There is an old adage that says “If it looks right, it probably is right”, and that appellation most certainly describes the Caterpillar 941 Traxcavator. Manufactured in several of Caterpillar’s facilities around the world, it remained essentially unchanged for its entire production life. By Richard Campbell
The Caterpillar 941 replaced the model HT4 Traxcavator in Caterpillar’s track type loader lineup, and was introduced in 1968.
Caterpillar had not had a track loader in the 1¼ cubic yard range for almost 13 years as the predecessor machine, the model HT4 Traxcavator, (based on the D4-7U), had been discontinued in 1955.
The previous model HT4 had been originally designed and built by Trackson, a company which Caterpillar acquired in 1951, and who had been responsible for a number of firsts in the industry, all using Caterpillar tractors as its basis. These machines and other loaders and attachments that Trackson produced (including pipelayers) were good reliable and productive tools, with of course, Caterpillar reliability.
The new 941 loader, although utilizing a Caterpillar D4D power train, was a dedicated track loader from the ground up, an all-new machine, and not an adaptation that was bolted onto an existing tractor.
Bones of the beast
Powered by a Caterpillar D330 4-cylinder naturally aspirated diesel putting out 70 flywheel horsepower, the 941 featured a 3-speed forward and reverse powershift transmission and lever or optional pedal steering, advancements that the previous HT4 could only dream of.
With a 5-roller non-oscillating track frame and 13-inch triple grouser track shoes, the 941 featured a 60-inch track gauge and in operating trim with a 1¼ yard GP bucket weighed approximately 10 tons.It was designated the 80H series by Caterpillar.
A massive, fabricated loader frame supported the parallel loader arms and linkages with a hydraulic lift cylinder on either side of the frame and two further cylinders acting on the loader linkage to crowd and dump the bucket. A small counterweight was fitted above a rudimentary drawbar but this could be easily removed if the owner wished to fit a ripper or a winch.
The operator sat high on a well-cushioned seat and had a good field of vision all around. As was usual for Caterpillar products, a generous instrument display was provided in front of the operator with the familiar U-shaped powershift transmission control to his left (right next to the hand throttle) and the loader operating controls to his right. The floor contained three pedals – left and right steering brake plus a master brake in the center. Despite these excrescences, the machine was easy to get in and out of.
A 1971 upgrade
Caterpillar updated the machine to the model 941B in 1971, replacing the D330 engine with their new 3304 series powerplant. This engine featured 10 more horsepower than the previous D330 engine and an updated fuel system. At the same time, Caterpillar increased the standard bucket size to 1.5 cubic yards.
These changes raised the overall weight of the machine to approximately 12 tons but Caterpillar did not see fit to change the serial number prefix which remained as an 80H series. American manufactured 941Bs start at serial number 80H3040
Due to high consumer demand, the 941 and 941B were also manufactured outside the USA in Akashi, Japan (by Caterpillar Mitsubishi) and in France at Caterpillar’s facility in Echirolles. The Japanese produced examples were also available with a direct drive transmission if required, the only production 941s to feature this option.
Highly popular in service due to its simplicity and reliability, in total some 6,500 Caterpillar 941s and 941Bs were manufactured during the machine’s production life. While very early machines had lever/brake steering, most purchasers bought the pedal steering option which was a great deal easier on the operator and improved cycle times. Subsequently, the lever steer option was dropped from production..
The 941B was discontinued in 1981 and replaced by the all-new, hydrostatic drive model 943.
Despite the 941/941Bs popularity, it certainly did face competition during its lifetime, most often from International-Harvester’s model 125. However, Case, Allis-Chalmers (later Fiat-Allis) and Komatsu all were well represented amongst the competitors. It is interesting to note that while all of the 941s competitors are now long gone, examples of used 941s can still command a reasonable price on the second hand machine market.
Both the 941 and the later 941B versions were available with a factory installed cab which included a heater. The standard Caterpillar D4D multi-shank ripper was also a direct fit to the rear of the machine (along with the addition of the appropriate valve), as was a Hyster D4E winch. 941Bs had integral ROPS pads incorporated into the chassis should you wish to fit one, however conversion of the older 941s to a ROPS required an aftermarket unit and some local strengthening of the frame to accommodate it.
Different configurations of track shoe were available, triple, double and single grouser (used if the machine was in a logging application with a front fork).
Three different buckets were the usual mainstay of the 941, the standard 1¼ cubic yard general purpose (usually with teeth), a 1 cubic yard multi-purpose bucket (4-in-1), plus the 941B had the attractive option of a 1.5 cubic yard general purpose bucket.
There were of course specialist manufacturers who offered demolition buckets and light materials buckets plus the Fleco Corporation manufactured several different configurations of log forks to suit the machine.
The New Zealand connection
A great many 941s and 941Bs were imported into New Zealand by (then) distributor Gough, Gough and Hamer and most earthmoving spreads of the day had one or two of them in their arsenal unless they were a dedicated International Harvester user! Serious fleet owners of the type who had five or more in their fleet included Lendich Construction (who still have theirs!) and Warren Fowler Ltd, both of Auckland. At this point it is worth noting that the majority of 941Bs imported into New Zealand are from Japanese-sourced production (as were most of the Cat Traxcavators that came into the country during this time period).
Surviving operating examples can still be found from one end of the country to the other.
For the model collector
There is one model of the Caterpillar 941 available and it is to 1:25 scale by NZG of Germany. Originally released in the mid-1970s, the model represents an early European-build 941 and is simple model but reasonably accurate for the time. Its major downfall is the undercarriage – it is very unrealistic and has spoked idlers that no 941 ever wore – and although the model has been re-released several times over the years with some minor alterations, nothing has been done to the tracks to improve the model’s appearance in this regard. Examples of the model are easy to obtain however and make regular appearances on Ebay.
Brief Specifications – Caterpillar 941B
Engine: Caterpillar 3304 4-cylinder, naturally aspirated diesel rated at 80 flywheel horsepower at 2000 rpm
Transmission: 3-speed forward and reverse, Caterpillar powershift transmission
Steering: Multi-disc steering clutches with hydraulically boosted, contracting band brakes
Speed: 7 mph
Frame: 5-roller track frame with one carrier roller. Hydraulic track adjustment
Std.Tracks: 13” triple grouser on 38-section track chain
Std.Bucket: 1.5 cubic yard, general purpose
Length: 14’ 8” (bucket on ground)
Operating Weight: 12.5 tons