Tracing its roots back to brothers Vern and Wilbur Schield’s original prototype manufactured in 1946, the Bantam, or more properly the model C-35 cable excavator, was an astonishingly popular machine by the standard of the day selling over 15,000 units. This figure is even more remarkable when one considers the amount of competition the C-35 was up against. Machines from Bucyrus-Erie, Osgood, Byers, Northwest, Lorain, Link-Belt, Bay City, Wayne, Buckeye, Koehring and Insley to name but a few, all competing in the same size class.
Originally designed to operate in the brothers’ lime quarry, the first Bantam was truck mounted. Other contractors were impressed by the machine’s ability, which got the Schields to thinking that they could be on to a good thing with their excavator.
On commencing production, the first 9 ‘Bantams’ were assembled in a barn on the Schield’s property. Land and buildings were purchased in Waverly, Iowa and all subsequent machines were produced in this plant.
The C-35 was a simple, uncomplicated machine, which was robust and reliable in operation and easy to maintain. What’s more, it was very affordable for the average contractor – a backhoe equipped machine costing a mere US$9350 fully equipped.
In order to make the machine as adaptable as possible, a wide range of attachments and options were available to best suit customer needs.
The C-35 was available in four basic configurations: backhoe, face shovel, dragline and crane. When operating as a crane the C-35 had a 10.5 ton rating.
Standard bucket for the backhoe was a 5/8 cubic yard digging bucket, but several others could also be installed utilising Schields’ ‘fast change’ system which was heavily promoted by the company. The backhoe could excavate to a depth of 18 feet, quite adequate for most trenching jobs of the period.
A three-quarter cubic yard bucket was the usual rig fitted to the face shovel.
Usual power for a Schield C-35 was a Chrysler six-cylinder gasoline engine, rated at approximately 110 horsepower. One must remember that petrol was cheap in those days! Optional Buda, Cummins or GM diesels could also be installed at the customer’s request.
A power take off on the engine flywheel housing engaged dog clutches to power the winches and travel machinery.
The Bantam was quite a quick traveler, compared to other machines of the time, getting along at a blistering two miles an hour.
The undercarriage was very basic shovel type with flat linked track pads. Ahead of its time, Schield offered two undercarriage layouts for their excavators, standard (most commonly seen on face shovels) and extended frame which included an extra track roller for jobs requiring less ground pressure. Drive to the tracks was provided by exposed roller chain and sprocket.
As with all cable excavators of the period, operator comforts, apart from the cab, were virtually nil. A padded seat was provided for the operator, however, in order to check operation of the engine, the operator had to turn 180 degrees to read the instruments.
Stout levers and pedals engaged the various clutches and brakes to the winches which were the heart of the machine.
The noise inside the carbody must have been mind-numbing; your author well remembering the half day he spent on an NCK 304 which left him deaf for two days.
Following the heady years of the 1950s, the small cable operated excavator/shovel fell victim to the newer hydraulic types which were slowly appearing on the scene. Schield attempted to enter this market with a hybrid machine which featured a hydraulic cylinder for bucket crowding but sales were disappointing.
Finally in 1961, the Schield Bantam Company was bought lock, stock and factory by one of their competitors, Koehring, and Schields name faded into history (along with most of the other manufacturers mentioned in the opening paragraph of this feature).
The NZ Connection
It is not known how many Schield Bantams were imported into New Zealand but there were several of them, and most were mounted on war-surplus truck carriers rather than track type undercarriage. All were apparently imported as backhoes.
The last machine your author sighted was in 1968 (!) working on a drainage job in Newtown, Wellington belonging to Feast Contractors.
It would be interesting to know if any still exist in one piece.
Brief Specifications – Schield C-35 Bantam
Engine: (std) Chrysler six-cylinder, inline petrol, 110 hp
Transmission: Schield drop box and roller chain drive
Operation: Full cable with two winches (backhoe) or three winches
Drive: Tumbler type sprocket
Bottom Rollers: six (backhoe), five or six (shovel/crane)
Carrier Rollers: two
Standard Track Shoe: 20” flat pad, 36-section
Operating Weight: 10 tons (with backhoe)