Forgotten companies

Forgotten companies: Champion

It was only 28 years ago that the name Champion vanished from the earthmoving scene, but ask someone today about Champion equipment and you will most likely get raised eyebrows.

Some of the products of the Dominion Road Machinery Company are actually still around and still earning their keep. By RICHARD CAMPBELL

The history of Champion motor graders is much older than people think, and goes way back into the 1800s.

It is also a very complex story from a corporate point of view with many twists and turns along the way.

Most folks thing of Champion graders as being Canadian in origin.

In fact, Champion Road Machinery came into being as part of the Good Roads Machinery Company which was founded in the early 1870s in Pennsylvania, USA.

Originally manufacturing agricultural gear, Good Roads moved into earthmoving equipment around 1875.

Its first grader as such was a four wheel towed apparatus called the “American Champion”.

The company was reorganised in 1877 as the American Road Machinery Co and opened manufacturing facilities in Ohio and New York building horse drawn graders, road maintainers and small crushing plant under the “Good Roads” brand name.

In 1888, American Road Machinery entered into an agreement with the Canadian Copp Bros. Company to manufacture and sell machinery in Canada.

This proved to be a very successful enterprise, so much so, that in 1896, Copp Bros. bought the company out.

This is where things get a little depressing, as after acquiring American Road Machinery, the Copp Bros. company went broke in 1907.

A new group of investors bought the defunct company in 1908 and reorganised it again as the Canadian Road Machinery Co. Ltd.

This company also went bankrupt!

Things were in limbo until 1915 when what remained of the Canadian Road Machinery Co was once again reorganised into the Dominion Road Machinery Company (DRMCo), and this final incarnation proved to be both successful and profitable.

The 30s to the 80s

The early 1930s were a big time for Champion who introduced powered road graders for the first time.

An experimental machine had been trialed in 1928, based on an agricultural tractor frame with the front axle removed. It was found to be quite acceptable so development continued.

In 1936 the first fully-hydraulic model was introduced.

While not a runaway success, it has to be remembered that hydraulic controls for machinery were in their infancy during the 1930s and that most motor grader controls were of the powered screw type, so Champion was a bit of an innovator.

The 1940s saw the company involved in manufacturing products for the War and it wasn’t until the late 1940s that the company returned to its core business as a grader manufacturer.

Champion introduced a hideous looking Model 507 “Road Maintainer” in the early 1950s, specifically targeted at low budget counties and local bodies.

Powered by a 40-horsepower engine and featuring full hydraulic controls and an enclosed cab, it was probably the most unattractive product the company ever built.

It was, however, successful and remained in production for several years.

Champion embarked upon a new series of more conventionally styled machines in the 1960s and 1970s resulting in the highly successful D600, D686, D562 and D565 culminating in the 700 series machines which were available as both rigid frame and articulated steer.

These were all sold worldwide and proved to be solid and reliable performers.

Mention should also be made at this point of Champion’s monster motor grader, the 100T, which was first unveiled in 1975.

Powered by a 700 horsepower Cummins VT1710C engine, and wielding a 24-foot blade, the machine was specifically designed for large mining operations where rapid maintenance of the haul roads was a necessity.

As can be expected, Champion actually built very few of these behemoths but they still remain an impressive piece of engineering.

Enter Volvo

Volvo of Sweden bought the entire Champion motor grader line as a going concern from DRMCo in 1997 along with the manufacturing plant in Goderitch, Ontario, Schippersberg, Pennsylvania, and also a manufacturing facility in Brazil.

The grader range was re-introduced in 2001 and sold as Volvo but the original Champion model numbers were retained for a short period to assist customer acceptance of the new owner and model sizes.

The ‘D’ prefix previously employed was then changed to a ‘G’ (for grader) and life went on.

Volvo proceeded to improve upon the existing grader range and also introduced some new models along the way.

Volvo only sold the articulated steer models of the previous Champion grader line, the rigid frame models having vanished when Volvo bought Champion in 1997.

Inexplicably, Volvo discontinued motor grader production and development in 2014, transferring some limited production to its Chinese SDLG subsidiary.

Manufacture of Volvo graders at the American and Brazilian facilities has now ceased.

The New Zealand connection

The New Zealand Government, in the form of the Ministry of Works, bought many, many Champion motor graders during the late 1950s through to the early 1970s.

These were used New Zealand-wide in all manner of applications from road maintenance to snow removal. Just about every MOW ward in NZ had a Champion grader in its fleet.

As Canada was one of the members of the Commonwealth, the NZ Government was able to secure very attractive pricing for these machines.

After putting in many thousands of hours service, these machines were gradually disposed of through the Government Stores Board auctions, usually held once or twice a year.

As Champion motor graders were so simple and well built, the majority of ex-MOW machines had no problem finding a new home with private contractors.

New Zealand Champion distributor, Dalhoff & King also sold graders into the private sector with Downer & Co being a particularly good customer.

 

For the Model Collector

Rather slim pickings for the collector here unless you are after a Volvo-branded example.

To the best of the author’s knowledge there is only one model of a Champion-branded motor grader available, a very limited 1:32 model of a 1936 Road Maintainer manufactured in Canada by Teeswater.

This is a very rare model and likely to be expensive if you can find one.

Your safest bet however, are the two beautifully made 1:50 models produced by Motorart who manufacture two different Volvo-branded graders, a G970 and a G740B (a re-badged Champion D740A) which are both excellent scale models and worth adding to your collection.

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