Many of the machines used in earthmoving today were born out of the need for a specific tool to carry out a local task. Necessity is indeed the “mother of invention”.
John Eugene “Gene” Hancock was a farmer in Lubbock, Texas who was looking for a better way to level his land for cropping.
The land around Lubbock (and indeed a good deal of Texas) is undulating and, in its natural state, not entirely suitable for irrigation of crops.
So, armed with a need, Gene Hancock set about designing a terracer which would trim off the high spots and fill in the low ones.
His machine, drawn by a tractor and driven off the machine’s power take-off (PTO) by an extension shaft and reduction gearbox, was a great success and attracted the attention of other farmers who wanted him to build one for them.
In order to fill this newfound demand, Hancock set up the Hancock Manufacturing Company around 1949 and manufactured terracers, seed drills and land leveling planes.
His first commercial elevating scraper introduced in 1953 was a five cubic yard machine called the “Aggie” and it wasn’t long before the wider potential of this type of scraper became evident to Hancock and so he began to design and manufacture larger elevating scrapers for coal stockpiling, and, more importantly, bulk earthmoving applications.
These early Hancock scrapers were all towed machines, with the elevator mechanism driven by an extension shaft from the towing tractor’s PTO.
They required a fair deal of room to manoeuvre – not such a big deal on a farm but on a jobsite the wide turning area necessary was a limiting factor.
Hancock had a rival, Johnson Manufacturing, which coincidentally, was also based out of Lubbock Texas.
It is generally accepted that Hancock came up with the original elevating scraper idea and concept, but Johnson was certainly not far behind him.
Johnson manufactured elevating scrapers that were fitted to John Deere and International Harvester agricultural tractors as a complete package with the first truly self-contained elevating scraper, the model 840, being introduced by John Deere in 1956.
These early elevating scrapers were all three-axle machines and also suffered from a lack of manoeuvrability.
Hancock set out to remedy this situation and began designing elevating scrapers that could be attached as a complete unit to single axle motor scraper tractor units and the concept proved highly successful.
Not content with this success, Hancock designed and built its own elevating motor scraper, the model 282, which was introduced in 1963.
This featured a Hancock single axle tractor unit powered by either a 109 horsepower General Motors model 4-53 or an 87 horsepower Oliver-Waukesha model 310 diesel with a 12-speed constant mesh gearbox.
The bowl utilised for the model 282 was the same as that supplied to Wabco for its D Tournapull and held nine cubic yards and was powered by an extension shaft from the tractor’s transmission rather than by electric motors.
Quite a modern looking machine for the time, it sold relatively well, but mostly to agricultural contractors.
Spurred on by the success of the 282, Hancock then set about designing other, larger elevating scrapers aimed at the general contracting market.
In 1966 the model 292 was introduced, an 11 cubic yard machine and the first all-hydraulic Hancock design.
You can be forgiven for thinking that the model 292 looks very much like a Terex S-11E or a Michigan 110-11 because that’s exactly what it is – Terex & Michigan just changed the cosmetics a little and re-branded it!
Next off the production line was the model 294, a 16 cubic yard twin-powered machine with two GM 4-71s and Clark powershift transmissions providing the grunt.
This was also sold as the Michigan 110-HT but was actually built by Hancock.
Clark Equipment Company was very interested in Hancock by this stage (after all it had made Clark a lot of money), and so in August 1966, Hancock was sold to Clark-Michigan as a wholly owned subsidiary.
For a time after the acquisition, Hancock products (including the newly introduced nine cubic yard model 192) were sold in parallel with Michigan but by 1972 all of Hancock’s products had been re-branded and were sold as Clark-Michigan.
Clark continued to sell elevating scrapers up until 1982 when a worldwide downturn in sales forced the closure of the Lubbock manufacturing facility and Michigan scrapers disappeared from sale.
Gene Hancock died in 2004 at the age of 98.
The New Zealand connection
As far as the author is aware, there were no Hancock-branded elevating scrapers imported by the distributor of the day, Andrews & Beavan. However, Hancocks’ products did, and still continue to, move earth here in the form of Michigan 110-HTs, 110-10s, 110-15s, Terex S-11Es, Wabco 10E2s, 111As and 222Fs.
For the diecast model collector
Very sadly there are no examples of any of Hancock’s products produced in model form in any scale. This is a bit of a travesty really considering the impact Hancock’s elevating scrapers have made on the earthmoving world.