Why’s it called a “Bobcat”?

Our HOA is tearing up and repairing the parking lots in my complex this week, forcing me to park at a distance from my condo. Yesterday, after getting home from kindergarten, my son saw this parked in front of our building:


“What’s that?” he asks, excited.

“It’s a bobcat,” I answer.

“That’s silly,” he tells me. Then he thinks for a moment.  “Why’s it called a bobcat?”

“It…” I begin, and then I stop. “You know what?”

“What?” he asks.

“I don’t know why.”

Why is it called a “Bobcat”?

This turns out to have an extremely simple answer.  The machine is one of a number of vehicles manufactured by the Bobcat Company,  Bobcat started in North Dakota in 1947 and still has their headquarters and three production facilities in that state.  Other production facilities are found in France, the Czech Republic, and China.  They were acquired by Doosan Infracore, a South Korean conglomerate, in 2007.  The machines are called “Bobcats” for the same reason that trucks built by Chevrolet are called “Chevys”.

What is that particular machine in the picture?

The machine in the foreground is a Bobcat S650 Skid-Steer Loader, while the one in back (mostly obscured by the S650) is a Bobcat S250 Skid-Steer Loader – a discontinued Bobcat model.  Here’s a better picture of one:

1819564_1

…Skid-Steer Loader?

Yeah.  Here’s how Wikipedia explains the process that gives them their name:

Skid-steer loaders are typically four-wheel vehicles with the wheels mechanically locked in synchronization on each side, and the left-side drive wheels can be driven independently of the right-side drive wheels. The wheels typically have no separate steering mechanism and hold a fixed straight alignment on the body of the machine. By operating the left and right wheel pairs at different speeds, the machine turns by skidding, or dragging its fixed-orientation wheels across the ground. The extremely rigid frame and strong wheel bearings prevent the torsional forces caused by this dragging motion from damaging the machine.

In other words, they turn like tanks.  And the skid-steer process allows them to turn without moving forward, because the left wheel pair can go forward and the right wheel pair can go backwards (or vice versa), making them able to work in cramped conditions.

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