Hough Loader Legacy

Frank G. Hough's front-end loader innovations are still on the job today.

| October 2006

  • JohnMulcahy.jpg
    John Mulcahy recently completed this pair of restorations and then put them back to work in his South Weymouth, Mass., excavating business. The Payloader on the left is a 1969 Model H-65C with an articulated frame. The truck is an International Harvester Paystar 5000.
  • JimRobinson.jpg
    Jim Robinson’s (Derby, Conn.) well-preserved and fully functional HE Payloader dating to the early 1950s. The simple curves in the loader arms increased wheel clearance, allowed for larger carry loads and improved the bank-digging capabilities of the machine.
  • HoughModel.jpg
    This early 1960s Hough Model H-25 Payloader was the first in the industry with a hydrostatic transmission. This machine has been outfitted to burn propane, and is painted the shade of yellow used by Hough after about 1960.
  • Houghsmid.jpg
    Hough’s mid-1930s hydraulic shovel mounted on this Allis-Chalmers Special Model WM crawler makes short work of loading and excavating jobs. The loader featured hydraulic lift with gravity dump; the tractor was equipped with a special long track frame to enhance fore-aft stability and new Positive Seal track rollers with an extended 200-hour maintenance interval compared with 10 hours.
  • HoughsModel.jpg
    Developed in 1947 and released to production in 1948, Hough’s Model HM Payloader remains the first known four-wheel drive loader in the world.
  • Northhydraulic.jpg
    The North hydraulic digger mounted on a Fordson tractor in 1922 is credited as the first commercially produced front-end loader.
  • McCormickDeeringModel.jpg
    Frank G. Hough Co. personnel fight the wind while trying to set up a marketing photograph of this more refined Hough tractor shovel mounted on a 1934 McCormick-Deering Model I-12 tractor.
  • PostwarModel.jpg
    This early post-war Model HS Payloader utilized Hough’s original mast-lift-style loader and gravity-dump bucket. By 1947, that cumbersome but functional design was replaced with the first loader ever to employ hydraulic power directly to the loader arms for lift.
  • Houghrotary.jpg
    This Hough rotary sweeper is mounted on a 1940s-vintage International I-4 industrial tractor. Rigs such as this found duty as parking lot sweepers, on road construction sites, at airports and even on aircraft carriers.
  • AndrewSherwood.jpg
    Andrew Sherwood of Naples, N.Y., uses this mid-1960s vintage H-70 Payloader around the farm for snow removal and minor excavating and loading chores.
  • AllisChalmersWM.jpg
    A 1936 Hough marketing image of the Allis-Chalmers WM loader. This combination featured Hough’s first heavy-duty hydraulic shovel capable of loading, digging material from a bank and excavating directly into the ground.
  • Payloader.jpg
    A 1952 HA Payloader with factory fork attachment, owned by Matt Murdock, Noblesville, Ind. Note the straight loader arm and hydraulic cylinder mounted beneath.
  • SlagPile.jpg
    Working the slag pile in a Chicago foundry in the mid-1930s with a Hough tractor shovel-equipped McCormick-Deering Model I-12 industrial tractor.
  • HAHPayloader.jpg
    In 1956, Hough’s HAH Payloader was well suited as a small yard loader, or a larger factory loader. Farmer Charles Winning of Lena, Ill., purchased this machine from a neighbor to feed silage and still uses it from time to time. Note the original Hough Buff paint color.
  • Northhydraulic1.jpg
    An early North hydraulic digger mounted on a Clark industrial wheel tractor.
  • HLPayloader.jpg
    This restored 1948 HL Payloader was used for more than 40 years to load sand from a southwestern Connecticut pit where it once moved 1,400 cubic yards in a 10-hour day. Originally Hough Buff, the machine was repainted red. Interestingly, the machine is powered with an International Harvester U-9 power unit mounted over an Oliver 35 Industrial transaxle. Note also the hydraulic bucket control. Robert Drenckhahn, Cos Cob, Conn., owns this beauty.
  • Houghsweeper.jpg
    A 1930s-vintage Hough sweeper blower mounted on a McCormick-Deering I-30 industrial tractor. The machine was designed to sweep the road base in preparation for paving.
  • HoughsModelHW.jpg
    Hough’s Model HW was the first four-wheel drive wheel-loader to be introduced with torque converter drive, powershift transmission and planetary axles. The machine was designed in 1949 and released in 1952. (Image courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.)
  • HAPayloader.jpg
    A Model HA Payloader loads an HA Payloader buggy with fertilizer components at the American Agricultural Chemical Co. in Cleveland in 1948. (Image courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society.)
  • Houghsloader.jpg
    Studio image of Hough’s loader (circa 1934) mounted on a McCormick-Deering I-12 industrial tractor. Note the relatively crude angle-iron construction visible on the right side of the image, as well as the sheave-and-cable arrangement that amplifies the relatively short hydraulic cylinder throw to a much longer vertical lift for the loader. (Image courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society).
  • Blairhydraulic.jpg
    By the late 1920s, the Blair hydraulic digger was adaptable to Caterpillar’s Model Twenty crawler. Note that the hydraulic lift components are mounted on the rear of the tractor with cables running up the inclined tower to raise the front-mounted bucket.

  • JohnMulcahy.jpg
  • JimRobinson.jpg
  • HoughModel.jpg
  • Houghsmid.jpg
  • HoughsModel.jpg
  • Northhydraulic.jpg
  • McCormickDeeringModel.jpg
  • PostwarModel.jpg
  • Houghrotary.jpg
  • AndrewSherwood.jpg
  • AllisChalmersWM.jpg
  • Payloader.jpg
  • SlagPile.jpg
  • HAHPayloader.jpg
  • Northhydraulic1.jpg
  • HLPayloader.jpg
  • Houghsweeper.jpg
  • HoughsModelHW.jpg
  • HAPayloader.jpg
  • Houghsloader.jpg
  • Blairhydraulic.jpg

Front-end loaders are so commonplace that they blend into the mechanical landscape at construction sites. Most farms, many estates and even some suburban homes are equipped with at least one. This ever-practical tool is designed principally for loading bulk materials and excavation, but it gets used for everything from hoisting engines out of pickup trucks to scraping away sod for a new flowerbed.

Who built the first tractor loader is anybody's guess, but it was likely the result of an enterprising farmer's desire to find an easier way to load manure. Some primitive tractor-mounted loaders used winches to raise and lower the bucket, while others employed more tenuous gear-driven mechanical linkages. Frank G. Hough (pronounced Huff), a young engineer in Chicago, believed in the potential of hydraulics and pioneered a much better way in the early 1920s. With his initial invention, Hough excavated the footings for a material-moving legacy whose contributions included the first production wheel-tractor-mounted front-end loader, first integrated wheel loader, first four-wheel drive loader and the largest mechanically driven loader, among many others.

In the beginning

At age 20, Frank G. Hough (1890-1965) was superintendent for the Field Mining and Milling Co., in Lafayette County, Wis., when he first became interested in applying hydraulics and wheels to movement of bulk materials. This eventually led the young engineer to a position as vice president and general manager of the Blair Mfg. Co. in Chicago, where, in 1922, he sold his first tractor-mounted shovel attachment. This original shovel, mounted on a Fordson farm tractor, was based on an invention whose patent he shared with Russell B. North and Royal R. Miller. The device was called the North hydraulic digger.

At Blair, Hough rapidly developed loaders for McCormick-Deering, Allis-Chalmers, and Case farm and industrial tractors. By the late 1920s the company offered the Blair hydraulic digger alongside bulldozers and backfilling blades that could be fitted to wheeled tractors and track machines.



The Blair hydraulic digger consisted of a vertical mast frame mounted to the front of the tractor, a pair of loader arms that pivoted at the rear of the tractor connected to a bucket up front, and a hydraulic lift mechanism. Essentially, a hydraulic cylinder located between the mast-frame's side rails raised a pair of cable-threaded sheaves that in turn raised the bucket-end of the loader arms, which were attached to the cables' ends. The vertical mast's side rails guided the loader arms, and the cable-sheave arrangement allowed the cylinder's relatively short stroke to be translated into higher lift. It looks like a little rattletrap in comparison with modern loader designs, but it was innovative and quite useful at the time.

Hough purchased Blair Mfg. Co. in 1931, and in 1933 incorporated as the Frank G. Hough Co. Like its predecessor, the newly named company concerned itself with engineering and sales, but not fabrication. Meili-Blumberg of New Holstein, Wis., and others were contracted to manufacture Hough's designs and drop-ship them directly to customers or dealers. In the early 1930s the company's products included tractor-mounted loaders, bulldozers and sweepers.