What was old is new again..

By Richard Campbell

Ever notice how old ideas come around in a new format ?

Earthmoving is a classic window into “what was old is new again”. Take the humble towed scraper. It began life in Fresno, California in the 1880s, pulled by a horse or mule and steered by some poor fellow who had to look at the animals backside all day while wrestling with the ornery piece of equipment.

By the mid 1920s it had grown in size and was now pulled by a tractor, but still didn’t carry too much and was painfully labour intensive in operation. Then along came R.G.LeTourneau and changed everything. Almost overnight the business of scraping became a science. A proliferation of manufacturers began offering towed scrapers in all shapes and sizes.

With the appropriate cable control, two scrapers could be pulled in tandem doubling the effective load. While those scrapers that were well designed evolved further, those that were not quickly fell by the wayside and were lost in the passing dust of history.

Then came the motor scraper. Who needed those slow old crawler tractor drawn things when you had speed and a bone jarring ride to go with it. Again, the cycle repeated itself – those machines with good design were developed further while the more ugly ones faded into history – almost.

The 50s and 60s were a turbulent time of mergers and takeovers and some of the less successful scrapers got a reprieve under a new manufacturer’s name. Motor scrapers began to lose favour with the mid 80s decline in major capital works worldwide and the slide took a lot of major manufacturers with it. By the turn of the 21 st century there were only three manufacturers left building the things.

Everyone was turning to all wheel drive trucks as they could work in conditions which would park up a fleet of motor scrapers. Then something odd happened and it came by way of agriculture. Towed scrapers had never lost their appeal to farmers or land irrigators with the result that there were a number of manufacturers still producing them.

Granted, they were not quite in the form that existed previously but they were still there and getting bigger as were the tractors that pulled them. With the advent of modern hydraulics, an adventurous soul could hook up two or three of them in tandem if the soil conditions were right and haul three times as much. The earthmoving fraternity began to take notice and away the cycle went again.

Out of all of this it was realized that some of the newer scrapers were still a bit light for rock and hard going. Towed scrapers, like ADT’s, are all-weather tools and are most probably the cheapest way of moving dirt over short to moderate distances

This resulted in the refurbishment of old 40s and 50s cable operated scrapers that had still survived in junk yards and contractors back lots being converted to hydraulic operation and so a marvelous re-incarnation occurred.

“What was old is new again”!

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