Digger rivalry facts unearthed from Down Under

In the world of diggers, it was a story of rivalry. The major brands JCB and Whitlock each have their champions.

A Whitlock digger in action. This is from the front cover of a book called 'Whitlock Brothers, a history of the family, farms, forage works, foundry and factory at Great Yeldham.'.
A Whitlock digger in action. This is from the front cover of a book called 'Whitlock Brothers, a history of the family, farms, forage works, foundry and factory at Great Yeldham.'.

And while it may not exactly be the top topic of discussion around the dinner table, there is a big question – who invented the backhoe loader?

A little while ago David Adams of Newport spoke up in our pages for the Whitlock cause and, while he didn't want to spoil JCB's 75th anniversary celebrations, he told us the claim that Joe Bamford invented the backhoe loader (or digger, in lay person's terms) was just not right.

David, who was plant department manager of Newport agricultural engineering firm Roye Adams & Co from 1963 to 1982, said the accolade belonged to Hugh Carleton Whitlock, whose machines David's firm used for years.

The original hydraulic backhoe was invented in Australia, he said, being called the "Dinkum Digger."

A JCB in action in King Street, Wellington, in October 1973.

After that we can update readers with some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we have had an email all the way from Australia from R Nevil Whitlock, who is the son of Alan Carleton Whitlock OBE, whose first name David had misremembered as Hugh.

The bad news is that Nevil says that David was mistaken, and the idea didn't actually come from Australia – it came from Scotland.

"Located in Australia and the son of Alan Carleton Whitlock, not Hugh as was quoted, I was thrilled and honoured to read the article," Nevil says.

"But I did want to correct one very basic error. The design and concept was NOT imported from Australia. The design was by a Scottish engineer who was known to Reekie & Sons in Cupar, Fife, who were distributors for Whitlock agricultural products at the time and Gavin Reekie, the Principal, recommended he contacted my father, Carleton Whitlock.

"This he did and the rest is history. Whitlock ahead of Joe Bamford and JCB by a few years. Also the 'Dinkum' derivation has nothing to do with Australia – rather it is a Scottish description of anything small and good."

Nevil added: "I am fascinated and proud to read the article giving my father the accolades. I was the final family member of the company at the time of its sale in 1972 to Hymac and chose to come and live in Australia, rather than transfer to the Hymac plant in South Wales."

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