These days you can’t visit a commercial construction site without seeing at least one skid steer, or what’s also known as a wheel loader and/or track loader, moving around a whole bunch of dirt or heavy materials. Today’s skid steers can even be remote control operated with the help of GPS and Artificial Intelligence, alleviating the need for a manual driver while making your construction site safer than it’s ever been. The compact, versatile, multi-application skid steer is so important to today’s residential and commercial jobsite that attractive financing is readily available from reputable finance companies the world over. In a word, the machines end up paying for themselves.

According to First Capital Busines Finance, a company that offers Bobcat financing, there are wheeled skid steers and tracked skid steers. The type of construction project you’ve been contracted for will determine which type of machine you’ll need. If the majority of your work is going to happen on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt roadbed, you’ll want a wheel loader. But if you’re working mostly in loose dirt, sand, or gravel, you’ll want to go with the tracked loader. Both are compact, maneuverable, possess an excellent turn radius, and offer unsurpassed traction.  

But how did the skid steer originate? According to Constructionequipmentguide.com, it was a turkey farmer who came up with the idea in 1956 for a compact loader that could “operate nimbly” and pick up the excess manure that was creating quite a stink in his barn. He presented the idea to inventor Louis Keller who, along with his brother, Cyril, built the first machine in just six weeks, which was named the Keller Self-Propelled Loader. 

A Wheel Loader is Born

The first three-wheeled loader was belt-and-chain driven and powered by a 6.6hp Kohler engine. The 9-ft long loader was so compact, there was just enough room for the driver to sit astraddle the controls which were mounted a few inches ahead of the engine. A wheel loader by design, the self-prolled machine moved on two basic car tires which were situated behind a 52-in wide bucket, with a swiveling third wheel mounted in the rear. 

The bucket was raised and lowered by foot pedals while it was steered with the use of two levers that operated the power-transfer belts. When one wheel rolled forward and the other backward, the loader could turn within a radius equal to its own length. A remarkable engineering achievement for its time. Said Cyril Keller, “Everyone wanted a steering wheel. Other machines had hydraulic controls operated by your hands, but now your feet were doing it. It was totally new.” 

Word Spreads

A dozen more Keller Loaders were built and sold, which caught the attention of a quite a few farmers and construction outfits in the immediate community. The machine was becoming so popular, the Keller brothers demonstrated it at the 1958 Minnesota State Fair. That lead to the engineering of a new generation of loader which was named the “Melroe” loader. Six were built and the Keller brothers hit the road trying to sell them. And sold they did, along with orders for 25 more. The age of the compact wheel loader had arrived. 

A Skid Steer is Born

As time went on, reports were coming in about the rear wheel’s inability to operate correctly on soft soil. With necessity being the mother of invention, the brothers went to work on a four-wheel model loader, eliminating the single rear wheel. Initially, the four wheels were a bit of an engineering challenge, but the brothers were able to work through the problems. In the end they came up with a 70-30 weight distribution system which would allow either the front or the rear wheels to “skid” sideways during a tight turn. When loaded, the bucket would lighten the rear wheels while an empty bucket did the same for the front wheels. The shifting weight allowed the loader to pivot, says Constructionequipmentguide.com. 

Having invented a tracked snow blower some years before, the Kellers introduced the same high traction technology to their loader and invented the first true tracked skid-steering machine. From that point on, the entirely unique loader, which was billed as a nimble machine of unsurpassed utility, was set to corner both the residential and commercial construction market

A Diamond Traded for a Skid Steer

Modern legend has it that a young woman who was presented with a beautiful diamond engagement ring by her down-on-bended-knee future husband, shook her head and said, “I’d rather have a Bobcat skid steer.” She went on to explain to her rather flabbergasted suiter that she’d first learned to operate a skid steer when she was just nine years old. Therefore, it had a special place in her heart. Whether the young man went on to trade the diamond ring in for a new skid steer, or he decided to finance the machine, the legend nonetheless remains a great testimony to one of the most versatile pieces of construction equipment ever invented. And to think it all started with a pile of manure.

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to editor.webposts@gmail.com.