July 28

Backhoe Loader – The Most Versatile Machine

Last Updated on November 9, 2022

The backhoe loader is the most versatile machine in construction. Essentially, the heavy vehicle is two machines in one – a loader and an excavator. Both of which are used in a myriad of applications. That’s what makes the backhoe loader such versatilite equipment.

What is a backhoe loader?

Backhoe loaders are construction machines that have been essential to construction, farming, utility, and landscaping applications for decades.

These are usually wheeled machines, but some manufacturers offer a tracked version. You can drive backhoe loaders similar to a car. They move at speeds of up to approximately 30 miles per hour, depending on the model. 

What also makes these machines special is also their size. They are easier to transport than larger machines, and carry enough material that multiple smaller vehicles are unnecessary.

The front side of the machine resembles a wheel loader or a tractor with a loader attachment. This loader attachment features two arms extending from either side of the machine and usually a bucket. Sometimes other attachments are exchanged for the bucket. 

On the rear of the backhoe loader is a mechanical arm that extends. The arm bends at the center (just like an elbow), and is similar to the arm found on excavators. Outriggers extend from behind the rear tires to stabilize the machine when digging. And the cab features a reversible seat, allowing the operator to comfortably work facing the front or the rear of the machine. 

Backhoe loader earthmoving at a worksite.

Application diversity

Backhoe loaders can be found on all sorts of job sites – not just construction and farming. These other sites include demolition, utility, landscaping, property maintenance, and more.

The diversity among the backhoe loaders is a result of two features – being equipped with both a backhoe arm and loader arms, and the number of various attachments.

There are more than one hundred attachments for excavators and for loaders. To say that there are plenty of attachment options is an understatement.

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Most backhoe loaders come equipped with a bucket on each side – a loader bucket and an excavator bucket. The loader side can be reequipped with various buckets and each has their own unique application.

Backhoe loader bucket attachments infographic
  • general purpose bucket – for general earthmoving
  • rock bucket – for working in rocky environments
  • heavy-duty bucket – for working with abrasive materials
  • loading bucket – for fast loading of lighter materials
  • screening bucket – for screening smaller materials out of the load
  • four-in-one bucket – for increasing excavating and dumping 
  • grain bucket – for grain loading
  • snow bucket – for snow management

And, the excavator side can be equipped with just as many types of buckets, if not more. 

Besides buckets, backhoe loaders can be equipped with various types of forks for pallet loading. By adding one of several blades, the machines can perform dozing and snow clearing operations. They can even be equipped with grapples used to clean up construction sites, or move long, loose material around on farms. An example of this would be hay, or shuffling logs along the production line at a sawmill, or moving loose metal at a scrap yard.

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Other attachments include shears, pulverizers, jaws, or hammers, which transform the backhoe into a demolition machine. Forestry cutters, tree spades, stump grinders, mowers and rakes allow the backhoe loader to manage vegetation. Farm implements include soil conditioners, spreaders, tillers, and vibratory plows. 

With a concrete pump attachment, concrete mixer attachment and wheel saw, you can also perform concrete work. Vibratory rollers, trenchers, compactors and packer wheels allow the backhoe loader to interact with the soil in ways not possible with a bucket. 

Every attachment, especially when combined with a loader attachment and a backhoe attachment, make the backhoe loader the most versatile machine in construction.

Size diversity

Backhoe sizes are nearly as diverse as their applications. 

JCB produces the smallest backhoe loader – the 1CX. Ironically, they also produce the largest backhoe loader – the 4CX Super. 

Below is a chart comparing important specifications of these two models plus the popular Case 580.  

1CX 580N – Case 580 – 4CX Super

Transport length: 10’11” 23’ 23,7”

Operating weight: 6,962 lbs 16,093 lbs 19,017 lbs

Engine power (gross): 50 hp 90 hp 101 hp

Backhoe max. dig depth: 8’4” 18’3” 21’4”

Loader max. dump height: 6’11” 8’10” 14’11”

Backhoe loaders used on farms tend to be smaller than those used on construction sites. This is because greater power, durability and reach aren’t necessary in farm applications. However, nowadays, densely populated urban areas are putting size demands on construction equipment, so manufacturers have started making smaller backhoe loaders for construction.

Start your search for various farming and construction models here.

Backhoe loader parked in a field.

A construction boom meets farming ingenuity

During the first half of the 20th Century, tractor owners, many of whom were farmers, affixed a loader bucket to their tractor. At first this bucket was mechanical, then later became hydraulic. Oftentimes, the attachment was manufactured by a different company than the tractor. Tractor owners also affixed mechanical excavator attachments to the rear of their tractors, so these tractors had many of the necessary components to be a backhoe loader.

However, no one yet saw the potential for it to be its own unique machine. They just saw a tractor with two attachments. The attachments were bolted on and changed with the seasons, so why would anyone want to permanently fix the attachments to the tractor?

Post WWII, the United States experienced an economic boom and built a lot of infrastructure. More houses were constructed, along with roads, shopping centers, community centers, and government buildings. Tens of thousands of neighborhoods across the country were built. With more infrastructure being constructed, the builders needed better machines for performing the work. 

Popular construction machine options included hydraulic shovels (similar to an excavator), trenchers, trucks, tractors, graders and dozers. Originally called a track type tractor – these tractor-based machines had developed over decades to become the pushing power houses that they are known to be. They even proved themselves on the front lines during WWII. Equipped with a dozer blade, the machine itself became known as a dozer. 

The construction industry was looking for another machine to perform the diverse tasks associated with construction and roadbuilding. Thus, officially entered the backhoe. 

What is a backhoe?

The first backhoes came about in the mid-20th Century. In 1947, Wain-Roy company developed the first hydraulic backhoe attachment with swing capability. This allowed the attachment to swing to the side, effective for dumping the bucket or filling the truck. The following year, the company sold the first all-hydraulic backhoe to the Connecticut Light and Power Company. The attachment was mounted to a Ford Model 8N tractor. It didn’t have a loader attachment, so it wasn’t a backhoe loader – just a backhoe. 

Wain-Roy sold 48 of these units in 1948. 

Even before Wain-Roy brought their hydraulic attachment to the market, end-users had grumbled about the tractor frame being inadequate for loading and other applications. To make backhoe loaders more construction-friendly, manufacturers started using or developing other chassis.

In 1952, Wain-Roy worked with wheel loader manufacturer, Hough Company, to create the first backhoe loader that wasn’t built using a tractor base. By 1954, Hough Company sold two wheel loader models that came with backhoe attachments. 

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, in 1949, JCB developed their own loader – the Major Loader. In 1953, the company sold their new loader with a backhoe attachment connection and optional backhoe attachment bolted to the rear of it.

In 1957, Case introduced an “integrated” backhoe loader – whereby the tractor, loader attachment and backhoe attachment were manufactured and warrantied by the same manufacturer. The attachments were bolted on and could be removed. That same year, JCB introduced the first dedicated model – whereby the loader and backhoe were welded to the chassis. In this case though, the backhoe attachment was manufactured by another company.

Since the first backhoe loaders used tractors as the base machine, the first machines were referred to as tractor loader backhoes. That name still gets used at times today, as some shorten it to TLB. 

Backhoe loader driving at a construction site.

Backhoe innovation

Manufacturers introduced a number of enhancements that have become commonplace in backhoe loaders today. 

In the 1950’s, Wain-Roy Corp. filed patents for the first individually controlled outriggers, four-bar linkages for easier bucket operation, and the first reversible seats. so operators can face Facing the direction of the backhoe attachment was very helpful for operators.

Then, in 1959, Hy-Dynamic, a division of Bucyrus-Erie, introduced their own vehicle. This vehicle was built robustly from the ground up with heavy excavation in mind, and the company marketed it as the only purpose-built backhoe loader.  

In 1968, Case Construction Equipment launched the 580 Construction King backhoe loader, and the 580 model number has stuck around to today. It has gone through many generations and, on the 30th anniversary of their first model, Case Construction Equipment released the K generation of their 580. This paid tribute to the original line. That same year, Forbes magazine listed the Case 580 as one of the top 100 American inventions of all time. 

Backhoe loader manufacturers 

Numerous backhoe loader brands serve the North American market, including domestic and foreign ones. The top brands in North America are the following: 

Top backhoe loader brands infographic
  • Case Construction Equipment
  • Caterpillar 
  • Hydrema
  • Hyundai
  • JCB
  • John Deere
  • Komatsu
  • Kubota
  • Liugong
  • Massey Ferguson
  • New Holland
  • Volvo Construction Equipment

Massey Ferguson and New Holland market primarily to the agricultural sector and their machines retain the tractor-style base. The rest of the manufacturers market primarily to the construction sector. 

Without a doubt, these great mechanisms have been useful for society since their origination. This will continue to be true for the versatile machines in farming and construction applications for the near future. That is, until a newer and more effective machine is created. Until then, we can enjoy their usefulness in many different areas of life. You can find options for backhoe loaders and other heavy equipment vehicles here.


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