Classic MachinesWheel dozers

Classic Machines- The Clark-Michigan wheel dozers

Michigan wheel dozers were well accepted by the earthmoving industry and found use in all manner of operations.

Michigan was not the first manufacturer to offer a wheel type bulldozer. That honour belongs to R G LeTourneau who pretty much came up with the concept in the first place.

Initially based on the chassis of one of Michigan’s existing line of wheel loaders, the model 180 was nevertheless regarded as a success and development of other machines followed.

It became apparent to Michigan, however, that some modifications were required to fully realise the potential of its wheel dozer, resulting in the development of a dedicated wheel dozer chassis, rather than adaptation of an existing loader chassis.

This was very much a step in the right direction, and the models 180-II, 280 and 380 wheel dozers were introduced the following year.

These machines were accepted well by the industry and found use in all manner of operations from earthmoving to industrial stockpiling and forestry.

They were particularly well regarded in Europe where sales of the Michigan wheel dozers outstripped those of LeTourneau.

The chief drawback of the design was the wide area needed to manoeuvre around as the machines all had rear-wheel steering as did almost all of the wheel loaders and dozers of the time.

LeTourneau’s machines were superior in this respect as their steering acted more like a skid-steer loader of today allowing them to execute a 180 degree turn in practically their own length. This though, while convenient, was quite hard on tyres.

A solution was close at hand, however, with the development of articulated steering. First pioneered on Mixermobile’s ‘Scoopmobile’ wheel loaders, the concept soon caught on and by the mid 1960s, most major manufacturers, including Michigan, were offering articulated steer machines.

Michigan applied this new technology to all its wheel dozers except the 180 which by then was up to its 180-III version.

Michigan was also at the leading edge when it came to large wheel dozers.

Its biggest machine, the 52-ton model 480, was introduced in 1958 and featured a 14-foot blade and 20 miles per hour top speed.

An articulated version of this machine first appeared in 1965 and found immediate acceptance in surface mines where its speed, blade capacity and agility made it the ideal tool to clean up around face shovels in the pit.

It remained in production until Clark-Michigan withdrew from the heavy equipment business.

The Michigan Wheel Dozer Described

Michigan dozers were offered with a choice of powerplant; either Cummins or GM Detroit Diesel. The remainder of the powertrain – comprising the converter, transmission, drivelines, differentials and axles ­– was manufactured by Clark at its Benton Harbour, Michigan, factory.

On rigid frame machines, the operator was well placed at the front of the machine in an elevated position where he had a good view of both corners of the blade.

Steering was via the rear axle and power assisted by two hydraulic rams.

Full instrumentation was provided on a panel on either side of the steering column, directly in front of the operator.

Articulated versions placed the operator on the rear module but with a similar control tower view of the work area. They were also far more agile than their rigid-frame predecessors with a twin-ram steering system giving them a steering angle of almost 30 degrees.

It is not known why an articulated version of the model 180 was never produced.


A cab or sun hood could be specified but on the rigid frame dozers, the narrowness of the cab caused a few grizzles. The articulated steer versions had quite a spacious cab however. Heaters, air purifiers and air conditioning systems could be installed in the cabs at the owner’s request.

There were a number of optional tyre sizes offered for all versions to suit local operating conditions.

Normally supplied with a twin tilt cylinder equipped straight blade, others were also offered by Michigan and these included U-blades, coal blades, and massive wood chip blades for stockpiling. Extra counterweight on the rear was required when equipped with either a coal or wood chip blade to achieve the correct machine balance.

Ateco offered several types of rear mounted ripper and scarifier to suit all versions of the machines.

The End of Clark-Michigan

Unfortunately Michigan did not weather the downturn and recession of the early 1980s very well.

Affected by falling sales and plummeting revenue, its scraper division shut up shop in 1981, followed in 1982 by the wheel dozer division.

This just left the wheel loader side of Clark-Michigan’s business, which was now run by Volvo following a partnership agreement which was formalised in 1985.

This was the final blow for the company that could trace its beginnings back to 1903.


Michigan offered four versions of wheel dozer – the 180, 280, 380 and 480, spanning 14 through to approximately 60 tons operating weight. All were well regarded.

Major competition originally came from LeTourneau & Hough, and through the 60s and 70s by FWD-Wagner, Caterpillar and Allis-Chalmers; Komatsu added to that competition.

Euclid had a go with a few experimental machines but couldn’t seem to get the recipe right.

Today there are only two manufacturers left producing wheel dozers: Caterpillar and Komatsu.

The New Zealand Connection

Relatively few Michigan wheel dozers have made it to New Zealand, the concept of the wheel dozer apparently not to most contractors’ liking.

Despite this, wheel dozers have been used here. The largest and most successful user of the type being Goodmans of Waikanae, north of Wellington, which has used both the 180-III and 280A in its fleet over the years. The Michigans were particularly useful in the sandy soil common to that region.

For The Model Collector

Rather slim pickings here with only two models available that the author is aware of.

First up is the rather rare Dinky toys offering which represents either a model 280 or 380 rigid frame machine. This is to an odd 1:43 scale and is expensive and hard to find.

The other Michigan model is much better and made by Siku of Germany.

It is a 1:50 scale and is of a model 180-III. Despite it being intended for the toy market it is actually quite well detailed for a model of this type and well worth adding to a 1:50 scale collection.

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