True grip
Bobcat grapple attachment proves popular

Eileen Collins
Northern News Services

Hay River ( May 22/00) - Ray Benoit's Bobcat has a new set of claws thanks to his grapple invention -- which can be attached to a small skid-steer loader.

Benoit, a journeyman mechanic, has worked with Bobcats since his farm days in Fort Providence in 1987. He now uses them in his contracting business.

In the North, where necessity truly is the mother of invention, Benoit started thinking about how to handle barrels with contaminated material found at mining and other sites, and an easier way to pick up rocks and logs.

The grapple, which Benoit describes as a hand with thumb underneath and fingers on top, resulted from his thinking.

"It takes your Bobcat and turns it into a robot," he said.

The device was initially fabricated from a wood template cut by Benoit. He and his workers then used the pieces to create the grapple from a sheet of steel.

"What's nice about this is it's very simple to fabricate. All the pieces are cut out of a flat sheet of steel," said Benoit. "When we fabricated the prototype all we had was a welding machine and a cutting torch."

He estimates the grapple increases the uses of a Bobcat by 25 to 30 per cent. Benoit has applied for a patent, but the product is already proving to be popular among Bobcat users.

At a recent demonstration in Grande Prairie, Alta., five were sold. King Manufacturing has been hired to make 10, but Benoit is taking the product development slowly.

The five headed to Grande Prairie will be used in a market study before the grapple goes into full-scale production. Two will be sent to Vancouver for testing by engineers, two will be kept in stock in case any of the ones sent to Grande Prairie need to be replaced. One will be kept for demonstration purposes.

A farmer, a pipeline company, a bulk oil plant and a construction firm will critique the grapple as they use it in their work.

Benoit is encouraging the users to break anything that is breakable, so he can find out if any other changes need to be made.

Benoit plans to manufacture the device in Hay River and hopes the product is ready to display at trade shows by next spring.

"They are going to have NWT stamped on them. That's my dream," said Benoit. "Since we are so far away from the southern market, if we needed a piece of equipment here, we built it ourselves."

The grapple is just one example of Benoit's handy devices.

He is working on a snowblower, and has made his own snowplough and sweeper attachment. He also has other equipment that amazes Bobcat salesmen.

One is like a large rake that was specially built for a contract to pick up 125 piles of brush.

"It made our job 10 times easier, but it's not on the market. Nobody has those things," said Benoit.

Benoit, who welds and comes from a long line of blacksmiths, traces his ingenuity to when he and his wife Lucy lived on the farm. "(There was) no place to go. Nowhere to get anything and not a cent in your pocket. You had to make everything yourself. I built my own welders, my own shovels," said Benoit.