Classic MachinesLeTourneauModel C Tournapull

The legendary LeTourneau Super C Tournapull

Apart from the track type tractor, perhaps no other earthmoving machine advanced the art of dirt moving, lowered cost-per-yard, and changed the way contractors thought about earthmoving more than the LeTourneau model C Tournapull. By Richard Campbell.

Since the early 1930s, R.G. LeTourneau had been building a highly successful range of dozer bladers, cable controls, rooters (rippers), towed cranes and cable-controlled scrapers.

Some of these were sold directly to contractors, but most of his equipment was sold through machinery dealerships such as Caterpillar and Allis-Chalmers, who installed it on new machines.

Mr LeTourneau was always seeking to increase the speed and efficiency of earthmoving and legend has it that the idea of the motor scraper, which he called the Tournapull, came to him while he was in hospital recovering from a car accident.

Armed with his new idea, LeTourneau approached management at Caterpillar who promptly told him that the idea of a motorised scraper was “not feasible”, probably due to the fact that Caterpillar didn’t want some upstart depriving it of track type tractor sales.

(Caterpillar were, at the time, LeTourneau’s biggest recipient of products, which is why he approached it first).

Undaunted, LeTourneau had discussions with his leading engineers regarding the practicality of building such a machine in his own facilities.

Manufacture of such a machine would require considerable financial input, not to mention choice of engine, transmission, sourcing of tyres and brakes.

A lot of these components just did not exist at the time and had to be manufactured “in-house” including the tyres, which were specially manufactured by Goodyear Tyre and Rubber for LeTourneau.

As a result of immense effort, the first Tournapull, a model A, came off the LeTourneau assembly line in 1938, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The model C Tournapull, first appeared in 1940.

Apart from the Caterpillar engine, transmission (supplied by Fuller), and Goodyear tyres, all other components were manufactured by LeTourneau at its newly built Peoria, Illinois, facility.

LeTourneau elected to use a 6-cylinder Caterpillar D468 diesel engine, rated at 90 flywheel horsepower.

The machine was steered by steering clutches and brakes – just like a track type tractor, and it was here that it earned the unfortunate name of “widow maker”.

It was very easy to jackknife a C Tournapull, especially going downgrade because of the way the machine steered. A moment of inattention by a novice operator could have fatal consequences.

The “widow maker” appellation has stuck with LeTourneau (and the later electric steered Wabco range) ever since.

A LeTourneau model T double drum cable control was fitted to the rear of the tractor unit’s main case to operate any trailed equipment.

The Tournapull was coupled to a LeTourneau model LS Carryall scraper rated at 8.5 cubic yards struck and 11 cubic yards heaped.

The scraper could be disconnected from the tractor unit and fitted with a standard towing yoke if required.

The new model C Tournapull looked quite unlike anything that had been seen before, and, despite an initial hesitance on the part of the somewhat conservative contracting industry, the machine could shift dirt faster over longer distances than anything that was previously available, at considerably less cost than a track type tractor with scraper combination.

As it is with many items of equipment, calls for more power and more capacity soon came to the fore.

So, in response to requests, LeTourneau introduced probably the most famous of all the C Tournapulls – the model ‘Super C’ in 1941.

It was a classic case of the right machine at the right time.

Outwardly, the new Super C Tournapull resembled the existing model C, but was in fact, quite a different beast.

Major changes from the previous model included a new Carryall scraper, the model LP, rated at 12.1 cubic yards struck and 15 cubic yard heaped (the smaller LS Carryall could still be fitted to the new Super C if the customer required it).

A considerably more powerful engine was installed, the 150-flywheel horsepower, 6-cylinder, Cummins HBID600.

An optional 150 horsepower Buda 6DH-691 diesel could also be fitted ex-factory for those customers who requested it, however, the vast majority of Super C Tournapulls were shipped with the Cummins powerplant.

The general shape of the Super C was cleaned up over the previous model, and a rigid sun canopy was fitted to many (but not all) Super Cs, which made them easy to spot.

Both C and Super C Tournapulls saw wide spread service during WW2 with the United States and Australian armed forces, especially in the Pacific Theatre of operations where they were invaluable at quickly establishing airstrips.

Following the war, production of the Super C continued with a further two additional engine options offered.

These were the 140 horsepower Hercules DRXC, and the 152 horsepower General Motors 6-71.

(It should be mentioned at this point that production of the first C Tournapull, the so called ‘standard C’ ceased in late 1941).

Manufacture of the Super C Tournapull was also undertaken in Australia commencing 1946, and the Australian plant also remanufactured a substantial number of ex-US military ‘war weary’ Tournapulls as well, bringing them up to as-new standard.

New Super C Tournapulls manufactured at the Australian facility were normally supplied with the GM 6-71 engine, as the Australian LeTourneau dealer, Tutt-Bryant, were also the General Motors Diesel distributor.

Australian examples could be fitted with either the model MS, LS or LP Carryall scraper at customers preference.

The Super C Tournapull remained in production in the USA and Australia up until late 1947 when it was replaced by the newly designed electric steer machines that Mr LeTourneau had been working on.

The C Tournapull in New Zealand

Just how many C and Super C Tournapulls came into New Zealand is unknown, but there were quite a lot of them, and they saw extensive use in this country over the years.

The original New Zealand distributor for LeTourneau products, the Earlo Tractor Company, has long since ceased trading and records of any sort no longer exist.

Thankfully, there are some examples restored and preserved in private collections.

For the model collector

There are three different 1:50 scale models available of LeTourneau’s C Tournapull, and all represent the Super C variant with the model LP Carryall scraper.

Two of them are manufactured by Spec Cast, one with the half cab and the other without, and these are reasonably accurate representations of the real thing if slightly a little under-scale (a fault with some of Spec Casts’ other offerings as well).

Both of these models are Cummins powered.

EMD Models also produce a Super C Tournapull (also Cummins powered) with a Model LP scraper.

This model is not that widely available and was manufactured as a “limited run” item. It is more accurate than Spec Casts’ offerings, however, at approximately four times the price, the model collector will have to decide which represents best value for money.


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