A skid loader, skid-steer loader or skidsteer is a rigid-framed, relatively small machine with a motor and with lift arms. These arms are used to attach a large variety of manual labor-saving tools or attachments. Many people refer to skid steer loaders as a “Bobcat”. This may be confusing to some because Bobcat manufactures skid steer loaders much like many of its competitors like Caterpillar, Kubota or John Deere. In order to understand why, to this day, many people still call the skid steer a “Bobcat”, once must go back to the history of how the skid steer was invented.
On or about 1957, a small turkey farmer in Rothsay Minnesota, asked the Keller Brothers (locally known for their inventiveness and fabrication skills) to come up with a machine that could turn “on a dime” and perform work more efficiently. The Keller Brothers invented the first skid steer in 1957 with two wheels in the front and one in the back. After creating several prototypes, they caught the attention of a local Equipment Dealer by the name of Melroe. In need of financing, the Keller Brothers sold the rights to their invention to Melroe who then hired them back to keep refining the machine. They eventually developed a stronger, clutch-driven transmission and a four-wheeled version and released the M440 Melroe Bobcat in 1963 to the general public where it quickly became a big hit. The Bobcat’s moniker was “Quick, tough and agile” –like the real Bobcat! Since then, that name has always been associated with the skid steer, much like “Kleenex” is associated with tissue.
Skid-steer loaders have four wheels that are mechanically locked in synchronization on each side. The left-side drive wheels are operated independently of the right-side drive wheels. There is no separate steering mechanism. Each side of the machine is driven independently at different speeds, and the machine turns by “skidding” or dragging its fixed or non-driven wheels across the ground. Unlike track-vehicles such as excavators, the high ground friction produced by skid steers can rip up soft or fragile road surfaces. Skid-steers are capable of zero-radius turning, which makes them much more maneuverable than excavators or backhoes.
Skid-steer loaders that are equipped with tracks instead of the wheels are known as multi-terrain loaders or more simply as a track loader. Track loaders are used for jobs that require a lot more contact with the ground, particularly on softer ground such as snow, swampy areas, construction sites with soft surfaces, etc. Track loaders are typically a lot wider and are nearly impossible to tip over whereas the risk is higher with a wheeled skid steer loader. Track loaders are also usually heavier machines with greater horsepower and hydraulic flow, and able to carry heavier loads. They are also much slower than the wheeled skid steer loader and cannot turn on zero radius, but their purpose is slightly different anyway.
Almost all modern skid steer loader and track loaders are equipped with a Universal Quick Attach Plate in the front in order to readily attach any number of skid steer attachments available on the market. One can choose from mechanical or hydraulically operated attachments for the skid steer loader. Examples of mechanical attachments include: Buckets, blades, pushers, brooms, forks, pole setters, silt fence installers and grapples. Hydraulic attachments may include: Mulchers, trenchers, augers, mowers, hammers, breakers, tillers and so many more!
The skid steer and the subsequent track loader have been incredibly revolutionary inventions in the American Construction and Agricultural Industry. They are far more prevalent in North America than they are in Europe, however. To this day, the design of the skid steer loader keeps getting refined and incurs more and more variations.