Frank Burke drove past the rusted old bulldozer for years on his travels between Atlanta and Walterboro, South Carolina.
Then one day he stopped to take a look.
“My God, this thing is huge,” he thought.
He assumed it was a Caterpillar dozer that was sitting near those railroad tracks in rural Allendale County, South Carolina. But after closer examination, he saw it was an Allis-Chalmers. He immediately called his friend Roy Ashley, who collected the company’s tractors at his home in White Plains, Georgia.
“Roy, it's the biggest dozer I've ever seen sitting over here in Allendale County,” Frank told him.
“Frank, do you think it's impossible it could be an HD-41?”
“Roy, I don't know what it is. But I can tell you it's bigger than a D9 Cat.”
“It's got to be a 41,” Roy said.
So began the saga to save what once was considered to be the largest dozer in the world. (To watch the dozer in action, check out the video at the end of this story.)
Saved just in time
When Roy made it to Allendale County he was just in time to prevent the 1972 Allis-Chalmers HD-41 from being scrapped. The ripper on the back was already gone, but the rest of it was still intact.
He paid $10,000, which was its scrap value, got it running and had it hauled home to White Plains. The dozer underwent further restoration.
“He used to have tractor shows, and he demonstrated it for people and had a lot of fun with it,” Frank says.
The HD-41 was first produced in 1970, and at around 65 tons, it was considered to be the largest crawler tractor of its day. It was manufactured in Springfield, Illinois. It runs on a 524-horsepower Cummins turbocharged V-12 that measures 1,710 cubic inches.
The dozer is over 20 feet long, 11 feet wide and 13 feet tall.
The push blade is 11.5 feet wide. The grading blade for the HD-41 was 22 feet wide.
“I’m 5’ 9” and the height of the tracks hits me at my shoulders,” Frank says.
Roy passed away in 2015, and the HD-41 was among his antique equipment collection that went up for sale in the estate auction.
“I knew that machine was going to be vulnerable, and I also knew that it wasn't moving,” Frank recalls. “So I went to the auction.”
He hadn’t seen the HD-41 in a while. It could move forward and in reverse, but it couldn’t turn. It needed some work, but Frank knew the repairs would be minor.
He had it hauled to a construction yard in Walterboro, where he spent two years off and on overhauling it – changing all the fluids and filters, freeing up the clutches, getting it able to turn.
Frank also found a Miller Brothers Construction decal that had been painted over. He called the heavy highway company in Ohio to find out more about the dozer. He learned that during an interstate construction project the company was working on, it struck a vein of coal. That led to a subsidiary company and the likely purchase of the HD-41 for strip mining.
Frank suspects that the company later sold the dozer, and the new owner used it on a project at the Savannah River Site nuclear plant in Allendale County, where it was later abandoned.
A long haul home
The next challenge was finding a permanent home for it.
Frank manages timberland in Walterboro, but the dozer would have gotten stuck in its gumbo soil. He is a member of the Lowcountry Antique Tractor and Engine Association and decided the best thing would be to donate it to them.
The club leases old farmland in a small rural community called Adams Run about 30 miles west of Charleston where it holds antique tractor pulls and shows each April and October.
Getting it to the showgrounds, however, was another challenge. The S.C. Department of Transportation was concerned about its weight and wouldn’t let it go over a bridge on the shortest route. So it had to be hauled in the opposite direction in a roundabout way over two interstates that eventually brought the dozer to its new home.
The tractor-trailer setup consisted of 13 axles and 52 wheels.
Behold ... Big Roy
After a drive down State Road 174 past live oaks draped with Spanish moss, Frank pulls his SUV into the Lowcountry Antique Tractor and Engine Association’s property. After a short drive over the grounds, he stops and gets out.
“There it is,” he says. “Big Roy.”
Resting in its shady spot beneath a metal canopy, the HD-41’s gigantic blade, grille and dual exhaust pipes loom before the visitors. It dwarfs two 1951 Cat D8s parked on either side of it.
Frank notes that he added the “Big Roy” decals on both of its sides in honor of his friend and the HD-41’s former owner, Roy Ashley.
According to some online reports, the HD-41 was first unveiled as a prototype in the 1960s, but production had to wait until an engine could be built that was powerful enough to run it.
The Allis-Chalmers branded HD-41 model wasn’t in production long, from around 1970 to 1973. In 1974, Allis-Chalmers entered a joint venture with Fiat for its construction division and became Fiat-Allis. The “HD” was dropped from the model name, and it became the Fiat-Allis 41-B, with iterations produced until the 1980s.
By the mid- to late-1970s, it was no longer the largest dozer on the market, having been surpassed by Komatsu’s D455A and Caterpillar’s D10.
"Fires right up"
Frank climbs up the tracks, which come up to his shoulders, to reach the operator’s station. A series of levers are positioned to the left of the seat. All of the controls are hydraulic.
“It's a big, tall machine to get up on and to deal with,” he says. “But once you get on it and crank it, it’s nothing to operate it.”
Frank starts the engine. You have to shout to hear yourself heard, but it has a solid, steady rumble when idling.
“It runs like a sewing machine,” Frank declares.
“It never ceases to amaze me the way that old thing starts,” says Ron Barton, tractor club president and co-founder.
“It fires right up,” Frank says.
Frank pulls the dozer out of its hangar a short ways to an observation stand, made so visitors to the antique tractor shows can get a better view of Big Roy. The club members can’t run it too much or too far because the weight of it causes the tracks to tear up the grounds.
The HD-41 has been a big draw for the nonprofit tractor association, bringing in larger crowds to its shows to help preserve historic equipment and educate the public on bygone machines.
“It’s the talk of the show,” says Ron. “When they advertise for the show on the internet, several people write in, ‘Is Big Roy going to be there?’”
“He’s not going anywhere.”
To watch Big Roy in action, check out the video below: