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Top Shops: Best service vehicle

When Marvin and Matt Mechtel were envisioning their dream service truck, they did some out-of-the-box thinking. The result was literally a shop on wheels that is in a box.

As well-equipped as many small shops, the only thing the Mechtels' service truck lacks is much floor space. But it is ready to go to work servicing most any repair and maintenance chore in the field while providing an enclosed environment to work in.

"We tried to stock the truck with practically anything you'd use for field repairs. Plus, all the tools and other components like the compressor and generator set are out of the weather," says Marvin.

For their ingenuity, the father-and-son duo won top honors for the Best Service Vehicle in Successful Farming magazine's Top Shops Contest.

The home for the portable shop is a 1995 Freightliner FL 70 truck with a 24-foot van body that features a roll-up, full-width rear door and hydraulic liftgate.

"We found the truck in Kansas," Marvin recalls. "It had less than 200,000 miles on it, was in excellent shape, and was priced well under $10,000."

The Freightliner and its body needed very little modification for its new role as a service vehicle. Once they got it home to their farm near Page, North Dakota, the Mechtels set about outfitting the body.

One of the first items installed was a custom-built, 750-plus-gallon fuel tank mounted in the very front of the van body for good weight distribution. "It is plumbed to a 30-gallon-per-minute, 220-volt Tuthill pump feeding 50-plus feet of hose that is wound around an electric hose reel salvaged, along with its meter, off of an old fuel delivery truck," Marvin recalls. "All diesel fuel passes through a Centek water and particle filtration system."

Fuel hoses pass through a side door on the curbside of the truck. For easy access to the box, the Mechtels made a lightweight but stout-as-concrete staircase that when unfolded provides a sturdy handrail.

Positioning the truck's host of major tools took careful consideration. For example, the stationary generator set is at the front of the box near a fuel source.

Power from the generator is distributed along both sides of the body's walls for easy access. "The box has a number of high-wattage light fixtures to illuminate the interior for night work," Marvin says. "Plus, we mounted two 500-watt halogen lights outside on the curbside of the truck for doing outdoor repairs."

Next to the generator set and mounted to the wooden floor or reinforced walls along the left wall (as viewed from the back door) is a stacked toolbox and steel welding bench equipped with a vise and drill stand. Next to the stand is a Millermatic 250 wire welder. "The welder is by the back door so its cables reach the bench as well as outdoors," Marvin says. "Or we can roll it out on the liftgate and to the work site."

The last item on the left wall is a bench grinder on a stand. Along the right wall is a two-stage air compressor with an 80-gallon tank. That compressor feeds two reels holding over 50 feet of air hose each. One reel is near the side door; the other is by the rear roll-up door. Next to the compressor are a bulk engine oil tank with a hand pump, oxyacetylene cart, stainless steel parts storage and workbench cabinet and battery charger.

One of the truck's best features, Marvin feels, is its rear hydraulically operating liftgate. It not only provides easy access to the body but also acts as a work surface.

When Marvin and Matt Mechtel were envisioning their dream service truck, they did some out-of-the-box thinking. The result was literally a shop on wheels that is in a box.

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