In 1966 the first articulated hauler was developed and introduced. It has been the champion of difficult all-terrain transport ever since – and a Volvo star that keeps on shining brighter with every new innovation.
Imagine being a forester in a cold and snowy Sweden in the 1960s, maneuvering through the woods with your Volvo tractor, getting slowed down in your work with your front wheels continuously skidding in the snow. Of course, this lack of efficiency was unacceptable.
The challenge was brought to Wiking Björn, a young mechanic and fast-rising, self-taught engineer. Sitting at his kitchen table in the south of Sweden, Björn sketched his solution on a piece of paper: A tractor with the skidding front wheels removed, with articulated steering and drive on the load unit’s wheels.
“I will never forget those days when I had the possibility to contribute with my sometimes-unorthodox ideas,” he later recalled working on this groundbreaking innovation.
At the time, construction equipment was getting bigger, stronger, and ever more reliable. But it lacked one thing. Flexibility. Haulers were robust machines, capable of carrying and dumping heavy loads, with a four-wheel drive and powerful engine that provided plenty of forward-motion strength. But traversing rough ground, in forests and construction sites, could still be difficult work for drivers of stiff, heavy machines.
What set this machine apart was the fact that it lacked conventional steering and was instead split into two distinct parts, joined in the middle. It used this articulation to steer, with the additional benefit that it could drive over much more uneven ground and clearing obstacles in ways that rigid haulers couldn’t.
It was dubbed the BM-Volvo 631 but has since become known by a much catchier nickname: Gravel Charlie. The articulated joint also made it possible to do sharp turns – and it even boasted a 70-degree tipping angle to speed up unloading.
Gravel Charlie’s flexibility quickly led to it becoming the world-leading vehicle of its kind. As of today, Volvo has delivered more than 50,000 articulated haulers to customers all around the world, operating in all kinds of environments and with a high possibility of customization.
Volvo will always take advantage of new technologies to improve productivity and make people’s lives easier. The autonomous haulage system Tara is an example of today of how Volvo is continuing to put productivity on top of the agenda, bringing the benefits of autonomy and connectivity to quarries and mines around the world. The invention of the articulated hauler may well be considered a young engineer’s moment of genius – but the will to continuously improve efficiency will always be part of Volvo’s DNA.