Never-ending opportunities drive skid-steer loader evolution
How 11 Bobcat skid-steer loaders changed the compact equipment industry
Bobcat® compact equipment has changed lives and empowered many people around the world during the past 50 years. They enabled entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, build careers and support families through five decades. WorkSaver magazine completes its series on the 50-year anniversary of the compact loader with this article, highlighting 11 Bobcat skid-steer loaders and their significance to the compact equipment industry.
M60 (1958 – 1959)
It all started with the Melroe M60 Self-Propelled Loader in 1958. That first loader featured a rear caster wheel, a clutch drive system, a 9-horsepower Wisconsin air-cooled engine — and perhaps most importantly — the ability to turn within its own length and operate in confined areas. After building seven early machines in their Rothsay, Minn., blacksmith shop, brothers Cyril and Louis Keller were hired by Melroe Manufacturing to design and build the M60 in Gwinner, N.D., the same place where Bobcat skid-steer loaders are still manufactured today. Attachments were already an important part of the compact loader’s success, even in 1958. Optional equipment for the M60 included a utility scoop, a sweeper, a manure fork and a rotary snow plow.
M200 (1959 – 1962)
With its distinctive red and yellow color scheme, the M200 replaced the M60 in 1959 with a more robust lift-arm assembly and an updated two-cylinder Onan 12.9-horsepower engine. The M200 had a rated capacity of 600 to 700 pounds and a turning radius of 61 inches — perfectly suited for cleaning turkey barns and livestock pens. The list price in 1959: $1,490. A utility scoop sold for $53 and a manure fork for $64.
M400 (1960 – 1962)
Two years after the first compact loader was introduced, Melroe Manufacturing launched the world’s first skid-steer loader — the M400. Popular among farmers, the machine was advertised to “replace the work of many men.” It certainly accomplished that task with its improved stability and ability to turn within its own length. A 70-30 weight ratio (70 percent on the back end and 30 percent on the front when the bucket was empty) allowed the lighter axle to skid about the heavier axle. That concept has been applied to hundreds of thousands of Bobcat skid-steer loaders — and it’s still used today. In 1961, an M400 sold for approximately $1,990.
After almost getting out of the skid-steer loader business altogether, Melroe engineers improved upon the failure prone M400 design with a more durable and dependable M440 with enclosed and lubricated drive chains and clutches. The 1,000-pound rated loader had a 17-horsepower engine and hydraulically operated variable speed. Sales quickly grew among the agriculture and construction markets. A new color scheme and logo were introduced, and the Bobcat brand was born. The name “Bobcat” was chosen because of its dictionary definition at the time, which described the prairie animal bobcat as “tough, quick and agile.”
M970 (1970 – 1975)
The early 1970s were instrumental in bringing about three new Melroe Bobcat loaders, including the M970, otherwise known as the “Big Bob.” It was monumental not only for its size (3,000-pound rated capacity) but because it was the first hydrostatic skid-steer loader and featured the Bob-Tach™ attachment mounting system. Customers could now easily switch between attachments in less than a minute, thereby leading to the future growth of the attachment business. At the time, Melroe promoted 26 attachments for its M970. Today, Bobcat makes more than 80 unique attachment types with hundreds of models to choose from.
M371 (1971 – 1977)
A bookend to its bigger brother, the M371 or “Mini Bob” was just 6 feet tall, 8 feet long and 35 inches wide. Recognized as the world’s smallest skid-steer loader, it was touted as a super-compact machine that could work in areas too small for other loaders. It was the last loader that inventor Louis Keller would develop for Melroe Manufacturing.
M610 (1972 – 1982)
After tipping the scales with the Big Bob in 1970, Melroe executives turned their focus to a 1,000-pound rated operating capacity machine called the M610, a replacement for the M600. It was one of the first models with the rollover protective structure (ROPS), displaying Melroe’s commitment to constant product improvements. Melroe employees remember the M610 for its toughness and simplicity. It’s common to see these loaders still being used today.
825 (1975 – 1983)
Looking to expand further in the construction and industrial markets, Melroe introduced the Bobcat 825 to bridge the gap between the M610, M720 and M970. The 825 had a 1,550-pound rated operating capacity, and a high-capacity hydraulic system to handle big loads in fast cycle times. Other characteristics of Bobcat 825 loaders were beefed-up frames, lift arms and drive components for improved durability.
743 (1981 – 1991)
The 743 was the shining star of the new 40-Series loaders introduced in 1981. In its day, more 743 skid-steer loaders were produced than all other Bobcat models combined. They were popular among customers because they were cost-effective and very durable, and used a reliable diesel engine. The 743 loaders were versatile machines for a variety of key markets, including construction, landscaping, agriculture and industrial applications. Bobcat Company introduced its seat bar secondary restraint system in the 743 — the first of its kind in any compact loader. Additional improvements to the 40-Series included: increased fuel-tank capacity for a full day of work, more durable components and reinforced tailgate, and easier serviceability with a tip-up ROPS for easier access to hydrostatic components.
753 (1990 – 2003)
After nearly a decade of strong sales and market share growth — and no price increases for nearly 10 years — Bobcat introduced its 50-Series loaders, including the 753 in 1990. Again, determination to improve upon the durability of the Bobcat skid-steer loader led to improved power and performance in the 50-Series. Bobcat took another step forward in skid-steer loader technology with a new diagnostic and monitoring system — BOSS (Bobcat Operation Sensing System). A new dual-path cooling operation system brought cool, clean air from the top of the radiator and exhausted it out the sides, while a transverse-mounted engine provided top-of-the-line access to key service points.
773 500K Edition (2001)
773 500K Edition (2001)
In 2001, a limited edition 773 500K series was manufactured to celebrate the 500,000 Bobcat skid-steer loader. Special 773 gold-package 500K loaders incorporated the best options, including cab enclosures with heat and air conditioning, the Power Bob-Tach™ system for easy attachment changes, deluxe instrumentation and a 56-horsepower turbocharged diesel engine. The 773, introduced in 1994 as the 7753, was the first Bobcat skid-steer loader with a vertical path lift arm configuration.
It doesn’t end here. Bobcat’s commitment to constant improvements in loader design, performance and operator comfort is still visible today. In 2005, Bobcat began manufacturing its K-Series line of skid-steer loaders with enhancements to the cooling system, upgraded drive chains, added lift height for vertical lift path loaders, and increased hydraulic performance.
Today, Bobcat markets more models of skid-steer, compact track, mini track and all-wheel steer loaders than any other manufacturer, to better fit your equipment needs. You can be sure that Bobcat will continue to develop new and exciting updates for its line of compact loaders. Watch for news about new Bobcat skid-steer loaders at www.bobcat.com/loaders.