Prior to its acquisition by Westinghouse Air Brake Co (WABCO), RG LeTourneau Inc, had tried unsuccessfully to design and develop a motor grader to complement its existing range of machinery. By Richard Campbell.
RG LeTourneau Inc designed, developed and tested at least three different prototypes – one based around the Model C Tournapull scraper – but all were discarded as either inefficient or uneconomic to manufacture.
Westinghouse Air Brake Co, bought out LeTourneau in mid-1953 and not long after went shopping for a motor grader to fill out its new venture into the earthmoving industry.
Prime target was JD Adams of Indianapolis, Indiana, which had been building graders since the 1880s and which had also invented the leaning front wheel concept, still used on motor graders today.
Adams’ motor graders were highly regarded as efficient pieces of machinery and the United States Armed Forces had used them extensively during WWII where they gave a very good account of themselves as rugged and reliable tools.
Adams had manufacturing plants in the USA and Canada and exported worldwide.
LeTourneau-Westinghouse’s buy out of Adams took place in 1954.
Now with its own grader line, LeTourneau-Westinghouse was keen to develop it further.
Adams’ designations for its motor graders were retained so as not to confuse the buying public and business continued as usual.
The range consisted of the models 220, 330, 440, 550 and 660 spanning 60 to 190 horsepower.
Primary production of the motor grader line was retained at Adams’ Indianapolis, Indiana facility with the Adams plant at Paris, Ontario, Canada, providing overflow production when it was required and manufacturing spare parts.
Production was not undertaken at the LeTourneau-Westinghouse plant in Rydalmere Australia, all Australian motor graders being imported fully assembled from the USA.
Some manufacture of the 444 and 555 models was also undertaken on a small scale at the Wabco plant in Campinas, Brazil.
It was not long before LeTourneau-Westinghouse began to make some changes to the range.
Disappointing sales for the Model 220 resulted in it being discontinued in 1958 and the Model 550 only lasted until 1961.
The 330 and 440 were beefed up and offered with an option of either Cummins or Detroit Diesel powerplants.
These improved versions were called the “H” series (for heavy duty) and were designated 330-H and 440-H.
Final year of production for the 330 series was 1966.
Sales of the other models continued steadily and in 1963 the Model 660 also got a makeover with a horsepower increase plus a few optional extras. It was now also available in a 660-H variant.
The Model 660 was again revamped in 1966 when it became the Model 660B and this variant remained in production until 1979 making it the longest running model of the entire grader range.
LeTourneau-Westinghouse then began producing motor graders of its own design.
(L-W’s own machines can be identified by their triple digit designations eg, 444, 555 etc.)
The first of these was introduced in 1962, the Model 777.
This was designed to take on the Caterpillar No 14 and Galion T700 and to this end it was quite successful as some 2000 were manufactured.
In 1967, an even larger motor grader was introduced, the Model 888.
This was a direct competitor to the Caterpillar No 16 and was a very large and powerful motor grader, but only just over 200 were ever manufactured despite an upgraded B series being produced, with the last 888 coming off the production line in 1973.
Other models within the range were also progressively improved and upgraded with the 440 becoming the Model 444 in 1972, and the Model 555 being added the same year.
The final range of Wabco motor graders (LeTourneau-Westinghouse having officially changed its name to Wabco in 1967) included the 444, 555, 660B, 666B, 777B and 888B.
Production of all Wabco motor graders was discontinued in 1983 with the split up of the various divisions of the company.
LeTourneau-Westinghouse/Wabco motor graders were of conventional construction with a rigid arched frame, tandem drive and front wheel steer.
The company never offered an articulated steer machine or one with all wheel drive.
Engines came from International-Harvester, Cummins or GM Detroit Diesel with the predominant powerplant being GM.
Customers had a choice of several transmission types – dry clutch direct drive, oil clutch direct drive, torque converter direct drive or powershift, which Wabco trademarked ‘PowerFlow’.
The larger 777 and 888 graders were supplied with the PowerFlow transmission only.
Blade controls were always all-mechanical with later models having planetary reduction drives to remove control lever judder (a feature common to all mechanical control motor graders).
A very wide and extensive range of optional equipment could be fitted to all models including cabs, snow plows, dozer blades, rippers, scarifiers, cable plows, windrow eliminators and any amount of other gadgets
The New Zealand connection
Examples of the 330, 440 and 440H were imported by then distributor for LeTourneau-Westinghouse, Fredrick W Smith.
Exact numbers are not known but there were certainly quite a few of them.
Your author first learnt to operate a motor grader behind the controls of a 440-H!
It would be interesting to know how many are left around the country, especially those in operating condition.
For the diecast model collector
Very slim pickings here although there has been the occasional model offered.
Doepke manufactured a fine “sand pit” 1:16 scale Adams 330 in the early 1950s.
This was meant as a children’s toy and was fully operational.
Those that have survived are now in the hands of collectors and change hands for between US$50 and US$350 depending on condition.
For a children’s toy, the model was surprisingly accurate (as were all earthmoving machinery models that Doepke produced).
There are currently no other models of LeTourneau-Westinghose/Wabco motor graders available.