ASE Construction Equipment has chosen the ACE Expo at Sandown Park in Melbourne to launch the Australian celebrations of a golden half century of production of its backhoe range. Case CE marketing manager, Wayne Munce says that the Case backhoe “revolutionised the construction industry” when it was launched in February 1957. Prior to that, contractors made do using tractors with loader attachments and sometimes jury rigged backhoe attachments. “With the Case 320 they received the unprecedented versatility of a machine that could trench, crane and fill,” says Munce.

I guess he’s right. Trench, crane and fill – or the ability to do so – have made the backhoe the backbone of many building and construction sights over the past (now) 50 years. Case may had the first purpose built backhoe but others were not far behind – Massey-Ferguson, JCB and John Deere spring to mind. As for the “jury rigged” versions, Cranvel had towed versions which enjoyed some popularity and are still sometimes seen around farms.

The backhoe has evolved into a very sophisticated and operator friendly piece of equipment. Case claims it has led the way with innovations like “return to dig, return to travel, over centre backhoe for better balance, Extendahoe, ride control for superior travel mode, Pro Control for superior backhoe control and faster cycles”.

It was not always thus. Images remain of open cab (or none) backhoes travelling around the metro areas of Melbourne with driver, face twisted by driving rain and knuckles white on the wheel wondering which way the machine would be pointing when the front wheels returned to the road after the last bump.

The backhoe has always been the perfect owner operator’s machine and many, many of today’s successful contractors started with a backhoe – and then perhaps another backhoe and then something else. Of course, contractors being eternal optimists always figure, when starting out, that if they can make “x” dollars with one machine they must be able to make two times that amount with two machines. Alas, it rarely works out that way.

I could find 10 makes of backhoes in the “serious” size class that are sold in Australia with the biggest being the John Deere 710G 4WD Ext. With a dig depth of 7,030 mm, a weight of 12,360 kg and an 88 kW engine that is a serious machine! All the usual suspects are included in that range together with some newcomers like Hidromek and Venieri.

I mentioned the building, construction and quarrying industries expo briefly above. It is pleasing indeed to see that perseverance is paying off and the above industries are finally getting a place to showcase their goods and services. These industries went through a lot of pain and soul searching to come up with the format which would work in Australia and would be able to grow.

Having been involved in many discussions – and some earlier shows – I sincerely hope all construction and related industries continue to support this expo. Let’s face it we are never going to be able to put on a bauma or a ConExpo – but what is evolving will go a long way to displaying what is on the market for the end users.

The Prime Minister’s $10 billion water play is good for contractors. At the time of writing, discussion between the PM and the Premiers was under way with wary acceptance in principle perhaps being the best way to describe the states’ response to the federal government’s proposal to take over the Murray-Darling waterways.

There will be opportunities for civil and earthmoving contractors in particular. Innovation will be the key ingredient here and there are some really innovative contactors and engineers around. Those who come up with efficient distribution, reticulation and storage systems will be front runners in what will ultimately be a “big spend”.

Doug Huett was National Executive Director of the Civil Contractors Federation from 1988-2002. He now consults to the civil construction industry.

Source: Construction Contractor