Classic MachinesScrapers

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Some ideas are brilliant but never seem to catch on, some are basically flawed from the start and others are the subject of nightmares and should have been drowned at birth. By RICHARD CAMPBELL

This month we are doing something a little out of the ordinary and examining three different motor scrapers.

None of these machines were in production for very long, some for very obvious reasons, while others just never really took off for whatever reason and were discontinued before they had a real chance to make their mark.

The Good – Caterpillar 632

Caterpillar’s 632 was introduced in 1962 along with a whole range of other new Caterpillar hydraulically operated scrapers (the “600” series) and they were launched amid much fanfare.

Amongst the new lineup was the Caterpillar 632.

Rated at 360 horsepower with a 9-speed powershift transmission, the Caterpillar 632 used the same tractor unit as the Company’s smaller 630B motor scraper but with a larger bowl.

The 38 cubic yard (struck) bowl was an adaptation of the Caterpillar 641 bowl with a completely new gooseneck and hitch with the entire combination tipping the scales at 43 tons empty.

With the bowl’s increased capacity, this should have been a match made in heaven but sales of the 632 were low and slow.

Most contractors it seemed, who required a 3-axle scraper with big capacity, preferred the larger 650 and 660 models, both of which shared a 550 horsepower prime mover.

Perhaps at 360 horsepower, the 632 was a little overloaded and sluggish.

Caterpillar didn’t bother to find out why, removing the 632 from production during the end of 1963, less than two years after it was first introduced.

According to Caterpillar’s serial number records, less than 200 were manufactured making the 632 the shortest-lived, least manufactured Cat motor scraper to date.

For the real Cat afficianado, Caterpillar made a safety movie in the early 1960s called “The Roll of Drums”.

This 22 minute movie featured numerous staged unsafe operating practices & operators doing dumb things, all in the name of safety of course.

One of the ‘stars’ of “Roll of Drums” is a Caterpillar 632 driving straight through a site office building due to brake failure and totally demolishing the structure.

While hilarious, it was also a very salutary lesson in being observant and taking care.

Caterpillar spent a great deal of time and money on its safety movies and they were very well made.

The author apologizes for the lack of photos of this particular type as it is so rare, very few images exist.

The Bad – Oliver Super 990

Determined not to be left out of the massive roading projects in the USA in the early 1950s, the Oliver Corporation, better known for their range of agricultural tractors, decided they had better offer a motor scraper to get a a portion of the vast amount of dollars that were being spent on new equipment.

Oliver already manufactured a line of semi-successful track type tractors that they acquired from the Cleveland Tractor Co in 1944, so why not a motor scraper.

Unfortunately, Oliver did not have a great deal of cash reserves to indulge in research & development and the resulting machine was an adaptation of their Model Super 99 wheel tractor (with the entire front steering axle removed) and a seven cubic yard, hydraulically controlled open bowl scraper manufactured by Be-Ge.

The two were mated together with an Oliver-fabricated hitch containing two steering cylinders in a less than awesome looking combination known as the Model 990 Scraper.

Power for the 990 scraper was provided by a General Motors 3-71, 3-cylinder diesel rated at 83 flywheel horsepower and connected to an Oliver manual 6-speed transmission.

In operating condition, the machine weighed approximately 10 tons.

The first units saw the light of day in 1957 but were withdrawn from production in 1961.

Low sales and too many teething problems was the reason, as was probably to be expected with such an unusual mish-mash of components.

There were simply better, purpose-built motor scrapers out there.

Oliver’s new owners, the White Motor Corp, didn’t want a bar of the poor thing and so it was consigned to history.

There were at least two Oliver 990’s imported into New Zealand and although their tractor units have long gone, the bowl of one of these machines exists as a towed scraper.

The Ugly – Blaw-Knox ‘Goliath’

The Goliath wins the title of ugly hands down as it was one of the most hideous looking pieces of equipment ever to grace the planet!

Blaw-Know GB were the British division of the giant American company Blaw-Knox Inc., most famous then (and now) for its range of asphalt and paving equipment.

The British B-K operation ran somewhat independently of the American one and while it also manufactured paving equipment, B-K saw fit to branch out into other areas of the construction industry including license manufacture of several models of Cletrac track type tractor,  bulldozer blade manufacture, loader attachment manufacture, bucket operated traveloader design & manufacture plus an entirely indigenously designed motor scraper, the Goliath.

Blaw-Knox UK had undertaken some license manufacture of LeTourneau’s J6, J8 and J12 towed scrapers during World War 2 and sold them under the trade name ‘Digma’.

At the end of WWII this agreement ceased and Blaw-Knox was left to its own devices.

In order so save foreign currency (the War had just about bankrupted Britain), it was decided by some bright spark that manufacturing a motor scraper (using some of the technology acquired from manufacturing LeTourneau equipment) might be a good idea, save on overseas funds and potentially lead to some export orders as well, especially to Commonwealth countries.

As history has shown, it was far from a good idea.

The prototype Goliath had a fully hydraulically operated bowl but this was not successful and leaked everywhere (it was British after all), so the decision was made to go cable controlled instead.

First introduced in 1947 and rated at 12 cubic yards struck capacity (15 heaped), the newly christened Goliath was all cable controlled apart from two hydraulic steering cylinders which allowed the machine a 50 degree turn either side of centre.

The Goliath was powered by a six-cylinder, 11 litre AEC ‘heavy oil’ engine (that’s a diesel to you & me), rated at 150 flywheel horsepower.

This in turn was connected, via a 14” clutch, to a 5-speed constant mesh manual transmission, which gave the ugly brute a top speed of around 20 miles per hour.

The bowl and cable control unit were also of Blaw-Knox’s own design but the cable control unit did bear more than a passing resemblance to one of LeTourneau’s.

In operating trim, the Goliath weighed approximately 18 tons and was 36 feet long.

Trade publications of the day waxed lyrical about “British ingenuity” and such like but the machine was an abject failure and fewer than 20 were ever manufactured before Blaw-Knox went back to what it did best – asphalt equipment.

However, this was not before conning a poor Dutch contractor into purchasing a couple of the nasty things, a decision he probably regrets to this day!


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