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Extended-Reach Forklifts Precede Telehandlers

By Tom Berry, Contributing Editor | June 26, 2020
American Road Equipment Co. Economobile extended-reach forklift.
American Road Equipment Co. offered the Economobile line of extended-reach forklifts in the late 1950s and 1960s.

The featured machine for July 2020 is the telehandler, a machine that brings the functionality of a forklift to situations requiring greater vertical and horizontal reach, close-quarters all-terrain maneuverability, and the flexibility of a range of attachments.

The maneuverability function is new to these machines, but their development was preceded by another machine. It never had a formal designation like “telehandler,” as far as this author knows, so we’ll call them extended-reach forklifts.

The concept behind these machines was similar to that of a modern telehandler—a chassis capable of navigating rough and uneven ground surfaces, and carrying a set of forks or another attachment that could be raised above and/or extended in front a substantial distance from the chassis.

Rather than a telehandler’s telescopic hydraulic boom, or a forklift’s vertical mast, these machines used various hydraulic and mechanical articulations to provide combinations of lift, lower, extend, withdraw, and tilt functions within its specified working range.

Documentation of their history is scarce, but several companies produced them in the mid- to late-20th century. Known manufacturers include the American Road Equipment Economobile, Do/Mor Tractor, Dynamic Industries, Hyster, Insley (under Desa Industries ownership), International Harvester, Kalmar, Koehring’s Kwik-Mix brand, Lull, PCM, Pettibone, and Skytrak.

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 3,800 members in 25 countries, our activities include publication of a quarterly educational magazine, Equipment Echoes, from which this article is adapted; operation of National Construction Equipment Museum and archives in Bowling Green, Ohio; and hosting an annual working exhibition of restored construction equipment. Individual annual memberships are $35.00 within the U.S. 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, by calling 419.352.5616, or emailing info@hcea.net.

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