1948 Austin-Western Road Machinery Grader Model 99

Austin-Western Grader
Model 99
Austin-Western Grader
Steering on rear axle

Austin-Western is a truly a historic name in the road construction business. The company was founded in 1877 by a contractor who built railroads. Their first interest was in building scrapers to help grade up railroad grader. The company was soon appropriately named the "Western Wheeled Scraper Company". By the dawn of the 20th century they were also producing railroad dump cars best known for their extensive use in the construction of the Panama Canal.

The company claims to have invented the road grader with early models being little more than a blade straddle mounted under a freight wagon and pulled by a team of horses. Austin came under common control of Western, and the two companies were merged to form Austin-Western Road Machinery Company in 1934. Closely related to the railroad business, Austin-Western was acquired in 1953 by railroad equipment maker Baldwin-Hamilton-Lima (then a subsidiary of Westinghouse) in an effort to diversify away from steam locomotives which were rapidly on the way out. The plan was to move to highway construction, but the transition was largely unsuccessful. Baldwin sold the company to Clark Equipment in 1973 and it folded with Clark in the recession of 1980.

The model featured here is a 1948 vintage, powered by an IH UD-14 engine and is of the 4 wheel drive/4 wheel steer variety. At various times or optionally, Austin-Western graders also appeared with Detroit Diesel engines in them. The engines tended to be a separate power unit and not closely integrated so offering a choice of engines was not particularly expensive, and it allowed the vendors to address customer preferences in sharp contrast to the dominant manufacturer (Caterpillar)who made them 'their way' or else. The 4 wheel steering was yet another effort to differentiate the product from Caterpillar who has made only 6 wheel graders from the earliest times.

Another thing notable about this grader is that for its age, it makes generous use of hydraulics. The use of hydraulic controls was a spinoff of World War II and in this era mechanical drives for blade control were very much the norm. The norm for the time was to use a host of drive shafts activated by dog clutches to control all the blade functions. The idea of using hydraulics to control machinery functions was just percolating into the industry and in this respect Austin Western was well ahead of the industry.

4 wheel or 6 wheel Graders

While Cat defined what a grader should look like (it has 6 wheels), there are clearly trade offs between 4 and 6 wheel graders. The Tandem drive of the classic grader mitigated blade dips and dives caused by a rear wheel dropping in a hole but they were also barges. The classic 6 wheel grader needs about as much space as a school bus to turn around while the 4 wheel steer grader is pretty nimble. My take is that if the task at hand is to shape up a parking lot, the 4 wheel grader wins hands down, but you are touching up a few miles of gravel road, the choice is less clear. Interestingly many years after this style of grader was manufactured grader makers began to produce what is now standard on graders and that is an articulated frame model. They put a hinge in the frame between the Cab and the engine. The preserves the advantages of the 6 wheels and allows the machine to 'dog trot' and maneuver in ways that a straight frame machine simply cannot.

Although not shown here, Austin-Western also made 6 wheel models, and here they also offered some innovation. They included (optionally) a 6 wheel drive model. This was a feature never offered by Cat which attracted some attention although to get the front wheel drive you had to give up the wheel lean due to mechanical limitations and it is not clar to this writer that the front wheel drive provided that much advantage. In any event the market has spoken and Austin-Wesern isn't around any more and Cat is still making 6 wheel graders without front wheel drive.

- - Updated 01/05/2013
- - Updated 6/05/2010