Construction's most versatile machine was born in 1957 out of a long Case tradition of making industrial tractors and an unprecedented building boom that created huge demand for efficient construction equipment.
Postwar America saw millions of housing starts for soldiers returning home from World War II and Korea and starting families. Between 1945 and mid-1955, more than 10 million non-farm homes were started in the United States. By 1958, construction volume set a new record at $49.2 billion, a figure that ballooned to $73 billion in 1959. Construction of luxury homes was also up, as was demand for amenities such as swimming pools. With the historic growth in residential and commercial construction, contractors placed a premium on saving time, being more efficient and getting more done with less equipment and fewer workers. Among the biggest demands were for utility work, trenching, grading and excavating.
"Conditions demanded a compact machine that could work fast and perform multiple jobs," said Rusty Schaefer, marketing manager at Case Construction Equipment. "With construction activity at a record pace and demand for equipment high, the time was right for an integrated, multi-function machine."
Piecemeal kits didn't work
Many contractors tried piecing together a suitable machine by fitting an agricultural tractor with kits to add a front-end loader and backhoe. However, assembly instructions could be tough to follow, and parts were often missing. Dealers who sold the kits complained that they took too long to assemble, and customers realized the machine was not warranted as a single unit.
"Tractors at the time weren't designed to accommodate two attachments," Schaefer said. "There were no pre-existing attachment points, and no one considered the amount of strain a loader and backhoe would place on the tractor's structure. "While these units were more efficient than a crew of men with strong backs and shovels, they were not balanced and still lacked the lift capacity, breakout force and dig depth necessary to be truly productive," Schaefer said. For decades Case had made industrial versions of its agricultural tractors. By 1956, Case had introduced its 300 series utility tractor. The 300 series tractors could be equipped with allied attachments including backhoes and front-end loaders. But they had not yet been integrated at the factory level
Key acquisition helps innovations
In early 1957 Case moved to acquire Churubusco, Ind.-based American Tractor Corp., a successful small firm that was developing a hydraulically powered backhoe to attach to its crawler units. American Tractor had started making crawlers in 1949 and developed numerous innovations including a threepoint hitch and torque converter.
After the acquisition was complete, Case engineer Elton Long and his team brought in resources from throughout the company to finish development of an integrated loader/backhoe under a very tight deadline. By early spring, Case had successfully merged technologies to create the Case 320, the first fully integrated loader/backhoe made and warranted by one company.
The new machine was compact and easy to maneuver. Among its early keys to success was the ability to quickly do small jobs previously done by hand. Rubber tires gave it mobility to handle material and load out unused spoil from excavations. It could also work around obstructions and in tight areas. And attachments such as pallet forks and crane booms for the loader extended the machine's capabilities.
"These integrated capabilities enabled contractors to reduce their construction costs and pass savings on to their customers," Schaefer said. "It was truly a revolutionary development in the construction industry." Through continued close ties with customers, Long and Case responded to demands from the field and continued to refine and improve the loader/backhoe.
Before long, Case offered a full line of backhoe buckets up to 38 inches. Case offered a number of self-leveling loader buckets to meet the requirements of specialized tasks. Later innovations included a 180-degree swing mechanism, over-center backhoe for improved ride, enclosed boom box, the Case EXTENDAHOE®, powerloader linkage and, most recently, the Pro Control System (PCS™).
In 1959, Case introduced the first diesel-powered loader/backhoe, the Case 420. By 1963, Case had introduced the Model 530 Construction King, the first loader/backhoe with power loader linkage and two-cylinder, double-acting swing system with hydraulic cushion. Case added an exclusive return-to-dig feature in 1966 and a hydraulic telescoping extendable backhoe in 1967.
The industry's first patented over-center backhoe was introduced in 1971, making for a smoother ride and better maneuverability. In 1975, Case offered the first unitized mainframe and component-based powertrain. In 1988, Fortune magazine named Case loader/backhoes among the top 100 products America makes best. In the tradition of Elton Long, Case continues to keep the lines of communication open with its customers, helping it remain on the leading edge of the loader/backhoe market. Its latest line of loader/backhoes, the M Series, is a good example.
In developing the five models of the M Series, Case added new features such as more lift power, a high-visibility cab, the exclusive Pro Control System for precision bucket placement, and a backhoe hydraulic coupler system
M Series collects honors
The Case M Series was named to Heavy Equipment News magazine's Top 50 products of 2001 list and was included in Construction Equipment magazine's Top 100 Products of 2001 awards. In addition the Case loader backhoe was named as one of the most rented pieces of construction equipment. "Many of our improvements and innovations are customer-driven," Schaefer said. "We listen to the needs of operators for power, control and comfort, then incorporate that feedback into the next generation of loader/backhoes. It's what keeps Case the industry leader."