When the modern long-distance pipeline was developed in the late 1800s, so too did the challenge of safely and efficiently laying pipe in the trenches. Cranes could do the work; but while ideal for culverts and other short lengths, they were inefficient for placing long strands of pipe, especially on the rough terrain that pipelines often traversed. A better way was needed.
The exact origin of the tractor-mounted crane is unknown, but several manufacturers of allied tractor equipment began developing and marketing sidebooms for tractor mounting in the 1920s and early 1930s. Such machines were ideal for pipeline construction because they combined robust lifting capacity from what we now call a small footprint with the ability to navigate the most severe terrain. Used in multiple, they could also pick up and walk with a long strand of pipe, something cranes could do safely only on level ground and at much slower speeds.
As with other attachments, sidebooms were originally mounted on stock tractors that were not significantly modified to accept the strains imposed by the attachment. Various modifications to increase lift capacity and reach through improved safety and stability were developed over the next couple of decades; these included frame reinforcements and wider track gauge and shoes.
In 1955, Caterpillar introduced the first machine purpose-built as a pipelayer, rather than adapting an attachment to a tractor. The 583C was based on the torque converter-equipped 15A series D8D that was also introduced in 1955 and had a 55% increase in capacity over its predecessor, the MD8 (a D8 with a Trackson sideboom).
All conventional sidebooms and pipelayers operate through a common principle. The boom is on the left side of the tractor (looking forward from the seat), and the hoist works and counterweight are opposite it. Boom angle and the hoist line are controlled from a pair of independently-operated drums that are powered from the tractor’s power take-off (PTO). The load line is reeved over the tip of the boom and into a multiple-part hoist block.
Counterweights were of one design or another: A static, unmoving counterweight made of individual sections that could be added or removed within machine design as needed; or a hydraulically adjustable counterweight was raised to vertical for transport and storage, or pivoted away from the tractor for lifting. The hydraulic counterweight operated on the principle that lifting capacity increased as the counterweight was moved away from the load. Most of these counterweights swung down to lower the pipelayer’s overall center of gravity, thereby increasing stability; yet the higher the counterweight’s pivot point, the better the machine’s ground clearance.
The Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of the construction, dredging and surface mining equipment industries. With over 4,000 members in twenty-five countries, our activities include publication of a quarterly educational magazine, Equipment Echoes; operation of National Construction Equipment Museum and archives in Bowling Green, Ohio; and hosting an annual working exhibition of restored construction equipment. Individual memberships are $32.00 within the USA and Canada, and $40.00 US elsewhere. We seek to develop relationships in the equipment manufacturing industry, and we offer a college scholarship for engineering and construction management students. Information is available at www.hcea.net, or by calling 419-352-5616 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.