Home » These Halved Pickup Trucks Will Totally Break Your Brain But They Serve A Handy Purpose

These Halved Pickup Trucks Will Totally Break Your Brain But They Serve A Handy Purpose

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If you hang around floatplane bases in the Pacific Northwest or British Columbia you’ll see a bizarre sight. When it comes time for a floatplane to be retrieved or launched, a half-size pickup truck comes out of nowhere to do the job. It’s a visual that can break your brain, but there’s a good reason they exist.

Chances are you’ve seen trucks like these before on social media. Two of the more well-known operators of these floatplane trucks are Seair Seaplanes and Harbour Air. Both of these airlines have sites in Vancouver and their equipment frequently shows up online. I’ve been asking these companies for further details well over a year. Sadly, neither company has ever returned my contacts. The biggest question I’ve had since at least early 2023 is simply why.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Despite not getting a response, I’ve refused to give up and have done my own research. Here’s why you may see goofy partial trucks driving around seaplane bases.

Getting Work Done

Most Of A Truck
Screenshot: L1011dal

Floatplanes are great aircraft because they don’t really need a runway. Can you find a large enough body of water? Great! Your floatplane now has a runway. Before the end of World War II, seaplanes, both flying boats and floatplanes, enjoyed dominance in the sky. It was easier to get passengers and goods around when a land-based runway wasn’t a required part of infrastructure.

Seaplanes lost their edge after the war, but they still serve vital roles today getting people and cargo to places where there aren’t land runways. For example, seaplanes are still a pretty big deal in the Alaskan and Canadian wilderness. They’re also just fantastic aircraft that you may want to own privately.

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Mercedes Streeter

Some seaplanes are amphibious aircraft, opening up an entire world of possibilities of places to set down, while others are strictly stuck to touching down on water or soft grass. However, you may still need to remove your floatplane from the water for maintenance, repairs, or to hangar it for the winter. But how do you do that when your aircraft doesn’t have wheels?

That’s where ground support equipment comes in. Maintenance shops working with floatplanes often have trailers with a central hydraulic lift designed to elevate the aircraft’s floats above the tarmac. Some of these trailers are even simpler than that.

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Elite Air Service

Check out these photos from the seaplane services offered by Elite Air Service in Michigan. This company’s floatplane trailer doesn’t look much different than the trailer you may use for a pontoon boat.

The next question is how to move the aircraft around once it’s on the trailer. As you can see, Elite Air Service just hooks the trailer up to a John Deere. I’ve also seen some operations use regular, unmodified pickup trucks. Some pilots also call this equipment “beaching gear.”

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East Coast Seaplanes, Inc.

Floatplane trailers have one more additional benefit that has nothing to do with storage or maintenance. If your floatplane is at an airport nowhere near water, the truck towing the trailer can drive down the runway while you throttle up the aircraft. Once the wings generate enough lift, the aircraft simply takes off from the trailer.

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The operators out west do things a bit differently. They’re still using trailers, but these trailers aren’t independent units. Instead, at the very end you’ll find a chopped-up pickup truck. These trucks range from classic to recent, but they all do about the same thing.

The Floatplane Truck

Seair Seaplanes1
Seair Seaplanes

For decades, seaplane operations out west from Vancouver to Renton have used these strange trucks to haul floatplanes out of water and around a base.

From what I have been able to find, these trucks are made by mating a custom floatplane trailer to a truck. The donor truck is a 4×4 and it gets chopped from the cab back. The transmission is then modified to be locked into four-wheel-drive and the truck is mated to the trailer.

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Harbour Air Aerospace Services
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Screenshot: Peter Reiquam

You’re probably wondering where the fuel tank goes in all of this, and the fuel tank is now in a box ahead of what used to be the truck’s front bumper. Sometimes the bed is shortened to just a couple of feet and the tank hides out in there. The truck also controls the hydraulic system, which sends a pair of rails up and under the aircraft, lifting it out of the water.

While I have not been able to find a detailed history of these trucks to explain their existence, I have found a reasonable explanation for why they appear to exist. By attaching a truck to the trailer, these floatplane beaching rigs become a lot like a forklift.

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The rails, which need to be aligned under the aircraft, are in front of the truck’s driver, aiding in their approach to pick up the floatplane. The truck, which is hanging off of the back of its now sole remaining axle, then has enough traction to pull the floatplane up the ramp, where the driver will turn around, get any necessary ground clearances, and then drive the floatplane to its destination.

All of this is happening in plain view of the driver. Another benefit seems to come from the fact that the driver doesn’t have to worry about trying to back up or align a trailer when the truck and trailer are one whole vehicle. One quirk I noticed is the fact that the steering is inverted. Turning the steering wheel right while moving forward turns the rig left and vice versa.

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Seair Seaplanes

Floatplane trucks appear to have been built out of all sorts of discarded vehicles from squarebody Chevy trucks to even an Oldsmobile Toronado. The latter makes a ton of sense since that car is already a burly V8 and front-wheel-drive, requiring no 4×4 trickery to do the job.

These trucks make sense for their operators because they never really need to be road vehicles ever again. Instead, they can hone in on their one job for the entirety of their working careers. So, that’s why these goofy-looking things exist. These once-whole trucks now serve an important job of extricating floatplanes from water.

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Harbour Air via YVR Airport

Still, there’s information I do not know and have not been able to figure out over more than a year now. Who builds these trucks? Are they cheaper than alternatives? Who was the first person to come up with this idea? What happens when these trucks are no longer useful? I tried to get these answers from Seair and Harbour Air without any luck.

Still, I’m dying to know. If you have any more information for me, please send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com.

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Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
16 hours ago

These are trippy…I love the Squarebody w/ flames…the Toronado one is crazy…looks like it’s about to scrape the ground

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
20 hours ago

Ahhh, the short lived cab rearward design trend.

Anonymous Person
Anonymous Person
20 hours ago

When I was in my teens, a nearby auto salvage yard had a Pinto that was cut in half behind the B-pillar. The operator sat in it, started it up, put it in 2nd gear, and the driveshaft operated an aluminum can shredder.

It was a really cool innovation in a redneck-do-it-yourself kind of way..

OttosPhotos
OttosPhotos
1 day ago

My head hurts looking at those trucks!

Myk El
Myk El
1 day ago

Tired: Flying Car
Wired: Flying Boat

Beigemobile
Beigemobile
1 day ago

I love that they mount the rear bumper.

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
1 day ago
Reply to  Beigemobile

such a good completionist detail.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
1 day ago

Lately I’ve been begging my wife (mostly unseriously, but it’s a fun dream) to let me get my pilot’s license, sell everything, buy a Grumman Widgeon, and live/travel in that. She does not share this dream with me.

FndrStrat06
FndrStrat06
1 day ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

We can dream together.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
1 day ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

My dream plane was a Grumman Goose, but that’s all based on how damn cool they look. Now you’ve made me Google the Widgeon, and it looks just as cool.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
1 day ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

Goose, Widgeon, Mallard, Albatross… they’re all awesome.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
1 day ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

If we are dreaming big, I want a Dornier Do X.

Goose
Goose
1 day ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Dream bigger. Get a new Viking DCH-515 and have them remove all the firefighting stuff and make it a badass living & travel quarters.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
1 day ago
Reply to  Goose

I really, really, want a Conwing L-16.

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
1 day ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Same, but with a PBY Catalina/Landseaire.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 day ago
Reply to  FloridaNative

Oh hell yes. Catalina & a pilots license is a lottery win thing for me.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 day ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Nah, what hou want is a Short Solent Mark III Flying Boat! The Oakland Aviation Museum has one you can visit. Their ex-BOAC Solent III, later owned by Howard Hughes appears in raiders of the lost ark dressed up as a Boeing.

https://www.oaklandaviationmuseum.org/aircraft-on-display

Lots of other cool stuff there too!

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 day ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

I don’t deny that’s seriously cool, Hugh, but I’m all about the bubble windows on the PBY.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 day ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Did she say “That sounds like a bunch of Bologna!!!”

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
1 day ago

“These trucks make sense for their operators because they never really need to be road vehicles ever again.”

Yet the white truck in the lede image is wearing a license plate on its rear bumper. I can’t imagine these are ever operated where that would be necessary, maybe if Seair ever gets back to you they can clear that up, too.

Last edited 1 day ago by Dead Elvis, Inc.
Clear_prop
Clear_prop
1 day ago

The maintenance hangars for Harbour Air and Seair are across a road from the boat ramp, so the authorities probably make them plate the trucks.

Kaiserserserser
Kaiserserserser
1 day ago
Reply to  Clear_prop

Must be an interesting experience when you take this thing in for an emissions test! Like it presumably uses the FWD tester, but it’s really more like the rear wheels actually driving.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
20 hours ago

They are not road worthy. They are hell to manoeuvre at the drive through and they are only single cab. All pickups must be crew cab or your kids will die if you take them somewhere. DUH!

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 day ago

Sounds like it’s time for a visit to the fabulous Pacific Northwest! There’s these gizmos, the Harbour Air electric float plane, linear-inductive SkyTrains, the JDM scene, the WWU Vehicle Research Institute in Bellingham, Sol Duc Hot Springs (which aren’t automotive, but are relaxing) and a bunch of aviation and automotive museums!

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 day ago
Reply to  Gubbin

LeMay Collections at Marymount in Tacoma is worth a visit.
Not sure if the Model T driving school is still in operation though. Hope so. What an experience, not an easy car to drive.

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 day ago

I hope so! WAAAM’s Model T driving classes are already booked up for the year. I want to go to the WAAAM fly-in though. Lots of antique and interesting planes I hear.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
1 day ago

They go farther south than Renton, I’ve seen them at a small bay on the OR coast too, over 20 years ago. Most of those were FWD cars, from sub-compacts to the downsized Eldo/Toro/Riv. They seemed privately owned as several were parked with their planes, or boats on them, and a few were lined up empty. A big reason, there at least, was maneuverability as it was a very small and tight place.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
1 day ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

Now that I have a little more time. We were talking about Renton, 4×4 trucks that were cut off at the cab and turned into FWD and the biggest Eldos being mated with a trailer, I’ve got 3. I lived in Renton for a number of years not that far from the lake/airport.

  1. Not too far from where I lived there was a guy that rand sprint cars, that I regularly drove by. At first he had a traditional, at least for the area, two axle trailer for hauling the car. It included a tire and rack at the front. One day one of the final 500 ci Eldos showed up. It got cut right behind the rear window while the trailer lost its tongue and the two were joined. He kept it until I moved away from there.
  2. A then new Chevy pickup car hauler that I saw several years running around Renton and the general area a couple of times. It was cut at the back of the cab and a very low flatbed with a pair of torsion independent wheels on both sides. The resulting deck was less than a foot off the ground for easy loading.
  3. Up the hill from the lake is the King Co shops, where the fix the county’s vehicles and then auctioned them and other surplus off twice a year. A couple of Dodge Pow’r Bed trucks came through. They were 2500’s and again the frame was cut off behind the cab. However they kept the outer bed sides and tail lights. New inner bed sides were added to about the width of the wheel wells. A frame was fabricated that traveled up inside the new wider bed sides. A swing arm was fabricated that the outer stub of the rear axle and the brakes were bolted too. The swing arm was sprung by the factory leaf springs that were moved up well into the bed sides. Hydrualics were fitted that dropped the new tub between the wheel wells to the ground. Instead of a tail gate it had a side swinging round tube gate.

Related to a 4×4 truck cut in half to make a very specialized FWD truck but not Renton. I saw in a 60’s Popular Mechanics a small article about a MD International 4×4 truck who’s frame was cut at the cab. The frame they built on the back was designed to straddle a shipping container or similar cargo, lift it up and drive off. It too used some sort of independent axles to keep the center of the vehicle clear.

Gubbin
Gubbin
1 day ago
Reply to  Scoutdude

Between the King Co shops, Boeing, and suppliers, there’s a lot of mechanical ingenuity around there. I sure do miss Boeing Surplus.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
1 day ago
Reply to  Gubbin

Yeah I miss Boeing, well the “old Boeing” not the one that MD purchased with Boeing’s money and the good old surplus store I purchased a few things before they closed it down. I have purchased a few things since as they now use Ehli Auctions to dispose of surplus items. I do drive by the old surplus store fairly often as the warehouse for the non-profit I’m involved with is near by.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 day ago

We differentiate between trunk and frunk. Are these technically frailers?

These are important questions people!

Last edited 1 day ago by Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
1 day ago

Maybe they could be called leaders and not trailers.

Last edited 1 day ago by Taco Shackleford
Bearddevil
Bearddevil
1 day ago

Well, since it’s not detachable anymore, I’d say it becomes a rear-control truck.

Nick Owens
Nick Owens
1 day ago

This is quality internet, right here.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 day ago

While at my daughter’s place with my 13yo grandkid, we had some time when the kid needed a break from school and such. We took a ferry from Seattle to Victoria BC, were able to get lunch and wander around for a couple of hours. I had purchased a couple of art prints there over 40 years ago and found the gallery and was able to talk the folks there to learn that the artists were still active. And then the highlight and point of the journey, the return flight on a float plane! Nice weather, clear skies, smooth drama-free trip all around. Float planes are great! I love flying, so it was a nice highlight.

Idiotking
Idiotking
1 day ago

I was lucky enough to fly Chalk’s from Miami to Bimini before they shut the airline down. It’s definitely a thrill to take off from a runway, land in the water, and be on the plane as it trundles up the ramp on land to the “terminal” (which was just a one-room building next to the water). I think we may have pulled our own luggage from the cargo area. Seaplanes are amazing.

CTSVmkeLS6
CTSVmkeLS6
1 day ago

The cover photo is Adrian‘s favorite configuration of all the GMT 400 body styles. I know it!

Sklooner
Sklooner
1 day ago

My theory is somebody cobbled one together from a wrecked truck, somebody else saw it and so on

Maymar
Maymar
1 day ago
Reply to  Sklooner

Yeah, I sort of wonder if it started out that 4wd trucks with rusted out frames were reasonably abundant and cheap out there.

Andrew Daisuke
Andrew Daisuke
1 day ago

kenmore air operates seaplanes out of Seattle, never seen anything like these things!

Paul B
Paul B
1 day ago

Fun fact for the day:

YVR airport has a floatplane dock. You can transfer from a flight from over the pacific onto a seaplane.

Thomas Hundal
Thomas Hundal
1 day ago
Reply to  Paul B

Can confirm. Did a transfer from the other direction (YYZ to the Sunshine Coast) and it was sweet. The restaurant at the floatplane dock also has surprisingly good appetizers.

Last edited 1 day ago by Thomas Hundal
Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 day ago

Are they cheaper than alternatives?

Doubt it. They got these for half off.

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
1 day ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

So they *are* cheaper than the alternatives. “They” refers to these trucks in that rhetorical question, as made clear by the preceding statement.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 day ago

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It was a half-assed effort.

Last edited 1 day ago by Rad Barchetta
Ben
Ben
23 hours ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Still more ass than these trucks have.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 day ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

I see what you did there

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