Cushy cabs are nice, but hauling capacity and workhorse durability are the main reasons farmers drive pickup trucks instead of Buick Century sedans. You need that box to throw stuff in and go. And although it's hard to improve on the simple concept of open hauling space, there are plenty of new technologies and products that enhance the utility of the truck box. Here's a quick look at four of them.

Tough box

In the old days you had this choice: Buy an expensive bed liner or end up turning a rusted-out pickup truck box into a flatbed. General Motors now offers another option in its new model truck box made of advanced composite materials instead of steel. Called the Protec Composite box, it's like having a high-quality bed liner built into the box, only better.

Lawrence D. Burns, vice president of GM Research & Development and Planning, says, “We are not talking about just a traditional steel box with an industrial-strength bed liner. This is an entire unit made of durable composite materials.”

The box's fenders and outer tailgate panel are made of reinforced reaction injection molded (RRIM) materials, chiefly polyurea with mica filler. The one-piece inner panel and the inside of the tailgate are formed by a structural reaction injection molding (SRIM) process and consist of a 50/50 mix of urethane and glass fiber.

The use of advanced SRIM and RRIM composite materials reduces the total weight of the truck by approximately 50 lbs., which improves fuel economy and payload carrying capability. The tailgate alone is 15 lbs. lighter than a current steel tailgate, making it easier to open and close.

In the product-testing phase, GM engineers installed 48 of the units on Chevy C/K pickup trucks and put them to use in phosphate and sulfur mines, chemical environments and tar sand fields. The composite boxes were pounded, twisted and punished for two years and nearly two million miles at temperatures ranging from -40° to 170°F. The composite box proved it could withstand brutal punishment.

The outer panels are twice as damage resistant as composite panels used on cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette. If a fender is damaged, it can be removed in less than 10 minutes, repaired in a matter of hours and reinstalled with a minimum of downtime. Most scratches on the inside of the box or tailgate can be polished out with a common commercial silicone cleanser.

The Chevy Silverado with the optional composite pickup box is built at GM's truck assembly plant in Ft. Wayne, IN. Price for the option is about $850. For more information, visit www.chevy.com.

Retractable hitch ball

Gooseneck trailers are great, except when you're done pulling them and want to use your pickup truck's box to haul something. Then you've got a hitch ball poking up in the middle of your truck bed, so you either have to load around the darn thing or climb into the truck bed to raise or lower it by hand.

The PopUp retractable hitch ball solves that problem because you can raise or lower it instantly from the truck's wheel well. You just pull on a handle to raise the ball, and push in the handle to lower it. There's no need to jump into the truck bed to deal with a dirty, greasy hitch ball.

The PopUp kit installs on many late-model pickup trucks without additional fabrication or welding. Once you've got a 3-in. hole in the truck bed, the kit bolts in place using existing frame holes and without loosening the truck bed. The unit spans the truck frame under the bed. Once installed, the ball is rated for 30,000 lbs. gross trailer weight and 7,500 lbs. gross tongue weight.

The kit includes spring-loaded safety chain anchors and all installation hardware. Installation time is about 1½ hours. Prices start at $365. For more information, contact PopUp Industries Inc., Dept. FIN, 220 W. 14th St., Chanute, KS 66720, 620/431-5884, www.popuphitch.com.

Plug-in power

A lot of jobs you'd like to do out in the field are just too big for cordless power tools. That's when it would be nice to have the PowerBox — a combination generator, compressor and welder specifically designed to turn a pickup truck into your own mobile repair shop.

Ranging in output from 8,500 to 12,300W, three different models run on a standard 20- to 25-hp Kohler engine or an optional propane/dual fuel engine. Once the motor is fired up, there's enough power to run a circular saw, power nailer, plasma arc cutter and welder all at the same time. A 12½-gal. stainless steel fuel tank provides sufficient fuel to keep the power on for up to 24 hours. The air compressor has a 10-gal., 100-psi air storage tank for running air tools such as impact wrenches and grinders. Each unit is equipped with one ⅜-in. and one ¼-in. air outlet. All models come with battery, electric starter, low oil pressure shutdown and overheat indicators.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature is that the self-contained, lockable unit fits between the cab and wheel wells of most full-sized pickups. In addition to keeping the unit secure, the lockable box keeps the motor quiet, at just 76 dB. It's possible to talk on a cell phone in the truck cab while the motor is running. Prices range from $4,450 for a small electric and air-powered unit to $17,750 for a 26-hp Kubota diesel-powered unit that produces 350 amps of weld power at 100% duty cycle. For more information, contact Dynamic Power Source, Dept. FIN, 4005 Earnings Way, New Albany, IN 47150, 800/816-6601, www.dynamic powersource.com.

Rack systems

A rack over the truck bed sure would be handy when you need to haul a ladder, pipe, lumber or other long item. Handy, that is, if it doesn't take all day to build it, install it and tear it down. A rack installation kit may be the answer.

Weather Guard's Weekender ladder rack sets up fast and hauls payloads of up to 250 lbs. Adjustable tubular steel pockets bolt onto either side of the truck box. A setscrew holds the 14-gauge wall steel tubing uprights in place. An adjustable load bar slides in and out to accommodate different ladder or material widths. Price: $268.

For larger rack loads of up to 1,000 lbs., you may want the new Fast Rack system that spans the entire bed with four bolt-on uprights. This model works well with bed liners because it mounts on top of the bed rails. Price: $509.

For more information, contact Knaack Mfg. Co., Dept. FIN, 420 E. Terra Cotta Ave., Crystal Lake, IL 60014, 800/459-6020, www.weatherguard.com.