In some countries, particularly New Zealand, wheel dozers are an under-appreciated item of machinery.
The wheeled bulldozer is actually an extremely versatile piece of equipment with many features to recommend it. By Richard Campbell
Clark-Michigan were not the first manufacturer to offer a wheel type bulldozer, that honour belonging to R.G. LeTourneau.
However, Clark saw the potential of the idea very early on.
Clark-Michigan entered the construction arena in 1952, considerably later than a lot of the other recognized heavy equipment manufacturers, and introduced their first rubber tyred bulldozer, the model 180-I in 1955.
Broadly based on the chassis of their model 175-I wheel loader, and powered by either General Motors, Waukesha or Cummins diesel engines (depending on buyer preference), the design was regarded as a success and development was continued.
It became apparent to Clark-Michigan that some modification was required to fully realize the potential of their wheel dozer design, particularly in the development of a dedicated wheel dozer chassis, rather than adapting existing loader models into bulldozers.
This was very much a step in the right direction resulting with the introduction of the model 180-II in 1957.
One of the benefits of the model 180’s design was its hydraulically boosted rear wheel steering.
The Michigan 180’s steering axle was also oscillating, allowing it to travel much easier over undulating terrain and providing a better ride for the operator.
Although its principal competitor at the time, the LeTourneau model C Tournadozer could turn practically 180 degrees in its own length, it was of a skid-steer design, and quite hard on tyres, clutches and brakes if used “enthusiastically”!
Also, if used on really uneven ground, the Tournadozer could become hung up on its belly pan due to the non-oscillating design of the chassis.
Michigan’s new wheel dozer was well accepted by the industry and proved to be a welcome alternative to those buyers who were not happy, or uncomfortable with LeTourneau’s range of electrically operated wheeled dozers.
As such, they occupied a fairly niche market for some time, the opposition not introducing viable competition until the late 1950s.
Used in all manner of operations from earthmoving to industrial stockpiling and forestry, Michigan wheel dozers were particularly well regarded in Europe where sales of Michigan wheel dozers outstripped those of Caterpillar, Hough and LeTourneau.
Michigan wheel dozers were ideal scraper push tractors in the right soil conditions.
Michigan introduced their first articulated steer wheel dozer, the model 280A in 1965 along with an upgrade of the model 180 designated the model 180-III.
Michigan never ever offered an articulated steering version of the model 180 and it remained a rigid frame machine until Clark-Michigan withdrew from the heavy equipment business.
Unfortunately Clark-Michigan did not weather the downturn and recessions of the early 1980s very well.
Dogged by falling sales and plummeting revenue, their wheel loader and dozer division was permanently closed in 1982 with all assets eventually passing on to Volvo.
Unfortunately, Clark-Michigan ran their serial numbers in the early years consecutively, making it nearly impossible to ascertain just how many 180-I and 180-II machines were manufactured.
It is estimated that over seven hundred 180-III’s were built before production ceased.
The Clark-Michigan 180 described
Manufactured exclusively at their Benton Harbour, Michigan, facility, the model 180 was available, as mentioned earlier, with a choice of engines.
These have included over the years, the General Motors 6-71, 6V-53, 6V-71 and 8V-71, with Cummins supplying the types NTO-6, C-175-BI, V555 and NH220.
This gave the prospective buyer a horsepower choice of between 180 to 320 flywheel horsepower, depending on their application and preference.
The entire drivetrain, transmission, drive shafts, axles and hubs were manufactured by Clark themselves, allowing a high degree of commonality and quality control.
Twin hydraulic cylinders steered the rear axle which was centre pinned to allow a good degree of oscillation.
The chassis was of substantial construction with deep parallel main frame rails and integrated main dozer blade mounting supports.
On early model 180’s, the rear radiator surround was a very heavy casting with apertures for the lights cast in the top. On later versions of the 180, this was changed to a fabricated surround which was much easier to remove if the radiator needed servicing or replacement.
Brakes were air operated shoes, and the standard tyre fitted was usually a 23.5×25 E3 type although many other options could be fitted
The operator was very well placed in an elevated position at the front of the machine in a somewhat narrow enclosure.
This did however, allow an excellent view of the surrounding area and both corners of the blade without having to lean to either side.
Instrumentation was comprehensive and easily scanned, with the steering wheel bisecting the instrument panel.
The blade controls were placed to the operator’s right and the speed/direction controls to his left.
Comfort options included a full cab with heater & demister or sun hood.
The narrowness of the cab and its ability to resonate, particularly on GM-powered examples, was responsible for a few customer complaints!
ROPS structures and ROPS mountings were only available on later production model 180-III’s, so any earlier machines you may come across will have been retrofitted with this option by an aftermarket supplier.
Normally supplied with a twin tilt cylinder equipped, hydraulic straight blade, other types offered by Michigan included a push blade (for scrapers), angle blade, full U-blade, coal blade, and a massive wood chip blade for stockpiling.
Extra counterweight on the rear was required when equipped with either a coal or wood chip blade to achieve the correct machine balance.
American Tractor Equipment Co (Ateco) also offered several types of rear mounted ripper and scarifier to suit the model 180.
The New Zealand Connection
Relatively few Clark-Michigan 180 wheel dozers have made it to New Zealand, the concept of the wheel dozer being apparently not to most contractor’s liking.
Prime user of the type are Goodmans of Waikanae who use them extensively in the sandy soils of that region.
For the Model Collector
There are two models of the Clark-Michigan 180-III available, one to 1:43 scale by Dinky and the other to 1:50 scale by Siku.
Both have been around for a considerable number of years and despite their age, are reasonable representations of the real thing.
The Dinky model has a detachable cab and both it and the Siku model have removable/opening engine hood doors.
They also both feature the standard straight hydraulic blade.
Brief Specifications – Michigan 180-III
Engine: See text
Transmission: Clark 4-speed, power shift
Top Speed: 30 mph
Brakes: Air operated shoes on all wheels.
Tyres: 23.5×25, 20-ply E3
Steering: Hydraulically boosted rear axle steering
Blade Operation: Hydraulic
Length: 20’ (with standard S-Blade)
Width: 11’ 3” (with standard S-Blade)
Height: 9’ 7”
Wheelbase: 8’ 4”
Operating Weight: 14.5 tons (with standard S-Blade)