Classic Machines Forgotten companies

Forgotten companies: Bucyrus-Erie

The Bucyrus-Erie Company was world famous for it’s range of face shovels, draglines, cranes and other mining and quarry equipment. However, it also made a wide range of tractor equipment that was popular through the 1930s to the middle 1950s which is now largely forgotten. By RICHARD CAMPBELL.

The Bucyrus Foundry Company of Bucyrus, Ohio, USA was founded in 1880 and made a range of steel castings and general metal products.

In 1887 they shifted to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to take advantage of the better logistics opportunities this location offered for the distribution of their products and began producing small cranes and steam shovels for industrial use.

Their big break came in 1927 when they merged with the cash-strapped Erie Steam Shovel Company, becoming Bucyrus-Erie.

Before too long, Bucyrus-Erie shovels were becoming preferred equipment on jobsites due to their well thought out design and reliability.

In order to boost their profile in the European market and get around the high taxes and duties British users paid for imported earthmoving equipment, Bucyrus-Erie entered into a manufacturing agreement with the well known and respected UK company of Ruston & Hornsby in 1930, a partnership that was to last for almost fifty years.

UK-manufactured Bucyrus-Erie equipment was marketed as “Ruston-Bucyrus”, and featured engines and some components that were plentiful in the UK and Europe and didn’t have to be imported from the USA.

A great many of these machines found their way into New Zealand and Australia.

Bucyrus-Erie were also very conscious of the growing role of the crawler tractor in construction and in the late 1920s, began to design and market a range of complimentary attachments that could be fitted to them.

While Bucyrus-Erie products could be fitted to any brand of track type tractor, quite early on in the piece Bucyrus-Erie formed a very close association with McCormick-Deering which in turn was absorbed into International Harvester.

The result was that Bucyrus-Erie became a preferred supplier to that company.

The Products

Bulldozer Blades – Bucyrus-Erie made an extensive range of cable and hydraulically operated blades to fit the entire range of International-Harvester track type tractors.

These were sold under the trade names of Bullgrader and Bulldozer.

Basically, the Bulldozers were an ‘S’ (straight) blade, and the Bullgraders were angle blades which could also be manually adjusted for tilt, a useful feature when cutting trails into a bank.

Both Hydraulic and Cable operated types were manufactured with the hydraulically operated Bullgraders being particularly popular on the small International TD-6, TD-9 and TD-14 tractors.

They were instantly recognizable as Bucyrus-Erie products because of their mounting frame which featured a graceful, cast curve-shaped link between the hydraulic cylinders and the blade lift rods.

Bucyrus’ cable operated blades for the TD-18 and smaller I-H tractors were outboard mounted on the track frame and looked somewhat ungainly (similar to LeTourneau’s “speedline” frame.

They had quite a fast cable speed due to the fact that they would only accept a 2-part line and were not particularly popular, most operators preferring the hydraulic variety.

Surviving examples are very rare.

The unit offered for the International TD-24 was far more conventional and robust and could accept up to a four part cable giving very precise control if needed.

Bucyrus-Erie’s entire blade range was absorbed by I-H in the late 1950s and also built under licence in Australia by Armstrong-Holland.

Cable Controls

Bucyrus-Erie manufactured their own cable control units (PCU’s) in four different sized models – the P-14, a single drum unit primarily intended for dozer and ripper use, the C-22, a double-drum type designed for small track-type tractors (and not in production for very long) – the P-24, a double drum unit for tractors up to International TD-18 size, and the P-28, also a double drum unit designed for the largest track type tractors of the period.

These were simple designs, based on straight cable routing, and featured good line speeds.

Due to their open frame construction (apart from the model P-28), they ran cool in operation and were relatively easy to adjust. However the open frame made them susceptible to dust entry and high component wear.

The Bucyrus-Erie PCU could be fitted to all makes of track type tractor, not just International Harvesters.

Bucyrus-Erie’s PCU range was sold to Superior Industries not too long after International-Harvester purchased Bucyrus-Erie in 1953.

The Scrapers

Initially, Bucyrus-Erie offered five different sized cable operated scraper models from five to seventeen cubic yards heaped capacity.

These were the models S-45, S-67, S-90, S-112 and S-152.

They were of a design called a ‘throw-arm’ scraper and differed from conventional scrapers in that the bowl was raised and lowered from the rear and maintained a fairly flat profile throughout all phases of their operation.

The ejector was hinged just behind the cutting edge and was also lifted by cable from the rear, rolling the load out.

This type of scraper has a lot of exposed cable which is susceptible to high wear under certain conditions.

They are also very difficult to top-load with a shovel or dragline.

Bucyrus-Erie redesigned their entire towed scraper range in 1949, selling the existing S-series patents & jigs to Southwest Manufacturing of Alhambra, California, who continued to manufacture them under their own brand name well into the early 1970s.

The new Bucyrus-Erie units were the B-91, B-113, B170 and B-250 ranging in capacity from ten to twenty-seven cubic yards heaped.

These were of a far more conventional design than the previous ‘S’-models but still featured roll-out ejection, which required that the ejector cable be routed over the top of the load, exposing it to wear from dust.

The model B-170 was upgraded slightly with a capacity increase in 1955 becoming the B-170A, however none of the other ‘B’-scrapers were so altered.

International-Harvester absorbed the B-series scrapers into their own product range at the same time they acquired Bucyrus-Erie bulldozer blades.

There were also three models of hydraulically operated two-axle scraper, the G-28, G-38 and G-58 which were very popular, especially with councils.

International-Harvester discontinued these scrapers almost immediately after acquiring B-E and they did not reappear under International-Harvester branding.

Bucyrus-Erie scrapers were offered for a short period in the UK by Ruston-Bucyrus and built under licence in Australia by Armstrong-Holland.

As well as these, a small number of the model S-45 were built in New Zealand by CWF Hamilton.

Rippers & Rollers

In order to make their attachment range as broad as possible, Bucyrus-Erie also manufactured a cable operated ripper, the CR-2, and several sizes of sheepsfoot tamping compactor.

While their compactors were a little lightweight in construction and not particularly successful, the CR-2 ripper was the complete opposite, and Bucyrus-Erie sold quite a few of them.

They differed from most of their competitors by having a very short cable lift tower and semi-cowled wheels.

This gave them a very low centre of gravity so that they weren’t as prone to toppling over as some other brands were.

International-Harveter did not take on either of these product lines when they acquired Bucyrus-Erie’s other products.

Tractor-Shovels

Bucyrus-Erie manufactured a tractor-shovel attachment that could be installed on International TD-9 and TD-14 tractors.

Although it was a bit clunky and over-engineered, it featured all hydraulic operation and had most of its mass at the back, ensuring a bit of operating counterweight.

These types of machines were popular in civil works for excavating car parks, garages and basements.

However, International were also very good buddies with Drott (inventors of the 4-in-one bucket), so when I-H acquired Bucyrus-Erie’s attachment division, the B-E loaders quickly faded into history.

Competiton

The tractor attachments business was really hot property in the period 1932 through 1960.

Bucyrus-Erie had a raft of competition including some well known and other not so well known names that are now consigned to history such as: LeTourneau, GarWood, Heil, LaPlant-Choate, Kay-Brunner, Isaacson, Wooldridge, Slusser-McLean, Buckeye, Baker, Ateco and Carco.

Bucyrus-Erie did well in maintaining consistently good sales against all those other suppliers.

All good things come to an end eventually and Bucyrus-Erie was no exception.

Despite buying up two of their major competitors, Marion & O&K in the late half of the 20th century, Bucyrus International as it was now known, was bought out by Caterpillar Inc in 2010 for over US$4 billion dollars thus ending 113 years in the earthmoving business.

For the Model Collector.

Not a great deal on offer here but there are some examples.

EMD Models build a very nice replica of an S-112 scraper with P-24 PCU but it is hard to find and expensive.

The same company also builds a TD-18 tractor with a Bucyrus-Erie Bullgrader attachment and the same comments as above apply.

Both of these are to 1:50 scale.

There are also models of the International-Harvester TD-24 to 1:50 and 1:25 scale by Spec-Cast Models which feature Bucyrus-Erie PCU’s and blades.

These are worth seeking out as they are good representations of the real thing.

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