The threshing machine king

Case: From beginnings in farm equipment to pioneering loader/backhoes

Article July 01, 2001
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At the time of the start of the magazine that would become <i>ROADS & BRIDGES</i>, J


At the time of the start of the magazine that would become ROADS & BRIDGES, J. I. Case Co. was already over 60 years old. The company was started in Rochester, Wis., in 1842 by Jerome Increase Case, who moved to Wisconsin from Williamstown, N.Y., with a crude threshing machine.


At the time, wheat was still being threshed by hand with flails to separate the seeds from the straw and then winnowed by tossing it in the air. Case relocated to Racine, Wis., on the shore of Lake Michigan to be closer to a source of water power and made a name for himself building improved threshers for the growing country.


Case continued growing and improving its horse-powered threshing machines until 1869 when the company produced its first steam engine, called Old No. 1, which is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The machine was mounted on wheels, but still drawn by horses and used only for belt power.


Jerome Case died in 1891. His brother-in-law, Stephen Bull, became president of the company, which by that time was known as J. I. Case Threshing Machine Co.


Case built its first gasoline tractor in 1892. It was not commercially successful, though, because it lacked proper ignition and carburetion equipment. By 1895, the problems had been worked out, and Case began producing and selling several sizes of two-cylinder models.


By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Case was producing threshing machines made of steel and making more farm steam engines and threshing machines than any other company.


Case also had bought Pierce Motor Co. of Racine (no relation to Pierce-Arrow) and had started making luxury automobiles. Three Case racing cars entered the first Indianapolis 500 race, occupying the pole position and two second-row spots.


Case’s 30-60 gas traction engine won the gold medal in the 1911 Winnipeg Plowing Contest.


By 1913, Case had started making roadbuilding equipment such as steam rollers and graders. That year, the company built the Case Tractor Works near Racine to manufacture several sizes of four-cylinder-engine gas tractors, including models with cross-mounted engines. The trend in tractors was toward smaller, faster machines.


By 1924, Case had given up building automobiles and steam engines, but had started making agricultural combines.


The second quarter of the 20th century was a time of great activity for Case, with a name change in 1928 to J. I. Case Co. and plenty of new tractor introductions.


Case contributed to the World War II effort by making hundreds of thousands of 155-mm artillery shells for the U.S. and Allied forces. Other wartime production included 500-lb bombs, 40-mm anti-aircraft gun carriages, B-26 bomber wings and aftercoolers for Rolls-Royce aircraft engines.


Construction equipment takes off


The afterburners kicked in for the Case construction equipment operation in 1957 when the company launched the world’s first factory-integrated loader/backhoe available from a single manufacturer under a single warranty.


The building boom of the early 1950s required contractors to find faster and more efficient ways of doing the necessary excavating, trenching, backfilling and grading. The contractors’ solution was to piece together a makeshift loader/backhoe combination by purchasing an agricultural tractor, front-end loader and backhoe attachment. Kits were available consisting of a burlap bag filled with the necessary parts and some difficult-to-follow instructions.


"Tractors at the time weren’t designed to accommodate two attachments," according to Rusty Schaefer, the current marketing manager for Case Construction Equipment. "There were no pre-existing attachment points, and no one considered the amount of strain a loader and backhoe would place on the tractor’s structure."


Assembling the kits was time-consuming. Parts were often missing or did not fit properly.


Case acquired American Tractor Corp., Churubusco, Ind., a manufacturer of crawler tractors and earth-moving equipment, in 1957. American Tractor was developing a hydraulically powered backhoe to attach to its crawler units. At the same time, Case was developing a prototype industrial-wheel tractor designed to accommodate a backhoe on the rear and a loader on the front.


Case engineer Elton Long led the team that developed the first integrated loader/backhoe design. By spring 1957, Case had successfully merged the technologies at its Burlington, Iowa, factory and introduced the landmark Model 320 loader/backhoe.


The Model 320 gave contractors the ability to dig and backfill a trench. Rubber tires gave it the mobility to handle import material and load out unused spoil. Its compact size meant smaller, less disruptive excavations and helped facilitate work around obstructions and in tight areas.


Elton Long maintained close ties with customers, enabling him to respond rapidly to demands from the field and to continually refine and improve the product. Innovations included self-leveling buckets for specialized tasks, a 180û swing mechanism and an enclosed box boom.


Case quickly capitalized on its new position at the forefront of the construction equipment market. By 1965, the company had formed its Construction Equipment Division to market the Model 530 Construction King loader/backhoe and two models of crawlers.


Case added its first subsidiary company in 1958 with J. I. Case (Australia) Pty. Ltd., followed closely by J. I. Case do Brazil and J. I. Case Co. Ltd. in England.


The 1960s was a decade of rapid worldwide expansion. In 1963, the company had 125 distributorships; subsidiaries in England, France, South Africa, Brazil and Australia; and 15 licensees in other countries. Twenty percent of the company’s U.S. production volume was shipped overseas.


Kern County Land Co., San Francisco, bought controlling interest in Case in 1964, resulting in a refinancing plan that built the foundation for the company’s future operations.


The same year, Case expanded its product line by buying the Macarr concrete pump and beginning manufacture of the new Case-Macarr concrete placer at Stockton, Calif. The company also entered the small garden tractor market by acquiring Colt Manufacturing Co., Winneconne, Wis.


The company bought 600,000 sq ft of manufacturing space in Terre Haute, Ind., in 1966, began construction of a 386,000-sq-ft transmission plant in Racine and added 300,000 sq ft to the Racine tractor plant and foundry complex.


In 1967, the Kern County Land Co. was bought by Tenneco Inc., Houston, the world’s largest distributor of natural gas, with additional interests in oil chemicals, packaging and related investments. Tenneco continued Case’s acquisition strategy the following year by buying Drott Manufacturing, Wausau, Wis., and Davis Manufacturing, Wichita, Kan. Drott manufactured hydraulic excavators, cranes and straddle carriers. Davis manufactured crawler and rubber-tired trenchers, boring equipment, line-laying equipment and tilt-bed trailers.


By 1971, Case had added excavators, crawler dozers, wheel loaders, skid steers and forklifts to its product offerings. The company later added trenchers, telescopic handlers and horizontal directional drills to the product line.


Case topped the billion-dollar mark in total sales in 1974 after further expansion and acquisition.


Case increased its standing in the excavator and crane markets in 1977 when, through Tenneco, it acquired 40% of the French construction equipment manufacturer Poclain, S.A., the world’s leading manufacturer of hydraulic excavators and a major mobile crane producer. Tenneco bought all of Poclain’s marketing subsidiaries in England, West Germany, Spain and Belgium and a manufacturing facility in Brazil.


In 1978, Case was named the snow-removal equipment supplier for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.


Case revenues reached $2.37 billion in 1979, with income of $131 million.


Case in space


Case established a worldwide space satellite link in 1980 between Australia and North America as part of its electronic parts system.


Also in 1980, Case France celebrated production of its 10,000th Model 580 loader/backhoe. Case and Cummins Engine Co. announced their major joint venture, Consolidated Diesel Co., to produce fuel-efficient 50- to 250-hp diesel engines at a plant near Rocky Mount, N.C. Case’s Drott Division began manufacturing Poclain 220 excavators at Wausau, Wis. Case renamed its Davis Division the Light Equipment Division and began marketing all Davis products under the Case name. And the company honored its founder, Jerome Increase Case, with a monument donated to the city of Racine. The following year, Case’s main office building was designated a city landmark by the Racine Landmarks Preservation Commission.


In 1982, Case celebrated its 140th year in business and the production of its 200,000th loader/backhoe unit. Celebratory activities included the introduction of a special anniversary edition of the 580 loader/backhoe, finished in silver and black, a search for the best operating Model 320 loader/backhoe and restoration of a vintage 1913 Case steam engine.


In 1988 and 1991, Fortune magazine listed Case loader/backhoes as among the best products built in the U.S.


Case has sold more than 500,000 loader/backhoes since 1957. Tenneco made a public offering of Case stock in 1994, thus making it a publicly held company on the New York Stock Exchange.


Case merged with New Holland in 1999 to form CNH Global NV, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of off-highway equipment. Case remains one of CNH’s premier brands, with a full line of construction equipment marketed in more than 150 countries.


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