R.G.'s Earthmoving Legacy

Dale Hardy, expert in the history of R.G. LeTourneau, speaks about R.G.'s professional legacy

Starting in his early teen years, R.G.
had the ability to solve common everyday mechanical problems, and
in the process invented new products. He didn't invent something just to be inventing it; he was always attempting to solve a problem or to make an existing task more productive.

Earthmoving was one area of life that God chose for Mr. R.G. to make more productive. Maybe it started in 1902, when his first job as a 14-year-old boy was an apprentice molder in an iron foundry. He was given his first task to shovel sand into a wheelbarrow. He wrote in his autobiography that he hadn’t moved 10 wheelbarrows before he was looking for an easier way to move dirt.

In young R.G.'s first earthmoving job in 1919, it took two men and a tractor to slowly move three tons of earth. With the last earthmoving machine Mr. R.G. designed and built in 1965, one man by himself could move 360 tons of earth.

With the last earthmoving machine Mr. R.G. designed and built in 1965, one man by himself could move
360 tons of earth.

He was the first to build earthmoving equipment by welding all the parts together rather than bolting or riveting them. Electric arc welding had been around for a while, but Mr. R.G. was an early pioneer in the practical application of welding. In 1908, Mr. R.G. was introduced to oxyhydrogen welding. Some would call him “Tobin-Bronze Bob, The One- Tool Mechanic” because of his prolific use of the welding torch. By 1912, he was using this process in his auto repair shop.

His legacy continues to this day for being the first earthmoving manufacturer to install rubber tires on his equipment. In 1932, he replaced the steel wheels on one of his scrapers with Firestone truck tires. The owner was so pleased with its performance that he ordered more scrapers with rubber tires. One of Joy Global's largest tires today weighs over 15,000 pounds and stands 13 feet tall.

Through the years, Mr. R.G. was referred to as “The 
Dean of Earthmoving,” “Father of Modern Day Earthmoving Equipment,” and the “Pioneer of Modern Day Earthmoving Equipment.” George H. W. Bush described him as “the George Patton of engineering.”

In 1938, he purchased his first airplane, which he used for business purposes, but which he also used to travel around
to speak of his faith. He considered God to be his business partner and came to be known as “God’s Businessman.” By the 1950s, one writer had called him the “Flying Preacher.”

In the 1950s, R.G. developed the first electro-mechanical drive system which he called the “electric wheel.” That concept is still in use today, allowing for each wheel to be operated independently of the others.

Even though he died in 1969 at the age of 80, his legacy continues on today in a very real and tangible way. Bigger and better machines are being built that use concepts that came from his lifetime of trials and ingenuity.

Also, many people today have a personal relationship with God because they, or someone in their family, once heard the Gospel unashamedly and unselfishly spoken by R.G. LeTourneau.

Today the company that he started in his driveway in 1929 is part of Joy Global, a worldwide leader in the production of earthmoving equipment. The Joy Global, LeTourneau-Series Wheel Loader produced today in Longview, Texas, is by far
 the largest front-end loader produced anywhere in the world, and these loaders are built using several concepts that were developed by Mr. R.G. himself.

Written by Dale Hardy
Photos used by permission from Eric Orlemann & Joy Global
Article appears in NOW Magazine, Fall 2013


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