Turn Your Pickup Truck Into a Dump Truck

Turn your pickup truck into a dump truck by building a wooden box for under $100.
By James H. Miller
November/December 1983

The truck's tailgate/bumper combination must allow the gate to drop below the level of the bed in order to operate.
Photo by James H. Miller
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Build a $100 (or less) alternative to the $1,000 (or more) hydraulically operated dump systems.

Having owned a pickup truck for most of my adult life, I've encountered many situations that caused me to wish I had some way — other than with hand or shovel — to unload the various materials I've hauled in the vehicle. Unfortunately, the only alternatives to manual labor that I'd ever seen, heard of, or read about were hydraulic dump-bed conversions . . . which cost a thousand dollars or more, including installation. And, when it came right down to it, I knew my own need for that sort of time and laborsaving device was neither frequent enough nor severe enough to justify much expense. So I continued to shovel and toss, thinking — as I'd bend and lift, bend and lift — "There's just got to be a way to build an affordable dump system."

The Light Dawns

Well, late one afternoon — as I was laboriously heaving big blocks of oak firewood out of my truck — an idea struck me. (Actually, the inspiration took the form of a Picture in my mind, kind of like the light bulbs that flash on in cartoon characters' heads.) I visualized a movable insert (or liner) that would fit inside the truck bed . . . which would be mounted on rollers to permit forward and backward movement ... and would be secured to the bed with cables that'd allow it to roll back far enough for the rear end to drop over the edge of the bed to the ground.

I figured that any dumpable materials could be loaded in such a liner, and that a securely closed tailgate would prevent any movement to the rear during transit. On the other hand, with the tailgate lowered, unloading could be accomplished simply by backing the truck up and applying the brakes. In theory, this procedure would cause the liner to roll back out of the bed until the center of gravity moved to the rear, causing that end to drop down automatically and dump the cargo. If the truck were then driven forward to clear the dumped material (with the tilted liner being drawn along by the cables), the bay could be lifted and pushed back into the truck bed by hand!

I could see it all so clearly that I just knew that the plan would work, and I could hardly wait to put my system together and try it. However, I still didn't know exactly what materials I'd need to transform my idea into reality, but I did know that my budget wouldn't allow the purchase of a lot of costly supplies. And, unfortunately, my "inspired vision", at that point, relied on such "luxury" components as a metal liner, conveyor-type rollers that would reach all the way across the bed, and expensive steel cables.

Enlightenment Strikes Twice

Then, for the second time in 15 minutes (and after almost 40 years of total darkness), the light came on in my mind again. I suddenly envisioned a way to start my project the next morning . . . and to dump something that same afternoon (if the project turned out the way I hoped — and thought — it would).

What I'd have to do, I figured, was build a wooden box for the liner, mount it on casters instead of long rollers, and substitute heavy duty nylon straps for the cables. I had enough plywood left over from previous jobs to build the box, and there was a nylon tow strap stored behind the seat of the truck. Why, I probably even had some old furniture casters stashed in a drawer somewhere!

Developing the Down-to-Earth Device

Now I wish I could say that I got up the next morning and built my dump bed . . . and that it worked so well that I used it happily ever after. This isn't a fairy tale, though, and my two mental "flashes" were a tad shy on construction details.

I did manage to develop the plan into an inexpensive load-dumping system . . . but I had to invest all of my spare time for the next several days, as well as a few dollars for some store-bought hardware, before I could tilt anything out of my truck.

I didn't have a bit of trouble building the liner. To do so, I simply constructed a plywood box (with a floor, a front end, and side walls) that'd fit between the fender wells in the truck's bed . . . reinforcing its bottom and all of its inside corners with 2 X 4's.

However, I soon discovered that getting the box to dump once I'd put it together was quite another story . . . one that would take up a lot of space, bore the reader, and certainly embarrass this writer. Suffice it to say that, after trying far too many things that didn't work, I finally obtained the right type of casters (2 1/2" diameter ball-bearing units with hard rubber wheels) . . . found the correct places to position them (on the box and the truck bed) . . . and figured out just how and where to attach the snaps. Not only has my nonhydraulic dump box performed well in the long-bed pickup in which I originally installed it, but similar units have proved equally effective (and useful) in a foreign-made mini truck and in my current short-bed step side. I used as much recycled material as I could when building each of the boxes, but the total cost of such a system wouldn't run more than a hundred dollars, even if everything were to be purchased new.

A Few Drawbacks . . .

Of course, my setup does have some limitations. In a step side bed, for instance, it leaves a little bit of "wasted" space in front of and behind the fender wells. However, I haven't found this to be much of a problem, because the box holds enough firewood, topsoil, and so on to meet (or, in some cases, to exceed) the truck's rated load capacity. (On the few occasions that I've used it for really lightweight materials, I've simply installed some temporary sideboards to increase the capacity of the box.)

In addition, to accommodate my system, a truck must have a tailgate/bumper combination that allows the gate to drop below the level of the bed. (I had to replace the factory-installed bumper on my present pickup.) But my homemade dumper's greatest disadvantage (as compared with conventional hydraulic systems) is that it will work well only on fairly level ground. Even then, its correct operation requires careful coordination of backing velocity and brake pressure. Too slow a speed, coupled with a soft touch on the brakes, prevents the box from rolling back far enough to dump . . . while excessive speed, coupled with a quick stop, might cause it to roll hard and fast enough to break a strap.

. . . But With Plenty of Rewards


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Post a comment below.

 

Samuel wysong
4/13/2012 3:00:20 AM
I believe the point is that the author did this himself and saved his money in the long run. No need for a $3000.00 dump bed you may only use every so often when you can have a $100.00 option that does essentially the same thing.

Jake Hale
3/31/2009 3:16:19 PM
I agree with angie! Very Scary! I've never heard of the z-dump insert. The "Lil Tipster" dump insert is available from from DEL hydraulics in the USA, and DEL Equipment in Canada. They have been around for years and years. I have had one unit that outlasted one truck...and I now have it installed in a second truck. This unit has saved my back many times over. I have loaned this truck out to friends...many of them now have the same unit in their trucks! Jake.

Angie Armstrong
2/15/2009 4:43:48 PM
This diy dump insert for your pickup sounds dangerous, cables? not to mention the wear and tear on your truck. for around $3000.00 you can get an EZ Dumper installed from the manufacturer in Ontario, Canada. www.ezdumper.com all steel, Hydaulically operated, remote controlled, with a push of a button its designed to unload up to 6000lbs in less than 30 seconds.

Tammy Robinson
6/26/2008 11:57:07 AM
This article is so interesting. It almost mirrors the same experience that Chris Culp had when he came up with his idea for the Dumpamatic. His dump is made out of 16 guage steel with 1 1/4" square tubing for reinforcement. I recently became owner of D.A.M. Truck Tools (an acronym for Dump A Matic) and am excited every time I come across one of these same stories. I think it was either Jeff Foxworthy or Bill Engrall that also had the same story of moving.. put it in the back of the pickup, put her in reverse and slam on the breaks. It's all the same idea, only Chris is pursuing it as his business. Life is interesting!

kevin davis
6/25/2008 6:38:37 PM
Deja vu...last summer, I decided to re-roof my house, and to do all the work myself. I backed my truck up to the house and scraped off the first 2000 lbs of old shingles and the next morning, off to the dump I went. I backed into the dump area and began the labor intensive task of unloading the tangled mess of shingles that were loaded in 95 degree sun the previous day. Problem...overnight they cooled off to about 60 degrees and fused together. Anyway, 45 minutes later I was nearly done when a Ford 350 something, with about a 471/2" lift kit pulls in next to me, opens the tailgate, hits a button and dumps his load. Wow!! I knew there had to be a better way, I also knew I had at least 3 more loads to go. My mind in overdrive, I remembered some C-17 flights I had been on during airdrop missions and there was my answer. I built a three sided box made from waste sheathing I had torn off the roof (much like the author's version). I then retrieved some left over 1" diameter pvc, from a pasture waterline project earlier in the summer, and cut it into 40" lengths. I spaced these evenly on the bed under the box and closed the tailgate. Load #2 went in to the box, I guessed about 2000 lbs. like the first one (turned out to be 2300 after weigh-in at the dump). I could literally roll the box back and forth with one hand. Wow!! So, I go to the dump and the guy guides me back into my spot when I stop short and get out. He says, "you need to back up farther", I say "Oh, don't worry, I will and you don't want to be anywhere near the back of this truck when I do". I take off my tailgate to set it off to the side and, by now, several other people are watching to see what this guy (me) is up to. I slowly (very, very slowly) pull forward about another 30 feet and stop. Making sure everyone was clear I goose my 454 in reverse, travel about 50 feet, and hammer the brakes. It was a thing of beauty, that box li

Jeff_53
1/15/2008 1:11:26 AM
To the drawback of up hill unload, Get a strap fixed to the bottom of the liner at the back and fixed to the ground on the up hill side of your dumping site and drive away. For what I just read as I have not made one as of yet to save me back or test it. But I will soon. Keep up the good work








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