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In a classic tale of American entrepreneurship, Edward Gideon “E.G.” Melroe founded Melroe Manufacturing Company in Gwinner, North Dakota, in 1947. His notable inventions included the Melroe pickup, a combine attachment that would pick up windrows of grain, and the harroweeder, a spring-tooth harrow for weeding row crops. Melroe died in 1955, leaving his sons Lester, Clifford, Roger and Irving, and son-in-law Eugene Dahl, in charge of the business. The prosperous farm implement business changed course in 1958, after the brothers met with inventors Cyril and Louis Keller, from Rothsay, in western Minnesota.
The Kellers repaired machinery for local farmers, among them a turkey farmer Eddie Velo. One day in 1957, Velo stopped by the Kellers’ machine shop with a vexing problem. His two-story turkey barns needed cleaning, but his tractor loader couldn’t maneuver around the upright poles in the barns. Hand labor — a nasty, dirty job — was the only alternative. Velo needed a self-propelled loader light enough to be lifted to the barn’s second floor and maneuverable enough to clean around the support poles.
The Kellers assembled a simple front-end loader with two drive wheels and a small rear caster wheel. Powered by a 6 hp engine with a rope starter, it was steered by independent right and left control levers using a unique clutch mechanism. The front scoop’s fork tines were made of bars from the Rothsay jail, the only steel hard enough to do the job. The loader worked so well that the Kellers built six more and sold them to nearby farmers.
The Kellers’ uncle, a Melroe farm equipment dealer at Elbow Lake, Minnesota, introduced his nephews to the Melroe brothers in the summer of 1958. They invited the Kellers to demonstrate the loader at the Minnesota State Fair, where it drew huge crowds. Realizing the potential, the Melroes agreed to a royalty arrangement with the Keller brothers for the clutch drive mechanism. Louis and Cyril Keller became employees of the Melroe Manufacturing Company, and they were assigned to design and manufacture the first Melroe self-propelled loader.
Fast forward six decades and a million loaders. The Bobcat brand – and its fabulous success story – is a worldwide icon. Follow the rest of the story along three timelines:
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