Classic Machines

Early development of the ripper-it started with a ‘rooter’

These days, most of us do not pay much attention to the ripper fitted to a dozer, loader or motor grader, but there is quite a story related to its development. By Richard Campbell.

As with most good inventions, the ripper was invented to solve a problem and kind of blossomed from there onwards.

While the ripper can trace its base origins to the simple plow used for farming, it took the genius of RG LeTourneau to develop it into a true working tool.

Faced with a difficult earthmoving job where his scrapers could not adequately penetrate the hardpan soil, LeTourneau came up with a towed device he called a ‘rooter’ to break up the earth in advance of the scrapers.

It was rack and pinion operated, carried a single shank, and was cantankerous, but it got the job done.

Formerly, these sort of soil conditions would necessitate drilling and blasting, all adding to the overall cost per cubic meter.

LeTourneau could see the huge potential of this tool and developed it further, doing away with the rack and pinion mechanism, and going with a much simpler cable operated device.

LeTourneau rippers were deliberately built heavy (which aided their penetration in solid ground), and could pull up to three shanks in good going.

Eventually three different models were made available, the models S-3, H-3 and K-3 (later K-30), which was a real brute of an implement which could rip rock, hardpan and limestone and could often be seen behind tandem hitched Caterpillar D8’s.

The LeTourneau ripper was the ‘standard’ ripping tool up until the mid-1940s.

However, other implement manufacturers were not slow in seeing the potential value of offering their own brand of ripper following WW2. A whole range of different models suddenly sprang up, some of which we discuss in this month’s Classic Machines feature.


LaPlant-Choate, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were one of LeTourneau’s major competitors during the 1940s and early 1950s and were eventually bought out by Allis-Chalmers.

It offered one model of ripper. This bore a very close resemblance to LeTourneau’s K-30 apart from having a curved arch above the main draw beam. They had been discontinued by 1950.


Garwood was another company eventually absorbed by Allis-Chalmers, and it offered two nearly identical models of ripper – the C-80, a cable-operated unit and the H-80 a hydraulically-operated ripper. Both weighed around 4 tons. Garwood had discontinued manufacture of both rippers by the time Allis-Chalmers took it over.


Caterpillar offered two different models of towed cable-controlled ripper, the No.18 (6D series) and No.28 (7D series). These were so similar in design and construction to the LeTourneau models H-3 and K-30 that it is surprising Caterpillar were not caught out for copyright infringement! Both rippers were manufactured from 1947 through to the mid-1950s. The No.18 weighed 4.25 tons and the No.28 weighed almost 6 tons.


Bucyrus were a major supplier of attachments to International-Harvester and its attachments manufacturing division was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bucyrus-Erie manufactured only one cable-controlled ripper, the model CR-2, intended for use behind International TD-18 and TD-24 tractors. The CR-2 weighed 3.2 tons and was discontinued in 1955.

Baker Manufacturing

Baker made its living by manufacturing attachments for Allis-Chalmers, mostly hydraulic and some cable-controlled blades. The company also manufactured a cable-controlled ripper, the model 500 that was so similar in design and construction to a LeTourneau K-30 that it was not funny. Tipping the scales at 6.25 tons, the model 500 was taken out of production in 1951.


Mack Wooldridge never attained the ‘star quality’ of some of his competitors, but still managed to manufacture a large variety of attachments (and later motor scrapers).

Wooldridge offered three models of cable controlled ripper – the RH3, RS3 and RL3.

These followed the basic layout of his major opposition, LeTourneau, and ranged in weight from 4 tons through to 6.5 tons. When Curtiss-Wright acquired Wooldridge Manufacturing Co, the rippers were dropped from production.


More famous for its motor graders over a five year period starting in 1935, the Austin-Western Corporation built what it called a Giant Ripper. This was hydraulically controlled, quite innovative for its time,  and weighed 3.5 tons. It was intended for use behind Cletrac tractors (for whom Austin-Western were a major supplier of attachments). WW2 brought production to a halt and the type was never reinstated.

Other contenders

As can be seen, competition in the ripper market during the 1930s through 1950s was fierce. It also included these manufacturers: Southwest Manufacturing (four different cable-controlled models), Slusser-McLean (five different cable-controlled models), Kay-Brunner Steel Products (six different models, three hydraulic, and three cable) and the Isaacson Iron Works (six  different models, three hydraulic, and three cable). I am still researching these other manufacturers, information on which is very scant due to the passage of time.

More modern developments

By the late 1950s, most of the major tractor manufacturers were building their own attachments and not reliant on outside suppliers. This did not, however, exclude the rise of two specialist attachment manufacturers, Ateco and CRC-Kelley. They offered quite a range of rippers, by now attached to the back of the parent tractor and all hydraulically controlled.

Ateco (now sadly out of business) were very innovative. The company offered a range of rippers known as its “Vyba” type in which the top of the shank rested against a hard rubber block. This absorbed and transmitted force to the ripper point.

It offered this ripper for all manner of equipment, including motor graders, track loaders, wheel loaders and wheel dozers as well as track type tractors.

Terex were very fond of Vyba rippers. It fitted them to 82-30, 82-40 and 82-50 track type tractors as standard equipment.


Kelley also offered a range of rippers to suit most manufacturers equipment, but specialized in deep ripping single shank types. Allis-Chalmers (later Fiat-Allis) frequently supplied one of these monster rippers fitted to the rear of its model HD-41 dozer. It was the first big dozer to fit the ‘super dozer’ category. They are an impressive piece of equipment!

If you needed a really serious ripper, you need look no further than CRC-Kelley. This deep ripping example is fitted to an Allis-Chalmers HD-41, itself, no small beast.
For the model collector

Models of 1940s and 1950s vintage towed rippers are available, but a little bit harder to find.

Reuhl Products (one of Caterpillar’s early model builders) offered a Caterpillar No.28 ripper with three fixed ripper shanks. It was reasonably accurate but made to an odd 1:16 scale.

You can usually pick one of these up off Ebay.

MBM Models produce a LeTourneau K3 ripper in both cable and hydraulic conversion types. These are to 1:50 scale and nicely done.

The standout model is to 1:25 scale by Sherwood Models. It’s a LeTourneau H-3 cable controlled ripper with three removable/repositionable shanks. Hard to find these days, it looks great behind a Caterpillar RD8/D8.


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