Scheetz claims his 350-hp tractor can go “anywhere".

In the spirit of legendary inventor R.G. LeTourneau, an ambitious gear head in Indiana has designed a muscular off-road tractor that has people talking about new possibilities for soft-ground earthmoving and ordnance removal in war-torn countries. The high-speed unit, still in prototype stage, sports a patented, rubber-tracked undercarriage that displaces only 8 lb per sq in. while towing a pull-type scraper.

A former Illinois hog farmer and earthmoving contractor, Tim R. Scheetz of Richmond, Ind., believes his new invention will help users boost scraping productivity and improve the safety of off-road hitching procedures. Scheetz began the journey five years ago when he mounted a "fifth-wheel" connection on a cab-over-engine-modified Cat Challenger farm tractor. He was compelled by a 1987 accident that occurred when his father, Robert Scheetz, used a skid-steer to line up a drawbar at the family farm. Working alone and at night, Robert Scheetz exited the loader to install a kingpin. The machine, still running, suddenly lurched forward, crushing and killing him.

Seen on highway trucks, the fifth wheel keeps fingers out of the hitching process, according to Scheetz. What’s more, a load bearing directly on the machine, rather than hanging in back, improves overall traction. "I had the idea at least 20 years ago, but I didn’t know how to put it all together," he says. "Then, once I knew the fifth-wheel concept worked, I had to build an undercarriage to support the load."

In 2000, Scheetz designed a 50,000-lb chassis that runs on a 2-in.-thick rubber track with positive-drive lugs. Last year, he completed his most recent prototype called the "Endeavor Tractor." The tracked beast is a 350-hp prime mover with an independent rear suspension, moving at 20 mph with a ground-bearing pressure of 3.7 psi. Scheetz fabricated a yoke and 3-in. kingpin on an 18-cu-yd pull scraper, which the Endeavor tows at 15 mph and ground pressure of 8 psi.

Lately, earthmoving contractors in the Midwest have been buying more high-powered tractors and pull scrapers, a package that costs one-third to one-half less than self-propelled scrapers, according to William Wagy, Granite Construction’s equipment manager in Watsonville, Calif.

Some are skeptical that Scheetz will be able to make and sell the machines, which he expects to price at a premium of at least $500,000. "Scheetz has a neat idea," says Randy Rust, sales manager and partner at Ashland Industries, a pull-scraper producer in Ashland, Wis. "But I don’t think Scheetz has the capital to take the next step in the manufacturing process."

Scheetz says he has invested more than $5 million in his current prototype and needs another $10 million for production of his final prototype. That unit will accommodate up to 700 hp. Users will be able to specify Cat, Cummins, Detroit or Mercedes engines. It will feature a fully independent, front and rear suspension–a rare item on tracked vehicles–with speeds topping out at 45 mph.