Our friend, Gene Held, an instructor at Local 150's Apprenticeship and Skill Improvement facility in Plainfield, Ill., likes backhoe-loaders — which he calls "combinations."
During Held's 30-plus years in the International Union of Operating Engineers, and now as a teacher of novice operators, he's had plenty of experience with "combinations." He evaluated a top-of-the-line 17-foot backhoe-loader about a year ago for an installment of Hands-On Earthmoving. Recently, thanks to New Holland's loan of a new LB75.B Turbo, he had the chance to evaluate a machine at the other end of the spectrum, a 14-footer that New Holland calls its entry-level model.
When we assembled at Local 150's facility for the evaluation, New Holland's Eric Winkler, brand marketing manager, and Richard Burckardt, brand communications manager, were on hand to explain the LB75.B's features and to answer questions. Although the LB75.B was actually introduced several years ago, it recently has undergone considerable refinement.
Among the machine's recent enhancements is a new 4.5-liter, turbocharged diesel engine, which is manufactured by the partnership company of Cummins, Iveco and CNH — New Holland's parent company. The new engine has 89 net horsepower, just a bit more than its predecessor's 85, but has 12 percent more flywheel torque, which is a significant increase. Along with the new engine came a revised, more-efficient cooling package, as well as a number of operator-comfort and convenience features.
Our test machine arrived nicely equipped, with four-wheel drive, hydraulically extendible stick, cab, ride-control, air conditioning and "Auto-Up" stabilizers. As Winkler gave Held an initial tour of the LB75.B's operator station, he raised the one-piece rear glass, which stores easily in the roof. Held took note that the glass, in its stored position, protrudes outward from the rear of the cab.
"It'll help keep your knees dry in the rain," he said.
Winkler noted that pilot controls for the backhoe (which our test machine had) were recently added to the company's already complete offering of control configurations. Held said he's grown to appreciate pilot controls in backhoes, and was impressed with the features New Holland has engineered into the new system — such as switches in the base of the right tower to change the control pattern and to deactivate the joysticks.
"I've been at this long enough that I can switch between a backhoe or excavator pattern with no problem," he said, "but some of my students are lost if the pattern changes. This feature accommodates them. I also like the safety aspect of being able to switch off the levers."
Held gave New Holland good marks, too, for the adjustment capability of pilot towers.
"A lot of machines with joystick controllers give you fore and aft adjustment, relative to the seat," he said, "and the same for wrist rests. But this system also lets you move the towers laterally — closer to your body. I like that."
Held questioned the two yellow buttons on top of the right lever, and Winkler explained that they provide proportional control of the optional, hydraulically extendible stick. The harder you push, the faster the stick moves.
Held also liked the idea of using switches (located in the base of the left pilot tower) to control the stabilizers. Winkler told him that if he pushed both switches into a detent position in the raise direction, the stabilizers would come up automatically. (This is the LB75.B's optional "Auto-Up" system.)
Turning the seat to the loader position, Held asked if the button on the single-lever loader controller activates a transmission disconnect. It does, said Winkler, and the button on the shift lever controls an electronically actuated clutch for making on-the-fly gear changes. (The LB75.B uses a power-shuttle, 4F/4R transmission with a twist-grip directional lever on the left side of the steering column.)
Winkler also pointed out that a three-position switch on the front panel lets the operator choose among three different drive-train/braking configurations: two-wheel drive/two-wheel braking; two-wheel drive/four-wheel braking; and four-wheel drive/four-wheel braking. Held took note that the machine had a foot-operated differential lock, and thought that the in-cab battery-disconnect switch, which Winkler pointed out, was a good safety feature.
When Held put the LB75.B Turbo to work, he first dug about 50 feet of trench, 4 feet deep, then backfilled with the loader bucket.
So, Gene, what did you think of the overall performance of the backhoe?
"I'd say it has more than average hydraulic power. I was digging in some pretty hard material — scrapers have been running over it — and the machine pulled right through it. The swing is plenty quick, and you can feather into it. Like any combination, you have to look around the boom into the trench, but visibility out the back is good — and there's nothing at your feet to block the view. I also liked the fact that I could pull the control levers close in. It's a very comfortable machine to run."
What about the controls for the extendible stick and the Auto-Up stabilizers?
"The proportional control of the stick is a really good feature, and the buttons in the joystick are handy. I like the switches for the stabilizers — they're convenient — and being able to push them just once to raise the stabilizers makes the machine easier to reposition. I noticed, too, that the stabilizer pads are reversible. That's a good feature, because you'll inevitably end up on a paved surface."
How about backfilling?
"With the little bit of dirt I was pushing here, it really wasn't much of a test. Ask me after I put it in some hard digging. But what I did notice is that it turns in a very tight radius. It's very maneuverable. It would be easy to handle in a tight loading situation. It turns on a dime, as they say. Does it have a short wheelbase?"
Actually, said Winkler, the machine's nearly 86-inch wheelbase is approaching 3 inches more in length than that of the LB75.B's closest competitor — a design feature aimed at increasing overall stability. But, he said, the machine does have a sharp wheel cut.
We did ask Held again what he thought of the machine's loading/pushing power after he had excavated from a bank of dense, moist material to load an articulated truck.
"For the size of machine, it's an excellent loader. If you noticed, the wheels just kept digging in and driving forward until the bucket was loaded. I tried the diff lock, but you're really not going to notice much difference until you get into muddy conditions. It also has quick boom speed."
We then asked him to make a couple of load-and-carry passes.
"It has good balance with a loaded bucket. I was in fourth gear at top speed, and with that tight turning radius, you can really whip it around. But it's stable — it doesn't lean in the corners."
How about shifting and braking?
"With two-wheel brakes it's okay, but the four-wheel braking is excellent. I could bring it down quickly from top speed with the four-wheel brakes. The shifting is smooth — I'd say on par with most shuttle-type transmissions."
Any complaints about visibility?
"Not really. I didn't notice any blind spots. And with the sloped hood, you get a better view to the bucket."
As a final exercise, we asked Held to lift a 5-foot-diameter, concrete pipe section with the backhoe.
"Again, for the size of machine, it handled the load well. Stability was fine, even when I used the extendible stick to increase the radius. You have to be cautious doing that — you have to pay attention to the load chart — but it's then you find out what you've got in lifting capacity and stability."
After spending most of the day with the LB75.B Turbo, Gene, what would be your overall assessment?
"One to 10, I'd give it a nine. I was surprised with it. I didn't think it would have near the hydraulic power it has. That's what most operators are after — performance. Comfort is nice, don't get me wrong, but performance is what counts. There's nothing worse than a machine that doesn't perform up to your expectations. It makes you look bad."