It's always an amazing sight to drive into the parking lot of a civic center or arena where a farm meeting or show is taking place. Rows and rows of pickup trucks typically fill the parking lot — all sizes, colors and conditions. A testament to the importance of the pickup truck to agriculture, as an industry, and to farmers, personally.

For most farmers, the pickup truck is like their second skin — it's their office, their dining room, their observation deck, and their shop — maybe even a warm, comfortable place to catch a few winks during a typical 12 to 14-hour day. Some farmers speak of their trucks with a tone of reference and a gleam in their eye usually reserved for their children, wife or dog.

Pickup trucks have become a topic of some discussion this year with state legislators in Georgia, as they consider a bill that would change state law and require pickup drivers and their passengers to wear seat belts. It's a sign of the times.

Pickups have been exempt from Georgia's mandatory seat belt law for decades now for reasons that are debatable. Some opine that rural voters wouldn't stand for the government telling them what to do in the privacy of their own trucks, so lawmakers left them alone for political reasons.

Believe it or not, there is a link between pickup trucks and politics. The strongest markets for pickups, according to Ford Motor Co., are the red states — named for the color used to denote Republican victories on election maps. These states are considered by political analysts to be more culturally conservative than the “blue” states. In fact, if you compare state-by-state pickup truck registrations with votes in the 2004 presidential election, you'll see that George W. Bush won the top states in ratio of pickup trucks to cars.

But in reality, Georgia's move to mandate seat belt use in pickup trucks probably has less to do with politics and more to do with the rising popularity of the truck in recent years among the masses. These days in Georgia, you're likely to see as many pickup trucks circling I-285 around Atlanta as you are on a rural road in the southwest region of the state.

Almost one-fifth of all vehicles registered in Georgia today are pickup trucks. Nationally, the best-selling truck racks up more than double the sales of the best-selling car. U.S. automakers have all but ceded the car market to Toyota and Honda, but Ford, General Motors Corp. and Dodge still manufacture most of the world's pickup trucks.

Americans always have had a special fondness for the pickup truck, immortalizing it many times over in song, especially in the country music genre. A few of the song titles include “Big Ol' Truck,” “Park the Pickup (Kiss the Girl),” “Passenger Seat,” “Pickup Man,” “She Wants to Drive My Truck,” “That Ain't My Truck,” “My Ole Pickup Truck Never Lets Me Down,” “The Truck Song,” “Pickup Truck,” “Ragged Old Truck,” “Corvette, Cadillac, Pickup Truck,” “Drive a Truck,” “Girls in Pickups,” “If This Old Truck Holds Out,” “Love Like a Truck,” “My Truck,” “That Old Truck,” “This Old Truck” and the all-time favorite, “The More I Know About Women, the Better I Like My Truck.”

There are even those who delve into the psychology of owning a truck, like Dr. Charles Kenny, a psychologist and president of the consumer psychology firm Kenny & Associates. His job is to interpret consumer buying behavior for GM, Toyota and Nissan, and he theorizes that the truck enhances feelings of masculinity. “It's about gender identity, what it means to be a man. A man's truck helps him feel more masculine. I worked with contractors during the summer, and they used to argue about who had a better truck. But they weren't just talking about the truck. That was about who they are, and it came to symbolize their masculinity,” says Kenny.

Emotional needs filled by the purchase of a certain kind of vehicle can range from validation of sexuality to pure power, he says.

Crossed gender lines

But the popularity of trucks hasn't only crossed the rural/urban cultural divide. It also has crossed gender lines. It's interesting to note that every automaker has at least one woman involved in designing, engineering or marketing its pickups, and they say they're adding more in response to the growing number of women who are buying trucks.

Women engineers have pioneered advancements in pickups such as adjustable brake and gas pedals, larger and more plentiful storage compartments, and softer, more car-like rides.

But this new breed of truck engineers hasn't forgotten their customer base. Truck owners want a tough, solid-looking aggressive vehicle, says a female engineer for Nissan trucks. “Once you start getting into their world, you start seeing through their eyes. It's all about image. When you are out there on the road, it is your personality that you're expressing — that high ride height and upright grille. It's about being tough like a tank…the one thing you don't want to be is cute,” she says.

e-mail: phollis@farmpress.com