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The Iconic Bobcat Machine

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The brand name Bobcat® is so popular and synonymous with skid-steer loaders, the general public sometimes mistake it for the name of the actual machine; this is also known as a proprietary eponym. If you Google this (‘Google’ being another proprietary eponym for ‘Internet search’), Bobcat appears between household products (that are actually brand names) such as Panadol, Jacuzzi and Velcro.

Bobcat equipment earned this fame and reputation because it was the first and remains the best in its field. Last year, Bobcat celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Bobcat skid-steer loader. Sixty years ago, Melroe Manufacturing Company, the forerunner to Bobcat Company, introduced a compact front-end loader that evolved quickly into the M-400, the world’s first true skid-steer loader. The M-400 later adopted what became the world famous ‘Bobcat’ brand and its success created the global compact equipment industry we know today. Bobcat revolutionised the building industry with the invention of the skid-steer loader, and continues to lead the way in the design, manufacture and distribution of compact equipment for the construction, landscaping, agriculture and civil sectors.

While the impact of World War II and the introduction of hydraulic systems in the late 1940s saw leaps and bounds in the development of large earthmoving equipment, there was still a gap in the market where manual labour was needed to move smaller volumes of materials or products in tight spaces that these big, cumbersome machines didn’t suit.

The inspiration for the Bobcat® loader came from Eddie Velo, a turkey farmer from Minnesota, USA. He needed an easier way to clean the bird poop out of his two-storey barns that was more efficient than a man with a shovel and wheelbarrow. In 1957 he commissioned the Keller brothers, Cyril and Louis, to build him a light and compact machine that was able to turn around within its own length, while performing the same tasks as a conventional front-end loader. It had to be nimble and able to navigate around poles set eight feet apart, plus able to pivot, scrape and dump with a bucket or fork.

Despite being rather rudimentary with two drive wheels, a small rear caster wheel and powered by a rope-starter, 6-horsepower engine, the Keller loader was an instant hit. It showed massive promise as a reliable and effective solution to a widespread problem, but the Kellers didn’t have the means to mass-produce or market their creation.

Some entrepreneur farming brothers from neighbouring North Dakota also saw the potential in the Keller loader. Melroe Manufacturing Company was the brainchild of inventor Edward Gideon “E.G.” Melroe who pioneered agricultural machinery with several groundbreaking innovations. He died in 1955, leaving his sons in charge of the business. The Melroe brothers met with the Keller brothers in the summer of 1958 and were instantly impressed with their product, from its general capabilities through to the clever clutch drive mechanism.

It was a match made in heaven and an agreement was struck – the Kellers joined the Melroe Manufacturing Company as employees with a royalty arrangement. They collaborated to introduce and demonstrate the revolutionary loader at the Minnesota State Fair, which was met with a rousing reception. The Kellers were immediately assigned to design and manufacture a Melroe self-propelled loader.

The first Melroe M200 loader was released in 1959, and only a year later the next generation M400 – the first 4-wheel-drive skid-steer loader – was launched. Surprisingly the new model didn’t take off straight away. Melroe decided to redesign and rebrand its skid-steer loader and in 1962 introduced the M440 as “Melroe Bobcat” with the familiar white colour scheme with red accents. It was named Bobcat because it was tough, quick and agile – like the animal.

The revolutionary skid-steer loader took off as Bobcat cemented its name and brought out more models and improved features. By the late ’60s Melroe had already started venturing abroad with their brands and began acquiring other businesses to expand their empire. Their annual sales were soon topping $25 million with the majority share of this being thanks to Bobcat equipment. Still, they needed a merger partner to further grow and in 1969 the Melroe brothers handed over control of their family company to Clark Equipment Company.

While the frame and shape of the Bobcat skid-steer loader didn’t change all that much until 1972, many mechanical enhancements happened over the initial decades of inception as the equipment’s uses continued to multiply. From upgrading to diesel with greater horse-power engines, to drive system and safety improvements, Bobcat was always at the forefront. The company had made great strides with their loader’s strength, power and reliability, however new consumer demands and opportunities in the market meant more improvements continually needed to be made.

By the mid ’70s the Bobcat loader was performing a multitude of tasks never envisioned by the Kellers. From broom sweepers to apple pickers to snow blowers to mowers, the loader’s versatility was impressively amplified by attachments.

As more attachments were invented, the need to quickly mount and detach them from the front of the loader became essential. The Bob-tach system was yet another groundbreaking leap forward for skid-steer loaders in general. Every other quick-release mechanism used pins to mount attachments, which would get loose, rattle and wear out as they were put to the test. With an innovative triple-wedging design, the more you use the Bob-tach, the tighter it gets. So good is the system it has now become the SAE standard for all skid-steer loaders.

Through the ’80s, ’90s and into the new century the Bobcat range continued to grow with larger models that could outperform big, traditional, sole-purpose machines – they could match the power, plus have multi-use adaptability so were greater value for money. New variants on the traditional skid-steer loaders were finding a happy home in construction, landscaping and industrial job sites.

Bobcat equipment arrived in Australia in the 1970s through its global expansion thanks to Clark Equipment Company. Perfect for Australian conditions, our nation took to the brand and its robust and durable products like it was one of our own native animals.

Today, Bobcat operates in Australia together with the Clark Equipment dealer network, which has branches across the country providing excellent service and parts support from modern workshops, factory-trained technicians, a fleet of mobile service vehicles, and authorised service agents. Customers also have access to comprehensive equipment financing and rental options.

Roger Baker, Bobcat Company’s business manager for construction in Australia, has been with the business for more than 11 years. “We work closely with our local distribution partner and the global team to identify new products that will be suited to the Australian customer base, ensuring machines come to market in line with forecasted demand and peak periods. It’s a great business to work for with lots of innovation and supported by a brand name that everyone knows and trusts.

“The Bobcat brand is well known for its compact range of skid-steer and track loaders, excavators and telehandlers. We also offer a vast range of attachments and implements that help save time, reduce labour and generate income by widening the service offering.

“We have many repeat customers upgrading to a larger machine or expanding their fleet. The size, functionality and transportability of our machines suits the owner operator and enables access to just about any work site. Whether they’re starting out with just one machine or scaling up to own numerous machines as their business grows, customers do tend to stay loyal once they’ve experienced the difference,” added Baker.

In 2014, Bobcat officially opened the Acceleration Centre in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was established to foster innovative product development, product design, prototype engineering, prototype manufacturing, computer simulation, and testing of ideas and concepts. The centre is a key engineering facility for all Bobcat compact equipment distributed globally.

“We’ve had 60 years of establishing the Bobcat brand as the go-to in compact equipment. As a business, we are now focused on developing more powerful, more efficient products with intelligent and connected technologies and services that will reshape how work gets done. For 2020, you can expect to see completely redesigned R-Series skid steer and track loaders, compact tractors for farming and managing large properties, as well as new R2-Series excavators with enhanced performance, control and efficiency of the hydraulic system and work group. There will also be a focus on developing advanced technologies that connect people and machines in new and innovative ways to help operators work more efficiently and safely. Wireless communication, remote operation and touch displays are just some of the things you can expect from Bobcat machines next year.”

Bobcat continues to be the market leader in compact equipment – from its famed skid-steer loaders to its compact track loaders and mini excavators.

And with unparalleled research and development behind it, we’re sure to see even more progression from this iconic brand that will further shape our work and subsequently our lives.

[colored_box color=”yellow”]For more information visit bobcatofaustralia.com.au[/colored_box]

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