Ron Horner’s

Earthmovers & Excavators - - Front Page -

When it comes to mak­ing choices in life, I have had a prob­lem in pick­ing the cor­rect one straight up. But when it comes to ex­ca­va­tors and their ca­pa­bil­i­ties, I reckon I have a pretty good han­dle on them.

Hav­ing owned more than 50 and put them just about ev­ery­where pos­si­ble, stretched them to their ul­ti­mate lim­its (and some­times be­yond), pi­o­neered and wit­nessed the tech­nol­ogy in hydraulics and hy­draulic at­tach­ments de­signed for ex­ca­va­tors, and the un­be­liev­able pop­u­lar­ity in ex­ca­va­tor growth over al­most 50 years in the game, I reckon I’ve got a bit of ex­pe­ri­ence to com­ment on this topic.

So when Earth­movers & Ex­ca­va­tors asked me to put a few words to­gether and out­line my top 10 choices of cou­plers or at­tach­ments I jumped at the chance. The rea­sons I have made these choices are based on the over­all im­pact they’ve had on the in­dus­try, the safety as­pect, the labour sav­ings, the cost ef­fec­tive­ness and the ef­fi­cien­cies cre­ated.


When ex­ca­va­tors first came to Aus­tralia and started to cre­ate some in­roads into the con­struc­tion in­dus­try (who would have thought they had to fight to sur­vive), one would get one bucket and one bucket only.

But pri­vate bucket fab­ri­ca­tors slowly started to emerge to as­sist the needs of the in­dus­try. There were no quick hitches (pic­tured above) in those days so the main bucket pins had to be driven out of the bucket as­sem­bly, by hand, every sin­gle time you had to change a bucket.

Large ham­mers, drive pins, and plenty of grease were needed – along with the big­gest bloke you could find to swing the ham­mer. Hours of frus­tra­tion, plenty of swear­ing and curs­ing un­til you drove that last pin home and the bucket or rip­per was firmly at­tached. Then came the quick hitch. Firstly it was a man­ual quick hitch but when the hy­draulic quick hitch came on the scene it was a game changer.

This, in my opin­ion, changed the ex­ca­va­tor’s place in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try for­ever. It tops the list and ticks all of the boxes and laid the plat­form for all of the at­tach­ments we see – not only on ex­ca­va­tors but those fit­ted to skid steers, back­hoes and load­ers.


The quick hitch meant you could change at­tach­ments quickly and ef­fi­ciently from the cab and with one per­son, but you could only dig square or per­pen­dic­u­lar to the ground un­til the tilt­ing bucket was de­signed.

That was the next big game changer. Hav­ing the abil­ity to cut a level pad on slop­ing ground and cut­ting bat­ters at any an­gle by us­ing a tilt­ing bucket was – and still is – one of the best and in­no­va­tive tools cre­ated for ex­ca­va­tors.

This in­no­va­tion has laid the ground­work for the ro­tat­ing quick-hitch at­tach­ments that are avail­able to­day.


Prior to the hy­draulic rock breaker, al­most ev­ery­thing that could not be con­ven­tion­ally ex­ca­vated had to be drilled and blasted. This proved to be quite men­ac­ing when the rock was a small amount and in close prox­im­ity to res­i­den­tial, pub­lic ar­eas and road­ways. Air-op­er­ated ham­mers were avail­able but, in com­par­i­son to the hy­draulic rock breaker, were not in the same league ei­ther in break-out force or ef­fi­ciency.

These ham­mers were slung from the dip­per arm of the ex­ca­va­tor and driven by an air-line and sev­eral oil bot­tles all hooked up to a large air com­pres­sor some dis­tance away. The ma­chine op­er­a­tor could not slew full 360 de­grees and the con­trol of the ham­mer was al­ways an is­sue.

It took at least 2-3 men to con­trol the air com­pres­sor and move the hoses from the track­ing ex­ca­va­tor as well as the op­er­a­tor. So when the hy­draulic rock breaker came to the fore it was a def­i­nite game changer.

The hy­draulic rock breaker is a com­pul­sory ex­ca­va­tor at­tach­ment these days but back in about 1976 it was in a league of its own.


Since own­ing a cou­ple of the first mini-ex­ca­va­tors that were im­ported into Aus­tralia, I have been a firm ad­vo­cate of ‘blad­ing ex­ca­va­tors’.

Nissan ex­ported (via Ban­bury En­gi­neer­ing Kato Deal­ers) the first mini-ex­ca­va­tors to hit Aus­tralia in the 1970s but they weren’t ac­cepted un­til Kato de­vel­oped the 180G.

I was demon­strat­ing them for Ban­bury and de­cided to take one home with me. I was so im­pressed – es­pe­cially with the blade at­tach­ments.

A very rare item of gear in those days but to­day mini-ex­ca­va­tors make up more than 40 per cent of ex­ca­va­tor sales in Aus­tralia – all with blades fit­ted to them. Game changer? Bloody oath!


Ex­ca­va­tors, mod­i­fi­ca­tions to them and al­most every at­tach­ment con­ceiv­able have kept them at the top of the food chain for many years, and it doesn’t look like chang­ing in the short term. There just seems no end as to where you can put them and the tasks are only gov­erned by your imag­i­na­tion and en­thu­si­asm.

I have per­son­ally put them on top of high-rise build­ings for de­mo­li­tion, worked them in rail and road tun­nels, op­er­ated them sev­eral kilo­me­tres un­der­ground in met­al­lif­er­ous min­ing op­er­a­tions, in swamps, sand plants and open-cut pits, but surely once we put am­phibi­ous pontoons on them and walked them into deep wa­ter and floated them … well, that takes the cake.

I thought I had seen it all but float­ing ex­ca­va­tors across lakes, dams and wa­ter­ways to gain ac­cess to pre­vi­ously in­ac­ces­si­ble, over­grown, flood de­bris cov­ered ar­eas re­ally is a sight to be­hold. That is only part of the rea­son for choos­ing float­ing pontoons as my fifth choice of game chang­ers.


The auger head is one of the most labour-sav­ing and ef­fi­cient at­tach­ments I have seen. The bril­liant en­gi­neer­ing and tech­ni­cal ad­vances of hydraulics has to be the great­est sin­gle thing to hap­pen in the evo­lu­tion of ex­ca­va­tors.

The la­bo­ri­ous tasks were sys­tem­at­i­cally iden­ti­fied and some­one went and in­vented a hy­draulic at­tach­ment to suit the ex­ca­va­tor.

One of those ex­tremely labour-in­ten­sive tasks iden­ti­fied was dig­ging post holes or round shafts deep into the ground. Most mini-ex­ca­va­tor con­trac­tors would have ac­cess to an auger at­tach­ment which elim­i­nates the ar­du­ous task of hand-dig­ging post holes.

A proven, cost ef­fec­tive, quick, safe and ef­fi­cient in­no­va­tion and well worth its place in my top 10.

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