My son’s love of trucks began around his first birthday. We lived in a neighborhood that was undergoing a lot of construction and, oh man, did he love to watch those trucks. Of course, never having been a little boy myself, I had no idea what any of these machines were called, or even what some of them did. But I could see it in his eyes, my son had to know.
Thus began my crash course in heavy machinery (identifying it, not operating it). I began by asking a friendly construction worker to identify the trucks at his site and moved on to books, YouTube videos, and Wikipedia searches. I wouldn’t call myself a truck expert, exactly, but I know a heck of a lot more than I used to.
If your little one is just beginning to frantically point at strange, behemoth yellow trucks and look inquiringly into your clueless face, I hereby present, for your edification, 10 trucks every mom of boys must be able to identify.
1. Dump Truck
Okay, I’m assuming you know what a dump truck is. But, did you know that they come in lots of different shapes and sizes? Including one so large it can’t even drive on regular roads and has to be shipped, in pieces, to the construction site! On all dump trucks, the part that lifts up is called the bed, and most are operated by hydraulic pistons which push one end up so the gravel, or dirt, or whatever, slides off. If you want to know the names of all the different kinds of dump trucks, click here.
This truck is super common but I had no idea what it was called when I first encountered it. It’s the one with the long arm that has a scooper thing at the end. Its job is to dig holes, or scoop things up into dumpsters. There are lots of other trucks that look like excavators but aren’t, particularly backhoes (see below). So, before you tell your kid that something is an excavator, make sure it doesn’t have any other attachments on it, just the arm and the scooper thing (which is called a shovel). Excavators usually have tracked wheels (you know, the kind that look like the wheels of a tank, instead of the wheels of a car) that help them travel over rough ground and make it so they don’t fall into holes.
Rookies might confuse a backhoe with an excavator, but don’t be fooled. A backhoe has an excavator-like arm on the back, and a wider scooper thing, that looks kind of like the front of a bulldozer, in the front. The wide, scoopy thing is called a bucket. It can scoop up large loads, instead of pushing them along the ground, and lift them up to deposit them in a dumpster or a dump truck. Backhoes are pretty common since they do a lot of jobs at once.
You probably feel like you know what a bulldozer is, and you might. But you also might sometimes be confusing bulldozers with front-end loaders (see below). A bulldozer has a flat, metal plate at the front (called a blade), not a bucket. Bulldozers are specifically for pushing dirt, gravel, sand or other materials into large piles. They don’t scoop or lift, they just push. Bulldozers also have tracked wheels, which help them navigate the bumpy, muddy, shifting terrain of a construction site.
5. Front-end Loader
There are actually lots of different kinds of loaders, but the front-end loader is the one you’re most likely to encounter. It’s easy to confuse it with a bulldozer, since it has a large, wide bucket out in front. But the key here is that it’s a bucket, not a blade. The front-end loader is kind of like a backhoe without the excavator part. If you’re interested in other types of loaders, click here.
A forklift is a smaller type of machine that is used to stack boxes and crates. It has two prongs that stick out in front which can move up and down. The driver maneuvers the prongs so they slide under the crate (or box) and then lift it up. They use these a lot in warehouses, but you might see them at construction sites too. You might also notice them hitching a ride on the back of a bigger truck and, if you’re lucky, you might see them getting lowered down to the ground when they reach their destination.
A skidsteer is a tiny little truck that gets its name from the way that it moves. It’s a little complicated, but basically the wheels can only go straight, but by manipulating the sets of wheels on each side independently, the driver can cause the skidsteer to skid into a turn. (More on that here, if you’re interested.) A skidsteer can have lots of different attachments, but the one you’re most likely to see is a bucket (like a front-end loader).
8. Road Roller
Heard of a steam roller? It’s the same thing, except we don’t use steam to power trucks anymore. A road roller is basically a compactor which flattens out the ground so it’s smooth. It usually has two drums, which use the weight of the truck to flatten the ground. As with most of these trucks, there are different kinds and sizes. But, the ones you’re most likely to see are relatively small and can be operated by one person.
9. Cement Mixer
These are super common, and a big favorite with the toddler set. The spinning part (which is called the drum) has to keep spinning so that the concrete doesn’t set inside the truck. The cement mixer has an attachment, called a chute, which is affixed to the drum and allows the cement to slide down to the ground, where it can harden into concrete.
10. Truck Crane
You’ve probably already figured out what this one does, but you might not have known the name of it before. This is basically a truck with a collapsible crane on it. The arm of the crane (which is called the boom) can lift up from the bed of the truck, or fold back down so that it’s relatively flat. If you’re lucky, you’ll see truck cranes lifting anything from sheet metal, to pipes, to garbage. Pretty exciting!
Okay, so look. I’m obviously not a construction worker. My truck knowledge is basic and I’m sure I’ve said a bunch of stuff that’s pretty general. But your toddler doesn’t need to know the exact details of how to operate a telescopic handler crane, or whatever. He just wants to know what that awesome thing, over there, is called. And now you know.
P.S. There’s a really great series of truck videos your toddler might enjoy called Truck Tunes, which you can read about here.