do you need” for a just-in-case toolbox, and how do you stow it so the contents are usable when needed?


How much do you need gets to be a very personal question. Some guys and gals are comfortable with a pair of pliers, a six-way screwdriver, an adjustable wrench and a flashlight. Some need more. More is available in stages.

Available from several sources for about $100 are tool kits in molded plastic cases that have both inch and metric wrenches and sockets up to ¾- inch or so, plus screwdrivers and Torx and Allen tips and rachets. These are about the size of a skinny briefcase.

Smaller sets are available at less cost, but I don’t view them as a good buy. Either of these options would fit behind or under the seat of a pickup.

An ammo can or similarly sized storage box is an alternative. Note that a genuine surplus ammo can will be 100% waterproof. Other than getting water inside while using it, it will protect tools from moisture. The downside is, it opens from the top and is deep, so tools would need to be just piled inside.

Vibration and water are the main enemies of toolboxes carried in the bed of a pickup. To help with the vibration issue, for a metal box, before you load it with tools, cut a piece of ¾-inch plywood to the exact size as the base of the toolbox. Now bolt it securely to the bottom, using at least six bolts. This will stop most of the torsional stresses that result in the box cracking on the corners in a short time. Next, restrict its ability to slide all over the bed, which makes it forever in the way and adds to its self-destruction.

If your emergency toolbox lives in an uncovered pickup bed, water is an issue. Even with my pickup box living under a solid tonneau cover, I still open each drawer and lightly mist (with a half-second burst) with WD-40 each fall. It acts as a water dispersant and helps prevent rust. Though I can keep the rain off of the box, foggy days and high humidity days still cause moisture to get to the tools. Covers are available or can be made from hay-tarp material that will keep rain and snow out of the toolbox.


My cure for socket organizers falling over and unloading was securing them to the bottom of the top storage area with sheet metal screws. Before loading a new toolbox (note that the one pictured was $85 new, on sale), cut drawer liner pieces to size, then liberally coat the bottom of the drawers and the top storage area with spray adhesive and press the liner pieces in place. This makes life easier for both the box and the tools. end mark

PHOTO: Toolbox. Photo by Brad Nelson.

Brad Nelson is a freelance writer based out of Washington.