Machinery & Products

The toy for big boys

By John Droppert

ONE OF my favourite toys as a child growing up was a 1:16 scale Case 580D backhoe, a proper, quality Ertl piece made to withstand the rigours of childhood play, and last.

I wore the paint off that thing not only carpet farming indoors, but sandpit farming outdoors and in various adventures across all manner of terrain in between.

Upon reaching the appropriate age to operate the real thing, I drove its full scale JCB and New Holland cousins, which was every bit as much fun.

When it came to investing in the real thing, regular readers of this column will recall that financial realities led to the relatively disappointing (if authentic) Chamberlain granddaddy of backhoes showing up at my front gate.

You may also recall that halfway through digging a big hole, I was stranded with something less resembling a tool, and more a navigational hazard.

A half-finished dam is not what one wants in one’s field of vision every morning putting the kettle on, so something had to be done.

As it happened, the solution was to revisit the Case backhoe series at what many suggest is its pinnacle.

The 580M machines were the last in the roughly 50 year lineage that largely ended when the Case product (at least in Australia) finally gave way to re-branded New Holland machines, a consequence of the 1999 merger.

There’s nothing wrong with New Holland backhoes, but the Case machines are pretty special. They have the same bulletproof Cummins B series engines as the Maxxum tractors, and are generally built like tanks.

The unique crowding mechanism for the loader gives them a huge range of bucket angles and the way the hoe leans forward over the pivot point for transport makes them very well balanced for transport.

They’re also French, rather than Italian, for whatever that’s worth. And they look good; again, not important.

I’ve been driving a 580 Super M, which benefits from a turbocharger and other bells and whistles like ride control (loader suspension) and the telescoping ‘extendahoe’ for extra reach.

All the things you ‘don’t need’ when you’re looking at machines but end up using every time you turn the key.

Before you start to think I’ve gone all soft, I hasten to add that the air conditioner is not connected.

It may be comfy, but on a 40 degree day (or indeed a still 25 degree day) it can quickly become a machine for enthusiasts only.

It’s also done no less than 14 000 hours, about twice what general consensus would consider ‘well loved’.

But having been immaculately maintained through those hours and fully functioning, it is nothing short of a beast.

The thing moves dirt at a jaw dropping pace, and when pushing the loader you’ll run out of grip long before you lose power.

You’d have to be pretty talented to bog it somewhere you couldn’t escape from; which in fact can generate risky levels of confidence.

When you’re done, you can tear off down the road in supreme comfort, with only the slightest inclination to the sort of rocking horse behaviour that most backhoes I’ve previously driven are prone to.

Like the best dreams though, I can’t afford it, and it won’t be hanging around for too much longer. At least I’ve still got the toy.

• John Droppert has no mechanical qualifications whatsoever, but has been passionate about tractors since before he could talk and has operated many different makes and models in a variety of roles for both profit and fun.