On a mid-May day when the eastern Minnesota pastures were the very definition of green and the sky shouted what it meant to be truly blue, the new Case motor grader was out demonstrating what it could do with a two-lane country road and the ditch alongside. The local cows were unimpressed. They had seen plenty of graders on the roads around their Houston County home. What they did not realize was that this was the first motor grader produced by Case Corp., Racine, Wis., since about 1912.
Production models of Case's graders were scheduled to start rolling off the assembly line in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in July. The machine in Minnesota, a model 885, was a prototype built in November 2001. It was taken to several sites for field testing, and refinements were planned based on comments from the operators in the field. A sister prototype was on display at ConExpo-Con/Agg in Las Vegas in March.
The field tester in Houston County was Clayton Johnson, who has worked for the county highway department for 20 years and has been a blade operator for 10.
Johnson uses the grader to maintain the 2-3% grade on the gravel roads in his quarter of the county.
"In the spring, as soon as the frost is out, I'm out virtually every day until we start laying down maintenance rock," Johnson told ROADS & BRIDGES as we stood in the morning chill of the Houston County garage yard.
There are sections of Houston County with a lot of natural springs. When the snow and ice melts in spring, the water washes out pieces of the gravel roads, creating potholes and washboard ruts. Johnson then heads out and starts grading.
He starts on the edge of the road and pushes the material to about the middle of the driving lane. On the second pass, he pushes it into a windrow on the crown of the road. Once he has it gathered into the middle, he spreads it back across the road to a smooth 2-3% grade.
"The more curl you have in the moldboard, the more mixing action you get," he explained. With the moldboard set at the right angle, the maintenance rock churns around like stirring coffee in a cup, mixing the different-sized stones like cream throughout the coffee.
"If you don't do that, what'll happen, by the time you?re laying your rock out, you?ll have nothing but coarse rock. There'll be no fines in it, and there's no compaction. Traffic will just pound that right out."
Once a year, the county lays down a fresh layer of what Johnson called maintenance rock, a combination of crushed limestone from 1/4-in. stones to fine, powdery lime. To show what it was like, Wes Lee bent over and scooped up a handful. The powdery grains sifted through his fingers, leaving larger pieces. Lee is Case's director of North American construction equipment marketing for heavy-range products.
Tom Molling, maintenance superintendent for the Houston County highway department, said what he looks for in a grader are workmanship; service; and a responsible dealer.
The county currently has a fleet of five motor graders, plus various mowers, dump trucks, loader backhoes, wheel loaders and one skid steer.
Lee conducted a tour of the new machine while the sun began to warm the air.
Nuts and bolts
The 885 is one of four models. The 845 has 140 net hp. The 865 or 865 VHP has 155-170 net hp with the variable horsepower option. The 885 has 205 hp. All four models are equipped with a standard 12-, 13- or 14-ft blade.
The graders are available with a front scarifier option. There also is an optional rear ripper and scarifier. All of the rippers and scarifiers have replaceable teeth.
Other attachments include front blades, plows and wings.
The Case graders use A-frame construction for strength in holding the circle in place and to keep dirt out of the circle gears. The circle also has a large radius for lower effort. A five-point saddle allows the operator to rotate the blade 90 degrees for cutting steep banks.
Inside the cab, the 885 offers low-effort, short-travel hydraulic controls in the standard configuration. The quiet, 75-dBa compartment offers sight lines to the blade area and the rear over the sloping hood.
Case touts its exclusive tilt-up rear hood for quick access. The machine also has maintenance points that are accessible from the ground.
"Ground-level fill is a very nice feature," said Lee. Having the operator climb up on the machine to fill the fuel tank or check fluid levels can be hazardous to the operator's safety. All daily maintenance checks can be done from ground level.
After the walk-around, it was time to hit the road for the working demonstration. By then the day had warmed up nicely.
In addition to maintaining crushed-rock roads, Johnson also uses the grader to cut ditches. The ditches get filled up with dirt and choked with vegetation, which impedes drainage. Johnson makes a first cutting pass on the road side of the ditch, then makes a second pass to carry the material up the back slope on the other side to create a V ditch.
"Otherwise, the water will run along the edge of the road," Johnson said, "and it'll wash the road out."
Now that Case is part of CNH Global, the company has more resources to call on for design and engineering. Other parts of CNH Global have been in the grader business for 50 years. The new Case grader is part of the company's strategy to become a full-line construction equipment supplier.
"The plan was to start very gradually and to gain credibility and confidence in the equipment, because we're the new people on the block," Lee commented. Case got a start building its grader reputation from the grass roots of Minnesota's rolling hills just west of the Mississippi River valley.