19 April 1996

Cat proves itself in

the handler jungle

The Cat TH62 has been prowling through the materials handler jungle for almost 12 months.

Michael Bird visits one of the first users

CATERPILLAR TH range of telescopic handlers was the companys second attempt during the 1990s at securing a share of the important farm materials handling sector.

The first effort, made three years earlier, was with machines built and badged on Caterpillars behalf by an independent manufacturer. However, a number of unresolved teething problems resulted in their early withdrawal from the market.

UK distributor, &#42 Leverton Ltd, makes it clear that Caterpillar was determined not to repeat the exercise with the TH range.

For a start, all of the TH models have been designed and developed from the ground up totally by Caterpillar and are built at the companys UK production centre at Desford, Leicestershire. In fact, the majority of the five-strong TH telescopic handler range are designed primarily for the industrial market, with only two models being promoted actively for use within agriculture.

Yet all share the same 101 DIN hp turbocharged engine, powershift transmission and mechanical final drive, as well as controls, instrumentation, steering and brakes, enhancing parts and service support while giving the machines a label of being "built for the job".

That is certainly the impression gained last year by Oxfordshire farmer Andrew Collett when he first saw a Caterpillar TH62 in the yard of local dealer Farol Ltd.

Mr Collett took a good look at the machine, noting the chunky equal-size tyres, rigid chassis frame construction and all-round visibility, enhanced by the side-mounted engine which allows the telescopic boom to be lowered fully into the space between the engine and cab.

"Wed been using dedicated loading vehicles on the farm since 1970, having bought a second-hand Bray industrial loader that year for £400," he says. "Having used it just once, I was sold totally on the concept of purpose-built material handlers. Its size, power and vast bucket capacity made a conventional tractor-mounted loader look really inadequate."

With the purchase of an additional pre-owned Bray loader in 1976, Mr Collett had two machines which were in use virtually every day for the next 19 years on the 97ha (240-acre) Manor Farm, Poundon, near Bicester.

The mixed enterprise supports cereals and grass, the latter used for grazing and production of clamp silage for 280 breeding ewes as well as 150 head of cattle.

"Seeing the Cat TH62 made me think about a possible replacement for the two Brays," points out Mr Collett. "Although both were still working well, they were beginning to show their age and limitations, particularly on lift height and reach."

Taking up Farols offer of trying out a TH62 for a week, Mr Collett says that he was sold on the machines features virtually straight away.

"Above all, I just could not believe its capabilities," he comments. "It was very obvious the modern farm materials handler was streets ahead of the original industrial-type loading shovel. "Although I was impressed with the Cat, we did take a good look at other makes, driving some and speaking with neighbours about their machines."

Thoughts, however, always returned to the TH62 and Mr Collett decided that its combination of lift and reach, visibility, cab access, strength, stability and speed of hydraulics reaction gave the machine an edge over the competition.

Ordered in September, a new TH62 complete with pallet forks and 2 cu m grain bucket was delivered in time to help with grain lorry loading, immediately cutting almost 10 minutes off the best time previously achieved.

"To say I was pleased would be a understatement," he comments. "On just one job, the decision to buy a new materials handler had been vindicated."

Four hundred hours on, does Mr Collett feel the same way? In a word, yes, although he points out that there are a few design features which could be improved.

Employed principally to date on muck carting, bale hauling, grain loading and fencing operations, the machines turbocharged engine has proved more than adequate so far. A more complete test of its full power range and torque back-up will come on the silage clamp next month.

A column-mounted twist grip control lever is provided for selection of travel direction and speed, the latter achieved via on-the-move power shifting between four forward and three reverse gears.

This lever, which is mounted on the left side of the steering column, is almost identical to the indicator control stalk on the right-hand side.

"Anyone used to a vehicle with an indicator control mounted on the left side could easily shift from forward to reverse thinking that they were indicating a left turn," points out Mr Collett. "Perhaps Caterpillar might consider fitting an indent or direction change switch or button to the lever as a safeguard."

An associated further concern relates to the ease with which the direction lever can be moved into forward or reverse from its neutral position.

"The worry is that a child or even adult might engage the travel lever inadvertently on an unattended machine," explains Mr Collett.

Despite these comments, the ease of gear selection and the working ranges provided have proved ideal on all work encountered so far. Minor criticisms apart, Mr Collett remains extremely pleased with his Caterpillar TH62. &#42

&#8226 Engine: Cat 3054 101hp, 4-cyl turbo

&#8226 Transmission: 4-speed powershift

&#8226 Maximum lift: 3t to 6.5m. 1.5t to 7.6m

&#8226 Maximum forward reach: 4.1m with 1.33t

&#8226 Price: £35,500


Caterpillars TH62 handler tucks its boom twixt cab and side-mounted engine for good all-round visibility. Power comes from a 101hp four-pot.

Andrew Collett: "Initially, I was attracted by the Cat name."