Once the number one go-to organization for tractor rippers and a myriad of other useful attachments, the American Tractor Equipment Corporation (ATECO) enjoyed major success during the 30s thru 80s but have now vanished into obscurity. By Richard Campbell
(I would like to point out at this stage that Ateco has no connection with the American Tractor Corp. of Indiana who built the Terratrac range of track type tractors).
Ateco was an incredibly innovative manufacturer, in every sense of the word, building rippers, scarifiers, cable plows, stump splitters, dozer and grader blades, bank slopers, tractor cranes, scrapers and compaction equipment from 1920 until 1992 when it seemed to have shut up shop. Information on Ateco is practically non-existent on the internet and many hours of research have gone into providing this overview, enjoy!
The American Tractor Equipment Corporation, Ateco, was founded in 1920 by Edward R Bacon. Bacon, with a great deal of industry insight, had obtained the patent rights to a number of implements originally designed by the McMillan Bros Contracting Co. of San Francisco. These designs included some bulldozer blades and rotary ‘tumblebug’ type scrapers (which were actually based on an even earlier Killefer design). The McMillan Bros designs were sound and job-proved but with the rapid advance in tractor technology, and the proliferation of tractor models that took place in the mid to late 1920s, they needed some serious upgrading to remain competitive. In 1939, Ateco managed to acquire the services of Mack Wooldridge. Wooldridge, who was already a successful designer and manufacturer in his own right, steered Ateco on steady path and provided great input to the development of several product lines. Ateco parted ways with Wooldridge in 1955.
The bulldozer blades
In the 1930s, tractor manufacturers did not build their own attachments and so the bulldozer market was a highly competitive arena as a great many companies vied for business and attempted to come up with a better constructed blade than their rivals. A list of manufacturers from this era reveals names such as Bucyrus-Erie, Wooldridge, Kay-Brunner, LaPlant-Choate, and LeTourneau as well as Ateco.
There were two schools of thought regarding the operation of dozer blades – cable or hydraulic and each manufacturer had a distinct preference for how their equipment should be operated. Early hydraulic systems were slow, leaked, and were particularly vulnerable to dirt contamination if not properly maintained. To operate at their best, they required someone with a good knowledge of how hydraulic systems operated, a big ask in the 1930s. Cable controls on the other hand, were pretty much bullet proof and could be adjusted or repaired in the field by an average mechanic.
Most of Ateco’s blades were operated by hydraulics. It wasn’t until Harry Vickers arrived on the scene in 1938 that hydraulic systems really began to become truly reliable. Vickers shared his ideas on pumps with both Ateco and LaPlant-Choate. Ateco largely exited the bulldozer blade market during WWII but reappeared again in the 1950s, also adding motor grader moldboards to its portfolio as well.
Tractor mounted rippers and scarifiers are what really made Ateco a high-profile name in the earthmoving world. Long before tractor manufacturers began making their own attachments, if you wanted a tractor mounted hydraulic ripper you went to Ateco or CRC-Kelley, most purchasers chose Ateco. Ateco’s Greenville range of tractor mounted rippers were the standard by which all others were judged during the 1950s and these rippers could be fitted to any make or model of track type tractor or loader. The Greenville range featured curved ripper shanks for easy ground penetration and if required, these could be fitted with one of Ateco’s ‘wingfoot’ attachments which really boiled up the earth making it easier for scrapers to load and dozers to push.
During the late 1960s, Ateco developed their ‘Vyba’ range of rippers which superseded the Greenville line. The Ateco Vyba ripper’s main selling features dense rubber block at the top of the ripper shank. The ripper shank had a certain degree of forward/backward movement and when the tip of the ripper struck something solid, the rubber block at the top would compress and power the tip through the object, at least that was the principle. Ateco sold thousands of these type of ripper so the idea must have had some merit. Ateco rippers and scarifiers could be fitted to practically any make and model of track type tractor available and also included types for wheel loaders, wheel dozers, Traxcavators and motor graders. Ateco also manufactured cable plows which were basically a heavy duty ripper shank with a hollow guide on the rear. When the ripper went into the ground, the cable to be laid (which was carried on a drum , usually at the front of the tractor) was automatically inserted into the soil at a depth chosen by the operator and covered up at the same time thereby saving hours of labour. Ateco got the cable plow idea from LeTourneau who had invented a similar device back in 1936, although LeTourneau’s cable plow was cable, not hydraulically controlled.
Even more competitive than the bulldozer market, towed scrapers were in very high demand in the 1930s and 1940s as the world’s appetite to open up new tracts of land saw no bounds. All the heavyweight manufacturers of the day offered scrapers – LeTourneau, LaPlant-Choate, Bucyrus-Erie, Wooldridge, Atlas, Heil, Austin Western, Slusser-McLean just to mention but a few. Ateco already had a head start so to speak, as it already had the McMillan Bros designs which included several models of small earth scraper. All of Ateco’s scrapers were hydraulically controlled and ranged from the tiny 3 cubic yard model H-22 through to the 17 cubic yard model H-150. By the end of the 1950s, demand for towed scrapers had dropped dramatically and Ateco discontinued the range.
The bank slopers
This was simply put, a brilliant idea. Introduced by Ateco in the early 1960s, the bank sloper is mounted on the left hand side of a dozer blade and hydraulically controlled off the dozers blades tilt circuit. It operates through a 90 degree arc and works like a grader moldboard allowing push tractor operators to grade the backslope as the cut progresses rather than sending some poor bastard up on a small crawler to trim it to grade afterwards. An amazing labour saving and safety idea all in one. Why contractors outside the USA never took up on this idea remains a mystery to me.
Other useful goodies
Another very useful tool invented by Ateco was the compaction cutter/crusher. This attachment mounted on the rear ripper/scarifier beam of a motor grader and was designed for rehabilitating old asphalt or packed earth roads. The device cut and crushed the existing road surface and basically recycled the surface in-situ which could then be finish graded and oiled or compacted and a new layer of blacktop applied. The cutter/crusher was targeted at counties and municipalities whose road maintenance budgets did not extend to large road planing machines.
Your author speculates that the reason for Ateco’s demise in 1992 was the ever-increasing instance of manufacturers building their own attachments and not relying on outside suppliers to do the work for them.
For the model collector
As far as the author is aware, there are only two models of recognizable Ateco attachments available in model form. One is the Ateco radial arc ripper fitted to the 1:50 scale Black Rat Models Euclid TC-12 dozer. At over US$1,000 this is a very expensive model and for the purist only but the ripper is unmistakably an Ateco and even has the logo embossed into it. The other is a 1:87 model of an Ateco cutter/crusher that Roco of Germany fitted to their Caterpillar 12F grader model. This last item is far more accessible, both materially and financially!