A likeable fact about the backhoe—it can be up when it is down.
If you blow a front tire while you are working in the field, you don’t need to haul your irons and wrenches to the site. Instead, you just lift up the front end of the vehicle by lowering the loader bucket, and drive back to the farm shop in reverse. You can’t tell by looking at the video, but one of those front tires is flat as can be.
Back at the shop, you can duck the wind and rain and have a civilized go at removing the wheel. A tire this burly gets sent to a specialist, anyway, so the backhoe will be sitting around for a couple days. Better at the shop than in the crops.
It turns out that this “pop a wheelie” trick employs one of the natural motions of the backhoe for which it is engineered. You often drive this way, with the front wheels a little airborne, when you are leveling a piece of land. The loader bucket scrapes along like a “dozer” blade. So, over a reasonable distance and gentle terrain, driving back to the shop in this manner shouldn’t harm the vehicle.
But how do you steer if the front wheels aren’t touching the ground?
Two brake pedals. Your left brake stops the left rear wheel, which turns the tractor to the left; and, vice-versa with the right brake pedal. Sometimes, out of pure instinct, you will turn the steering wheel anyway. In the video, you can see our model driver spin the wheel as he goes around the bend. But the vehicle is really turning in response to his footwork on the brake pedals.
Farmer Stephen, echoing with the conventional wisdom of machine operators, likes to say that the backhoe is a jack of all trades, master of none. I call it our Swiss Farmy Knife—lots of tools in one package, portable and ever ready.
You can get better tools individually. A bulldozer will beat the backhoe at clearing, grading, and roadbuilding. An excavator will outdig the backhoe. And a pure front-end loader will outhaul and outdump it. But if you can only get one machine, it is the backhoe that will serve you most flexibly.
The backhoe is a generalist. In small organizations—the family farm being an archetype —generalists can make pivotal contributions. It is true of machines, and decidedly true of people. Specialists will always be in demand, but when you have few resources relative to the work at hand, it is a boost to have folks who can switch gears fluidly. In society at large, even as disciplines grow increasingly specialized, we are seeing a surge in the perceived value of generalists.
Are you a generalist or a specialist? When you get a mental flat, how do you haul yourself back to the shop?