Cover Story/Machine Matters: A construction classic

Like all classics, the basic bones of midsize skid steers remain the same. New features make a good machine great.

Steering is easier and more precise with electronic controls that replace the mechanical hand bars on the skid steer’s original design. Caterpillar skid steers were the first to use joystick controls on all of their models, decreasing maintenance and operator fatigue.

Optional low-effort joystick controls, dual hand, hand/foot and T-bar ‘hands-only’ controls make these machines easy to operate, even for freshman skid steer operators.

Lift arm designs address the wide variety of applications skid steers perform. Radial lift booms have a durable design with fewer wear points in the linkage allowing them to handle tough digging conditions or hydro-mechanical tools with fewer complications. Vertical lift booms have the advantage in lift and loading applications. With their longer reach and higher lift heights, vertical lift skid steers can load trucks or place pallets. The single-arm booms on the JCB Pilot skid steers let operators use a side entry door, never stepping on or standing under the bucket.

Operator stations have evolved from early awning-type sun covers to automotive-style controlled-environment cabs complete with built-in speakers for options such as Case’s factory installed radio and MP3 player. Heated suspension seats keep operators comfortable and productive. Noise levels and dust inside the cab are reduced with the use of acoustic materials and sealed compartments.

Ease of service features make skid steer maintenance faster and cleaner. Grouping regular service points in one location encourages owners to do daily maintenance checks. Tilt-up cabs, such as on Deere’s 320 model, give quick access to engines and transmissions, and diagnostic machine control systems alert operators when a component requires attention.

Starting with Bobcat’s early inventory of M400 skid steer attachments (see sidebar below), the list of skid steer attachments and the capabilities they provide continues to grow. The National Skid Loader Association catalogs more than 500 work tools ranging from adjustable pallet forks to slab crabs.

In 2004, Nancy Pelstring and Eric Larson launched the National Skid Loader Association ( to help skid steer loader owners and aficionados locate dealers, attachments, and each other. NSLA’s TeamSpace community, scheduled to begin in September 2008, will provide a free web pages, blogs, classifieds, a contact section and IM messaging service.

Brothers of invention
Sylvan Melroe likes to marvel at the ‘what ifs’ in life. What if farmer Eddie Velo never asked brothers Cyril and Louis Keller to build a lightweight, three-wheeled manure scooper to clean up his two-story turkey barn?

What if Sylvan’s cousin, Les Melroe, hadn’t thought the Keller Loader was worth manufacturing and instead, the brothers had stayed in Minnesota running their machine repair business?

And what if Cyril never grumbled about a missed sale because the three-wheeled loader didn’t work on slick, muddy surfaces? If none of these things had happened, then one of construction’s most popular machines would’nt have been invented 50 years ago.

Making it work
In 1958, Les Melroe saw the original Keller Loader three-wheeled self propelled loader the Keller brothers had invented and persuaded them to make their loader for Melroe Manufacturing in Gwinner, South Dakota. The first loader under the Melroe brand was named the M60, shortly followed by the higher horsepower M200.

One afternoon in December 1960, Cyril came back to the office after demonstrating a M200 in a livestock sales barn. The demo had not gone well. The caster wheel would get gummed up and the machine just didn’t have the traction to push heavy loads. “All the manure and snow and ice was packed down,” Cyril recalls, “and when I put the bucket down the front wheels came off the ground and I couldn’t do anything. I had to have a four wheel drive.”

The four-wheel loader idea had been tossed around the Melroe office before, but discounted as unworkable. Louis, though, began to believe a compact four-wheel loader could work and he’d heard enough to make him tackle the job.

“Louis just turned around and went into the shop,” Sylvan says. “I’m not sure if he went home that night but when I got to work the next morning around 7 o’clock, he was in the shop bolting on another set of wheels to a M200.”

For the next three days, a group at Melroe worked on the concept. They removed the rear caster wheel assembly, added a rear axle and a second set of wheels. To give the loader much needed traction, the team came up with the 70/30 weight ratio. When empty, 70 percent of the weight is on the back of the loader, and when loaded 70 percent of the weight is in the front, resulting in traction and maneuverability. “We sort of backed into it,” says Cyril. The 70/30 balance let the loader skid on its tires, steering the machine with its turns. The term “skid steer,” according to Sylvan, was his way of explaining to customers how to drive the machine.

The group also extended the M200’s length by 6 inches, providing more stability while still allowing the loader to turn in its own tracks.

The Ah-ha moment?
Recalling the series of events later, Cyril says, “God dropped the idea into our machine shop and gave us the wisdom to do something with it.” Today, the Bobcat skid steer loader is one of the most recognizable machines in the world, and the design has earned the brothers many awards and accolades.

Cyril and Louis are retired but continue to invent new products, many used for fishing, one of their favorite pastimes. Sylvan does fundraising work for a historical museum and likes to market new ideas.

But the best thing about being the inventors of the Bobcat? “Working with my brother,” Louis says.

Models 420, 430, 435, 440

The new Case 400 Series-3 skid steers lineup offers additional horsepower and torque, with 23 percent more horsepower and 53 percent more torque on the 420 model than previous models. Case has completely redesigned operator stations to offer 7-percent more headroom and 6-percent wider lap bars. Visibility on the 400 Series models is improved with more punchouts in the side screens and standard overhead windows, with 81-percent more glass in the 440’s front door, and 20-percent more glass on the 435. Case says its industry exclusive side lighting gives operators 360-degree visibility for low light work. Pilot controls are available on all models in either H-pattern or ISO patterns.

Models 180 Robot, 190 Wheeled Robot

The 180 and 190 model skid steers feature the single-arm design JCB is known for. The single-arm design allows the cab door to be located at the side of the skid steer, giving the operator all-around visibility and safe access. The 180 and 190 skid steers have top-opening rear engine hoods for easy daily service checks. Optional equipment includes heat and demister, air conditioning, heavy-duty rear door guard and self-leveling lift. Both models are available with full servo controls, servo dual hand controls or servo hand/mechanical foot controls.

Models 5240E, 5640E Turbo

Gehl’s E-Series skid steer loaders emphasize their slim width, less than 58 inches wide (with optional wheel package), making them well suited for work on sidewalks and other narrow applications. The new 5240E turbocharged Gehl skid steer’s maximum dump reach height of almost 33 inches leads its class and answers contractors’ requests for a skid steer that reaches “just 5 inches more.” A new high-capacity combination radiator and oil cooling system is easily accessed by a larger rear door. Gehl’s E-Series offers optional counterweights for additional lifting power. Both models have acoustical noise dampening material in their cabs and engine areas.

John Deere
Model 320

John Deere’s 320 skid steer features a 60/40 weight distribution and a vertical-lift boom with a 35-inch reach. Deere says the enhanced HVAC system in the optional four-season cab delivers 37-percent cooler air conditioning and air flow over previous models. An automatic shutdown system monitors the machine’s fluids and sounds an audible alarm if limits are exceeded. Deere’s 320 skid steer’s oil cooler is mounted on the rear door for convenient swing out access. If the alarm goes unnoticed, the system will shut down to protect drivetrain components. The 320’s self-cleaning Quick-Tatch hitch accommodates a wide variety of attachments.

Models 440 Plus, 450 Plus

Doosan’s 440 Plus and 450 Plus skid steers highlight a fully protected quick-attach system that keeps all hydraulic lines and fittings inside the boom arms and away from debris. The tilting cab, wide rear door and swing-out oil cooler provide easy access to service points. Doosan’s 400 Series skid steers also feature hydraulic joystick controls. The 440 Plus has a vertical linkage boom for high reach and dump, while the 450 Plus carries a conventional linkage boom designed for compact maneuverability.

Models MC80B, MC90B

Productivity is a top priority for Volvo’s MC80B and MC90B skid steers. The isolation-mounted cab reduces noise and vibration, keeping the operator alert and focused. Contractors can choose either pilot or mechanical machine controls, and optional hydraulic controls are available with hand or hand and foot throttle controls depending on the control configuration. Each model features a one-piece steel mainframe, cast iron rear bumper, and sealed heavy duty iron axle housings. The cab tilts forward for fast access and the engine compartment has a full swingout locking rear door with a flip-up engine cover. Optional high flow hydraulics are available for high performance attachments. Volvo’s universal quick-attach coupler accommodates most skid steer attachments.

Models 2066, 2076

Mustang’s 2066 and 2076 skid steer models feature the throttle control on the right instrument panel that gives the operator fingertip control of engine speed. Control options include dual lever controls with foot controls and dual joystick controls with integrated switches that operate the auxiliary hydraulics, two-speed drive, ride control and float control. A field-installed dual lever joystick conversion kit is available. The optional hydraulic powered Multi-Tach attachment system lets the operator to change buckets and attachments without leaving his seat. Optional counterweight kits increase rated operating load by 300 pounds.

Models SK820-5, SK1020-5

The low effort pilot proportional joystick controls on Komatsu’s SK820 and SK1020 skid steers respond precisely to the operator’s commands, keeping the ride smooth and reducing operator fatigue. Both the SK820 and SK1020 models feature a two speed travel to reduce load and carry times, bucket self leveling and auxiliary hydraulic control. The automatic power control system, standard on both machines, lets the operator work with full engine power in tough applications without worrying about the engine stalling. The easy tilt cab provides access to all components

Models S185, S205, S220

Bobcat’s K-Series medium frame skid steers, models S185 and S205, are vertical-path lift loaders. The S185 has low-profile lift arms for maximum visibility and the S205’s larger tires offer more floatation. Bobcat’s large frame S220, also part of the K-Series line-up, features new drive chains that Bobcat says are the largest in the industry. The No. 120 high strength oval chain in a maintenance-free chain case protects the chains so they never need adjustment. All K-Series models use the new SmartFAN cooling system that is up to 30 percent quieter than previous models and rotates at full speed only when necessary. The K-Force hydraulics delivers 8 percent more torque than previous Bobcat models.

Models 232B2, 236B2, 242B2, 246C

Cat’s new B-Series skid steer loaders have high performance power trains that provide high horsepower and torque, allowing part-throttle operation for lower fuel consumption and less noise. An optional gear pump high-flow hydraulic system is available on the 236B2 and 242B2 models to power attachments in demanding applications. Cat has increased the rated operating capacity on these models by up to 11 percent over prior models. Cat’s larger 246C-Series skid steer features electro-hydraulic joystick control of the hydrostatic drive system and electronic torque management. The company says it is the first to offer optional sealed and pressurized cabs. C-Series skid steers offer an optional high-flow XPS system that uses a load-sensing variable displacement pump for work tools that require high flow and pressure and feature on-demand hydraulically driven fan to help reduce fuel consumption.

New Holland
Models L170, L175, L180

New Holland’s Super Boom skid steer line up highlights serviceability and visibility. The entire boom and cab assembly on the L170, L175, L180 models lift up and tilt forward to provide maximum accessibility to the engine and transmission. A see-through area on the deluxe cab roof gives a clear view of the bucket or attachment when it is positioned at full height. Pilot controls are available. To the rear, large windows and no rear frame towers provide optimum visibility behind the loader. New Holland’s universal attachment system accepts the Loadstar line of work tools and is compatible with most other attachment brands. The L175 has an optional two-speed transmission and can be configured with in-line hydraulic pumps.