Forgotten companies

Forgotten companies: LaPlant-Choate

LaPlant-Choate is not a well-known name in New Zealand. In fact if you mentioned it to a contractor today he would probably give you a very puzzled look. But, along with LeTourneau, Caterpillar and Allis-Chalmers, LaPlant-Choate was responsible for a lot of the innovations found in earth-moving equipment today, particularly in the field of hydraulics.

Established in 1911 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, LaPlant-Choate originally got its start in the construction industry by building house moving equipment. This expanded to the manufacture of rudimentary bulldozer blades by 1927 and then on to towed scrapers, compaction equipment and rippers.

By 1939 LaPlant-Choate was a thriving concern and a major supplier of equipment to Caterpillar, both cable and hydraulically operated. LaPlant-Choate’s hydraulic pumps were one of the most simple and therefore reliable of all the early hydraulic units available and employed gears rather than vanes to pump the oil under pressure through the system. Critically, they were equipped with a filter in the return line to the tank.

The company’s gear type hydraulic pumps wore at a much slower rate than the vane type pumps favored by its competitors that were susceptible to the rather indifferent quality hydraulic oil of the time.

Although LaPlant-Choate never built a cable control unit (PCU), it did manufacture a large range of cable operated equipment, relying on other manufacturers, such as GarWood, Isaacson and LeTourneau to furnish a suitable PCU.

Rivalry exisited between LaPlant-Choate and LeTourneau as both companies had preferred supplier agreements with Caterpillar who sold both of their products through Cat’s extensive worldwide dealer network.

LaPlant-Choate, just like LeTourneau, was a victim of Caterpillar’s decision to develop and manufacture its own attachments. In 1944 Cat pulled the plug on both companies, collapsing LaPlant’s distributor network.

Setting up a new sales, parts and service network from scratch takes time and a considerable amount of capital, something which severely stretched the company financially.

However, this setback did not deter the company from developing and marketing it’s first motor scraper, the 18 cubic yard Model TS-300 in 1946 followed in 1950 by the 13 cubic yard TS-200.

It should be noted here that LaPlant-Choate coined the trademark “Moto-Scraper”, later expanding it to “Motor Scraper” which has now become a generic term for all machines of this type!

Both the TS-300 and TS-200 were well accepted by contractors but sufficient operating capital was still a problem for the company. LaPlant-Choate also tried building a rubber tyred push tractor, the Model TD-300, but only manufactured a few before the type was withdrawn.

Finally, in September 1952, LaPlant-Choate ceased to exist when Allis-Chalmers bought the entire company, its manufacturing plant & tooling, patent rights, trademarks and unsold equipment. Allis-Chalmers had been investigating scraper manufacturers that could round out its own equipment line and LaPlant-Choate filled the bill nicely. From then on all former LaPlant-Choate products were painted Persian Orange and branded as Allis-Chalmers.

The Towed Scrapers of LaPlant-Choate

LaPlant-Choate called its towed scrapers ‘Carrimors’, a direct dig at LeTourneau’s ‘Carryalls.’

One of the features of LaPlant-Choate’s scrapers was its curved bowl floor and cutting edge which loaded very aggressively compared to a lot of its competitors. This was also a bit of a handicap when it came to finishing work as a special cutting edge had to be fitted to perform the task. A good mix of sizes was available from 2.5 through to 33 cubic yards capacity.

All of the towed scrapers under 10 cubic yards were hydraulically controlled while those of larger capacity were cable controlled. When Allis-Chalmers took over the company, not all of the models were retained in the product line-up, most noticeably the small single axle Carrimors. The large 33 cubic yard C104 did not make it either.

The Motor Scrapers

The fourth US manufacturer to introduce a true motor scraper, LaPlant-Choate was not slow to see the potential of LeTourneau’s Tournapull scraper and had a prototype motor scraper of its own design operating under test in 1944 as well as a three-axle self propelled bottom dump wagon which did not make it into production.

The scraper however, was fine-tuned and released for public consumption as the Model TS-300 in 1946, followed in 1950 by the smaller Model TS-200. Both machines featured hydraulic steering and could be powered by either Buda or Cummins diesels with both incorporating Fuller manual transmissions.

An optional 19 cubic yard bottom dump wagon was available for the TS-300 and a 15 cubic yard rock dumper could be swapped for the TS-200’s scraper.

Carried over into the Allis-Chalmers product range, the TS-300 was only produced up until 1954 when the tractor unit was completely redesigned and renamed the TS-360 but the scraper unit was identical to the former Model TS-300.

The TS-200 fared a little better and wasn’t replaced by an improved Allis-Chalmers design until 1956 when the TS-260 was introduced. One of the principal design flaws of LaPlant-Choate’s motor scrapers was their limited steering range (60° on the TS-300 and 65° on the TS-200) and the rather dangerous cable routing on the TS-300’s bowl which could decapitate an operator if the hoist cable broke!

Allis-Chalmers didn’t remedy this rather dangerous oversight until 1958 when it re- routed the cable. This failing was not an issue for the TS-200 which was all-hydraulic.

LaPlant-Choate in New Zealand

It would seem that very few LaPlant-Choate scrapers were imported into New Zealand before WWII and none after.The most common type appears to be the single axle hydraulic C-61 Carrimor trailer scrapers of which there were at least 10 examples imported.

As far as the larger cable operated types are concerned, the author has yet to see photographic evidence of any at all and it is to be assumed that LeTourneau got the lion’s share of this business. I would welcome any photographic evidence to the contrary.

There were no LaPlant-Choate branded motor scrapers imported into New Zealand but examples of the company’s technology, albeit labelled Allis-Chalmers, did arrive in the form of two TS200 and 10 TS300 scrapers which all operated in the North Island.

For the Model Collector

A rather dismal outlook unfortunately as the author can find no LaPlant-Choate models available in any scale.

However, you can get an Allis-Chalmers branded model of a genuine LaPlant-Choate machine in the form of First Gear’s 1:50th scale A-C TS300 motor scraper. This is a beautiful little model of one of LaPlant’s seminal products and deserves a place in every collection of 1950s equipment,

Released in 2007 in a limited run, it is a little hard to find these days but well worth the effort to track down.

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