The backhoe loader, once ‘the machine’ on a building site has been largely displaced by both the crawler excavator and its wheeled counterpart. While sales by the pioneer of the concept, JCB, still remain buoyant, younger operators tend to favour the 360 degree machines instead.
One operator still in love with the backhoe is Robin Webber of I J Webber and sons. It’s a family-run business originally started by Robin’s father, undertaking farm maintenance and agricultural work. Their current fleet numbers small mini excavators to 13 tonne machines and a JCB 4CX, something which remains the operating domain of Robin
The company’s latest purchase is yet another JCB 4CX, this time the ECO version complete with servo controls, a dig depth going on 5m and full four wheel drive and four wheel steer. What Robin wanted was a machine which would make his job easier. “I do a lot of trenching and ditch cleaning work.” Robin commented “This means a lot of repetitive moving the machine forward to continue to work. I’ve used a tilting hitch on the last 4CX which expanded the range of jobs I could do without moving the machine.” Robin says “But I wanted a little more, as you always do! Holt JCB weren’t able to meet my requirements and I came across a video on YouTube of a Danish operator with an Engcon equipped 4CX. It was then I knew what I wanted! I watched the video time after time and constantly thought that this is what I wanted from my machine.”
Mark Clare at Engcon took the original call and it was soon quite clear that Robin wanted something that didn’t currently exist and it soon became one of those “if we build it, will you buy it? I’ll buy it if you can make it” conversations. Because of the complexity of Robin’s requirements and the functions that he wanted on the joysticks, Engcon’s DC2 control system was used with specially modified MIG joysticks to create the operating platform.
The standard machine from Staffordshire is an impressive beast. Equal sized wheels and tyres front and rear, 2.4m wide 4-in-1 bucket with forks and the JCB Extradig extending dipper make the machine a very versatile and manoeuvrable tool in the right hands. “We needed to incorporate all of the standard JCB operating parameters into the DC2 system.” Engcon’s Installation Engineer Jamie Kirk explains “With the CanBus system it is supposed to be straightforward but as we had nothing to go off, it was a case of starting from scratch. We had the basics from the Danish model, but both Robin and I wanted to go further.
Because Robin wanted to use a breaker and dig deep trenches, a twin-hitch EC209 with full EC-Oil top and bottom and a detachable gripper was chosen. The MIG Joystick rollers control these functions and much more besides: A Forward, Neutral, Reverse (FNR) switch on the right hand joystick controls the JCB auto gearbox, and a roller on the opposite joystick provides steering. The rear stabilisers, Powerslide and extending dipper are all on proportional rollers which can be operated simultaneously, alongside the rear auxiliary circuit. “I’ve put a vertical roller in to the right hand stick to allow for a more intuitive operation of the Extradig function and the 4 in 1 loading shovel jaw.” Jamie commented “The standard set up is on a roller but a left to right version. We all believe that the vertical one is far better and easier to operate which means Robin’s hands are almost always on the levers. The Q-Safe hitch is operated in the standard way an excavator version is.
Robin wanted to be able to operate the backhoe whilst facing forward and the loader whilst looking out of the rear window! “When I’m doing long trenches, I want to be able to lift the front bucket off the floor, drive forward a few metres and start using the backhoe again.” Robin explained “Or if I’m cutting a hedge, I want to be able to move the backhoe away from an obstacle.”
An additional accelerator pedal and brake pedal were incorporated into the flat floor underneath the rear window. With an eye on the health and safety implications, Jamie wanted to incorporate a system which was only operable should Robin be facing the rear. “I didn’t want anything falling onto the accelerator or the brake pedal when Robin was driving in the conventional manner.” Jamie explained “To do this we have installed a sensor in the system to isolate both pedals once the seat is turned around.”
With a road speed of 40km/h the 4CX beats pretty much all wheeled excavators and is regarded as still one of the most ‘roadable’ machines around (in joystick steering mode, this is limited to under 20km/hr). Combined with the front loader this means that this is very much a tool of choice for many owner-operators. Adding the tiltrotator means repositioning is vastly reduced and, when it is necessary, being able to do it facing the backhoe transforms the digger into a very much 21st century machine.
Quickly dropping the 3-foot bucket off the loading shovel, Robin was able to level out a piece of land before spinning the machine around and starting off a small ditch. What amazed everyone was his ability to pick up the operation of the tiltrotator so quickly. “This is my first time on a tilty!” Robin explained later “I’ve been used to the tilting hitch, so I suppose I was halfway there!” With the hole completed, the bucket and stabilisers were lifted off the ground before Robin, still facing rearwards, set off a few metres to relocate himself and elongate the trench a little. A press of a button and a tweak on a roller saw the backhoe quickly repositioned thanks to the Powerslide before Robin tidied up his work area. Watching on, Andrew was asked if he had changed his mind regarding the operating of the 4CX. “I’ll stick to my tracks!” came the reply. With a quick finish using the 4-in-1 the job was completed and, wanting to try the reverse driving method to the full, Robin crossed from one field to another driving the machine backwards facing the way he was going! “We have made sure that all of the controls are inverted whichever way the seat is facing.” Jamie comments “This makes everything easier, safer and more intuitive.”
Both Robin and Andrew then took turns to operate the machine with Andrew returning to the gathered Engcon team with a smile on his face. “I would definitely think about giving this a go now.” Andrew commented “It’s easy to operate, smooth and just feels right.”
Robin on the other hand said “I’m extremely pleased with the way it’s turned out, it’s just what I asked Engcon to do, they’ve done a great job. It will take a lot to get me out of this now!”
Whilst at the top end of an 9-tonne excavator budget, the Webbers do have an ace up their sleeves. “We’ve also ordered an 8-tonne excavator from Holt JCB with DC2 and EC-Oil so we can swap the tilty”, says Andrew. With a wry smile, Robin grins and says, “That’s not going to happen!”
Engcon’s Robert Hunt commented: We’ve been wanting to do something like this since I joined the company four years ago. The backhoe loader is a machine that retains a lot of affection within the digging community and Robin has generously allowed us to showcase how Engcon can transform a machine – not just with the tiltrotator, but with our full arsenal of goodies, including twin-hitch EC-Oil, top and bottom, steering and auxiliary control and much, much more. I’ve also got to pay tribute to Jamie and the rest of the team who have really pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this. Within a week of putting a taster out on Social Media, we’ve had over 20,000 views and enquiries from as far afield as Sweden and Poland!
Robin Webber, I J Webber and sons
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