Oliver Loader/Backhoe

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Oliver 1850 Industrial
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One of a kind pieces of machinery have a way of finding the VanNatta's, and this Oliver 1850 is no exception. Oh, to be sure, an Oliver 1850 is not all that an uncommon machine. In its most common configuration it was a farm tractor with a 100+Hp Perkins diesel engine. This machine built in the 1960's was well before its time however. Front wheel drive, now common in tractors was almost unknown. Additionally this machine was an industrial version of the familiar Oliver and had a torque converter in it. It had 2 pedals on the floor which were connected to both the throttle and the transmission in such a way that pushing one pedal would engage the machine in the forward direction and open the throttle, while a companion pedal would reverse directions. This made the machine particularly good at front end loader work. You would just decide which way you wanted to go and push the pedal, and the further you pushed it the faster you went. The front wheel drive made the loader work effectively even under difficult conditions such as scooping pit rock because when you stuck the bucket in the rock and began to lift, this would increase the traction of the front wheels and help you into the rock pile. Although tractor hoes of this size are common place now, they were unheard of when this machine was built. J.I. Case mde the market for tractor hoes in the 1960's with their popular Construction King series, but their market leading Case 530 was only about half the size of this machine and typically had only a 12 foot digging depth, compared to the 18 foot hoe on this machine.

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In the mid 1960's when this type of machine ( tractor with front loader and backhoe) first came out, they commonly shared a lot of parts with similarly sized farm tractors. An 'industrial' tractor tended to be a farm tractor painted yellow instead of traditional farm tractor color. In more recent years the tractor has been designed for this application from the ground up. For example, Caterpillar is a big player in this market, and they don't even sell wheel tractors for farm use. The growing popularity of excavators on tracks of all sizes have cut in on the wheel tractor backhoe market somewhat.

This machine is a little larger than the typical machine of this type today. Tractors this heavy are a bit clumsy, and the ideal application for this type of machine is digging up front yards, and installing septic tank systems. A slightly smaller tractor will handle that, and get around a little better as well. Serious ditch digging is usually left to excavators. The Warner-Swasey Hopto 900 and the American 35 featured on this site are at the upper end of the size scale for excavators in todays market, but there is any number of smaller excavators in the 50,000 lb class and even smaller that will dig circles around a tractor hoe, and there is a mini-excavator class of machine around not shown here which are smaller, lighter and even more nimble than the tractor hoe on the small end of the market.

These machine are incredibly handy for everything from unloading a barrel of oil from the back of a pickup to digging ditches and pushing them full again, but if the digging is hard or there is a lot of it to do, the excavator with its extra reach and 360 rotation has an advantage.

Engineering issues

I'm not quite sure how one bunch of loggers have ended up with so may prototypes, but perhaps our habit of buying off brand machines which seem sound, but are cheap because no one else will buy them has something to do with it. This machine, made into a loader backhoe in Portland was a one of a kind prototype. Like many a prototype it had its problems. First off the 18 foot Ware Hoe was a bit heavy for the tractor. Not that it didn't dig well, but the tractor balanced heavy to the back. The front wheels barely stayed on the ground. The other chronic problem was with the front tires. It had a farm tractor traction tire on the front designed for fairly low pressure. the loader would lift so much that it would squash the tire flat to the rim and even bend the rim. You were perpetually rim cutting the tubes. We actually solved the tire problem. We finally figured out that a 12x22.5 truck tire was the same diameter, so we cut the webbing out out of the wheels and welded it into a pair of California truck wheels and put a couple of big Michlin truck tires on the front with 100 lbs of air in them. That ended the front tire problem. In due course we also added a roll bar/rain roof as well. the other irritant as it got older was the mechanical flow divider for the backhoe. It got worn so it would leak oil from one section to the other so after the oil got warm you always needed to do two things as once on it happened very slowly. This wasn't really a fault of the design. It had a quality flow divider but it was just worn. A mechanical flow divider looks like a hydraulic pump but it has no input shaft. It has a big port on one side and two smaller ports on the other. Inside there are two gear pump sections. They are turned by the oil pressure on the upstream side but oil will move to the other side in a fixed amount in both sections so the tail pressure doesn't control how much oil goes each way.

This machine carried the name "Fat Albert" when we bought it and we kept the name all the time we owned it. We actually had it around for neaerly 20 years with few problems. The most annoying was that deep inside the transmission was a snap ring that failed once and the tractor wouldn't work. Some how we figured out the problem, but had to strip the tractor and break it in half in order to replace the errant snap ring on a shaft in the transmission. Then it was as good as new, but it was about a 2 day job to replace the snap ring.

Alas, Oliver is one of those names in farm and construction equipment that is no more. It disappeared along with its dozer subsidiary, Cletrac, into the dark hole of White, along with just about every other farm equipment maker in the country except Deere. All the companies have ended up part of the troubled Fiat empire. As I write this in 2005 the surviving subsidiary CNH has announced that they are keeping two trade names alive. One will the "CaseIH" and the other will be "New Holland".

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