Incredible Thai Etan Trucks

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

I've been fascinated by these for quite a while, and I'm gathering information on them for a future book project: "These" and "them" are Thai Edan trucks-- possibly the only cottage-industry motor vehicles in the world.

These are farmer's trucks, made in rural workshops in Thailand to order for local farmers. Though there are many small village factories making them, they do appear to have some standardization of design; for example, they all seem to be built around the same 14 (or so) hp diesel Kubota generator motors. They're all wonderfully and elaborately decorated and painted, and, while undeniably crude, seem very capable of doing their job.

I love the ingenuity of these, but I'm afraid they're not going to be around much longer; more advanced, cheap, and modern used Isuzu and Toyota pickups are starting to become competitive with the locally-built Edan trucks, so it's likely just a matter of time before these little workshops shut down. It's understandable, but a shame.

Information about them online is a bit scant, but this blog entry (also where I snagged that picture) has some excellent information from a man who had one built. I'm hoping to produce a nice, big coffe table type book about these, full of good pictures, since I think I'm not the only one who finds these lovely brutes fascinating.



  1. Yes, these are great. Although the majority I have seen are not decorated like that but rather simple – platform with wheels, engine in the front and steering wheel.

    Also interesting is the variety of tuktuks (three wheeled taxis) that still exists in Thailand. On Koh Si Chang for instance they drive locally made huge ones with a car engine that can go easily up the hills.

  2. What about Jeepneys in the Philippines?

    Also, in China, there are these two wheeled motor drive vehicles that are everywhere. They look like a drive from a garden tiller stuck onto a pivot joint for steering and then there are a multitude of rear ends for them. This is the closest example I can find: Cambodia Farm Vehicle.

  3. I remember seeing something on TV about similar “blacksmithing” shops in Africa. They start with a DB truck motor and chassis, and make the rest of the truck from scratch, including forging their own nuts and bolts, with hex heads made by eye alone, and slotted screws. That means everyone carries a very simple tool kit: only one wrench, an adjustable one like a Ford wrench, and a flat-blade screwdriver. The bodies are amazingly alike, considering it’s all done on the fly.

  4. Do you mean Issan Trucks? i haven’t heard of Etan.
    i doubt they can be replaced by cheap Chinese or Indian ones as these are trucks are cheaper, and i doubt you could import Chinese ones without a huge tax.

    They are quite fun to ride in if you like back to the basics. The clutch and the brakes are both on levers. The engine is nearly in yuor lap so no trouble about getting acces to parts of it that may need fixing

  5. I don’t think e-taen will be replaced by isuzu/toyota pickups, so much as by ‘iron buffalo’, i.e. motorized farm ploughs that can pull wooden wagons and that can also be used as generators, water pumps, etc., much like e-taen. E-taen are still going strong in Khorat-Buriram area, btw.

  6. There’s an amazing book published in the eighties by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (founded by E.F. Schumacher of Small is Beautiful fame) called The Design and Manufacture of Low-Cost Motorized Vehicles, which has examples of low-volume and one-off simple utility vehicles (trucks, trikes, sidecars, etc) from around the world, along with design guidelines and recommendations for all the different aspects of construction, including recycling of parts from other vehicles.

    ITDG became Practical Action.

    P.S. As a fellow Reliant Scimitar driver, Jason, who bought Ad Nauseam as soon as I saw it on the Stay Free! site, I feel I ought to plug my own (out of print) book on Reliant from a few years ago!

  7. My Thai wife and I have been together for 21 years.

    My brother-in-law has one of these. I have driven it around the village several times. Back-breaking agricultural labor aside, it is quite fun to drive around in.

  8. #1 I’ve been to Ko Si Chang, and it’s my understanding that the tuktuks being driven there are the ones that are no longer legal/desirable in more touristy or municipal areas like Bangkok and Si Racha. They’re also all over Kalasin and NE Thailand, but those are less pretty and more utilitarian.

    Here’s a photo of one from Koh Si Chang:

    And one seen on the streets in Kalasin:

    I’m obsessed with Thai homemade/cottage built Thai tractors, which are all over Kalasin province and presumably other NW Thailand farming areas, which are also built around Kubota diesel motors.

  9. Very similar-looking trucks are used as taxis on Koh Samui with benches in the back. Generally they look well-made, although each one is a little different. If there is a roof, be sure to crouch so as not to bang your head, and if it’s crowded the most able-bodied passengers are to stand on the back steps and hold on to the handrails. I’m guessing it’s not USA street legal, and it’s one of the charms of traveling to SE Asia. Also, people in regular cars and trucks will offer foreigners a “taxi” ride. I don’t accept rides from strangers at home, but the unceasing Thai friendliness makes it seem perfectly reasonable.

  10. I’m a sign painter, so the point-of-entry for my interest in these trucks is the decor. Honeymooning in Kerala, last year, I took a lot of pictures of painted trucks at a lorry stand in Alleppey, starting here. The Tata trucks don’t have the same “cottage industry” mechanical charm as these Thai trucks, but I love how the same panel painting aesthetic spans the whole of south and southeast Asia. Pinstriping and illustration on American rigs, although rich and varied on its own, literally pales in comparison.

  11. #14 Thanks for the info, I had no idea what they were specifically called. Why are they called “hand” tractors?

  12. @#15-I dunno, just a term that caught on, I guess, for a small versatile tractor. They are configured to drive all manner of agricultural implements that farmers often walk behind when it suits the task as well as being hooked up to trailers that turn them into transportation.

  13. We don’t do them for real. But the design reminds me of trucks in my country, I do really think that the haitian design is better.

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