Skid steers: A load of options

From their modest roots as a farm implement for moving manure and bales of hay, skid-steer loaders have become a piece of equipment coveted by contractors for their maneuverability and versatility.

Melroe, which makes Bobcat skid steers, traces the birth of the skid steers to 1960, when the M-400 model debuted. A couple of years later, Melroe decided to call its skid steer Bobcats.

When Melroe introduced the Bob-Tach quick-change attachment system in 1970, it allowed users of Bobcat skid steers to transform their machines for multiple uses. Since Melroe's Bob-Tach patent expired in 1987, it has become easier for skid-steer attachments to be used on different companies' machines. And many new companies have entered the skid-steer market.

In the last two years, Caterpillar began producing skid-steer loaders, and John Deere, which had sold machines under its brand that were made by another company, began manufacturing its own models.

Wide range of models The most popular types of skid steers are the mid-size models with operating capacities around 1,500 pounds. But the market has expanded to include powerful models with operating capacities greater than 3,000 pounds and highly maneuverable mini-skid machines with capacities of 500 pounds or less.

"As you get bigger machines, your applications start to expand," says Lynn Roesler, Bobcat skid-steer loader product manager.

Case created its powerful 95XT skid steer as a response to customer demand for bigger machines.

"We set out to redefine skid steers because our customers were redefining the jobs they wanted skid steers to handle," says Tom Banner, a Case associate marketing manager. "These machines offer the extra power and heavy-lift capability that customers in industries such as building construction, recycling, demolition and landscaping have been asking for."

Let's get small At the other end of the product range are the mini-skid models, such as Toro's Dingo or Ramrod's mini-skids. They embrace one of the key attractions of skid steers-their maneuverability-and take it a step further with even smaller machines and greater maneuverability. And mini-skids still come with the most popular feature of skid steers: attachment options.

Companies that produce skid steers agree that the overriding reason for their growing popularity is the availability of so many attachments. You can outfit your skid steer with buckets, dozer blades, augers, graders, demolition shears, hammers, rakes, forks, tillers, mowers, sod layers, trenchers, rollers, sweepers, brushes, brooms and many other attachments.

"Ten years ago, we might have had 30 to 35 attachments," says Roesler. "Today we have 60 plus. I suppose at some point we'll reach a limit, but customers and users keep coming up with different uses."

Kenton Pellegrini, skid-steer product marketing manager for New Holland Construction, agrees that users want to see even more attachments.

"The need for attachments is only going to get bigger," says Pellegrini. "Today's contractor wants to get more out of his machines."

A kinder, gentler loader Another offshoot of the skid-steer market are rubber-track crawlers such as ASV Inc.'s Positrak or Takeuchi's TL126. These models offer a range of attachments, but their low-impact rubber tracks do much less damage to the ground than the tires on traditional ski-steer loaders.

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