I’ve always had an affinity for cowboy stuff, even before I owned a horse. The idea for a stock rack has been on my mind for a while, particularly after reading this post on The Sagebrush Sea. I bought a house without horse facilities and got to design and build the stuff I wanted. Fencing was first, of course, followed by a barn. A round corral was next. It couldn’t be any old round pen, it had to be a big one. Sixty feet of space for me to get bucked off in, and thirty yards of sand to cushion the blow.
When the requisite structures had been taken care of, I had some leftover materials cluttering up the boneyard. A few pitch cuts here and there, with some treated post remnant corners and a bunch of lousy fill later, I had a ramp. At first, I figured I’d use it for loading and unloading ATVs and dirt bikes (neither of which I own), but then the wheels started spinning in my mind.
What if I had a horse truck, like they did in the not-so-distant past? I had seen the loading ramps at different Forest Service cabins in the mountains, where truckloads of hardy pack animals had descended from the back of two ton grain trucks and pickup beds.
What if, instead of having to worry about tipping my big gooseneck rig off the side of a mountain road, I could simply squeak around the tight corners in style? What if I got a killer deal on a milk cow and needed to get her home? What if I decide to raise a whole herd of goats for weed control? Images of showing up at the sale barn with an empty truck and leaving with a few promising kill-pen horses behind the cab ran through my head. Before I knew it, a small set of working pens adjoined the round corral, fed by my ramp.
I bought a couple of horses that were in a tough spot, and used my new pens. They worked great, but I couldn’t try the ramp yet because I didn’t have a stock truck. It bugged me every time I looked at the ramp- why didn’t I just break down and make it happen?
To top it off, I have an old F350 with a flatbed sitting around most of the time. Occasionally, I’ll use it to go get lumber or a single round bale, but for the most part it just sits. It’s got sentimental value as the first new vehicle my dad ever purchased (also the first delivery truck for our family’s business, Dakota County Lumber).
The truck is cool in a kind of Tonka Truck way, with its bright yellow paint job and chrome stacks that rumble when the old 460 lights up. I’m sure the high school kids in East Helena would dig it if I put it up for sale, but I’m not willing to get rid of it.
Fast forward a year, and I’ve gotten married to a fantastic woman. I know she’s a keeper because she didn’t laugh in my face when I told her about my stock rack idea. In fact, she was supportive of it. Some of her understanding might have to do with the fact that one of those tough-luck ponies is now her horse, and she’s not excited about continuing to ride just around the house. We’ve got a little access behind our place, but not to the type of country we want to ride in. Rather, we’d like to load up and head into the hills for an overnight with the dogs and horses, and getting my big trailer up there is no joke. I laid it on pretty thick about how she and her girlfriends could just load up and go, too. No trailer, no problems.
Anyway, I had the green light to go ahead, and there was a little spare time and money here and there. My local steel supplier is pretty tickled with this goofy cowboy, because I’ve wound up spending way too much on my contraption to get it the way I envisioned. Actually, it’s not even close to done, but it’s the way I want it—for now.
Here is how I built a stock rack for my flatbed truck:
First off, I had to iron out a materials list, so I got out my tape and a pad of paper. There are about five iterations of this stock rack in notebooks in my office, and each one would have worked. Now that it’s done, though, I’m glad I chose to build it with a heavy, 1 & 1/2-inch square tube frame. I kicked around the idea of using channel iron and carriage bolts, along with full-dimension 2-by lumber, but decided against it. This turned out just how I wanted it. It’s heavy but very stout, and it’s safe for the horses. The top rail is six feet high, and the gate goes up to 6′ 6″. The center bar is 42 inches high, with solid sides below.
Keep in mind, I’m not a skilled welder. I write books and occasionally swing a hammer for a living. Throughout the project my ability improved, but the angle grinder still got a workout. I did all of my welding with a Hobart Handler 125 running flux-core wire.
Part of the planning for this stock rack was that I didn’t want it to make my truck unusable for other things, so I had to figure out a set of telescoping legs for it. Now, with a high lifter jack, I can have the rack off in about as much time as it takes to unhook a trailer. Unfortunately, I had to bump the legs out a little farther so I could avoid rubbing on the truck bed. It cost me 4 feet of steel tubing, but gave me second opportunity to angle the front legs for stability when the wind picks up.
I got the base all set, then put my effort toward raising the roof, so to speak. Uprights went in and more horizontal pieces followed, until I had a cage framed up.
The truck has a custom diamond-plate aluminum bed on it, and I wanted to keep the look in some way. Welding aluminum is not something I should consider right now, but mild steel checker plate would work. In addition to the exhaust stacks, I have two tanks beneath the bed for fuel, with the filler tubes right at the corners. I had to angle the front of the rack on either side to keep the fuel fill tubes accessible, and to protect the horses from the hot exhaust.
In the rear, I had to come up with some sort of gate. After perusing Google Images for years with this project in mind, I had some sort of idea of what to do. I fabricated a gate out of lighter steel, then created tracks for it to ride in by welding on some flat stock.
I ran to the local lumber yard and picked up some good ¾-inch plywood for the enclosure and mounted it with self-tapping screws (I drilled pilot holes anyway). With our dry climate in Montana, I figured that untreated plywood would last quite a while, particularly with a good coat of paint, and it saved quite a bit of money over buying treated stuff.
Little details, like cutting out a rear-view hole and mounting expanded metal over it, took a while.
I started this project because of a ramp I have, so I welded on a pair of vertical bumpers to protect the aluminum truck bed when I back up to load or unload. They’re 3/8-inch plate steel that stand the rack off about two inches from the loading dock, so I put an extra flap of rubber mat near the gate to span that distance. Unfortunately, not many places in the mountains have a ramp anymore, and my old mounts don’t seem to enjoy jumping into the truck bed. I had to make a ramp that would go along for the ride. Luckily, I was able to use my bumpers as hinges. A little figuring for angles and a couple pins were all it took. The ramp is made of 2” square tubing for the sides, with 1 & ½” square tubing spaced 16” on center for support. Another sheet of 3/4-inch plywood makes up the deck, and 1 by 4 cedar I had lying around makes the cleats.
When I finally got all the pieces in place, it was time for paint. Since I had spent way too much on this thing already, I didn’t intend to see it rust away to nothing. Rust-Oleum makes specially designed primers and paints for new metal, and I used both after wiping the entire rack down with acetone to remove any oil.
The outside got painted black, and the inside got a coat of white so the horses would find it more appealing. The metal interior pieces got the Krylon touch because I had a lot of white rattle-cans laying around. For the plywood, I got the cheapest black paint I could find and went to town with it. On the plywood inside, I used old paint from my master bathroom ceiling. It wasn’t ghost white, but it turned out pretty well. I also painted the gate yellow, just for kicks.
I picked up a couple of aluminum turnbuckles at the local hardware store and fastened the rack down to the truck’s rub rail with some yellow chains I had around the shop. They’re not quite stout enough for my liking, so I grabbed some ratcheting chain binders from my flatbed trailer before I took the horses anywhere. In the future, I’ll get a more permanent solution, possibly some braided cable with a good heavy turnbuckle on each side.
I also added ½-inch plywood and thin rubber mats to the bed, so the horses’ weight would be dispersed more equally, and so they wouldn’t slip.
When the paint was dry, I drilled a few holes and added pulleys and a rope cleat for the gate, plus eye-hooks for the ramp strap. Everything seemed to be in working order, so I tried it out with Chance the Bay Wonder one evening. He never hesitated, just walked right on up into the truck. Success!
The actual test for this rig was a few weeks later. I had a buddy coming from Minnesota for an elk camp, and needed to get the horses up on a nearby mountain to get our camp packed in. Cautiously, I loaded some gear in the truck, then grabbed two horses and headed for the hills. The road was narrow and winding, and it had been really dicey the year before when I pulled my gooseneck trailer up to the parking area. This year, a massive tree was lying on the inside of a corner, and I had to break off branches with my truck in order to get by. My downhill-side tires were nearly at the edge of a steep drop-off. There’s no way I could have gotten my trailer up the mountain this time around. It was exactly the situation I had in mind when I began this project.
I arrived at the trailhead and unloaded my ponies.
They stood the ride pretty well, only shifting around a small amount as we drove. The horses seemed no worse for wear when I got there, and they readily climbed back up the ramp and into my horse truck for the ride back down the mountain.
There are a few modifications I’ve got in mind, like a set of hoops and a canvas top, along with a tack box over the truck cab. Also, I’d like to put a winch and pulley on the ramp. For now, though, I’m just going to use it as-is. There are too many mountain trails that I haven’t seen yet.
The rig is a little top-heavy with horses in it, but it’s no big deal as long as I drive sensibly. Most of the time people drive too fast anyway. All in all, I’m really pleased with it. My little Tonka truck looks kind of funny with a stock rack on it, but I get a kick out of seeing people do a double-take when they notice the horses. And at least I’m not stuck at the bottom of the mountain!
Thanks to my beautiful bride for her patience with this project. It got a little out of hand.
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Keep Your Heels Down!