Manure inspired the Minnesota brothers to develop the Bobcat skid steer loader – Twin Cities

FORMAN, ND – Cleaning barns and clearing them of manure has been a labor-intensive task for farmers and ranchers for decades. But in 1956, inspiration struck two Minnesota brothers who revolutionized the farm equipment industry and made it what it is today.

Louis and Cyril Keller both served in World War II and hoped to run a farm when they returned to the States. But fate had other plans. The brothers went into business together in the 1950s, opening a machinist and blacksmith workshop in Rothsay, Minnesota. They were approached by a farmer who wanted a piece of equipment light enough to lift to the second floor of his turkey coop and small enough to get into the tight spaces to clean the manure covered floor of the coop . He also asked to be self-propelled.

Cyril and Louie Keller invented what is now known as the Bobcat skid steer loader to help with manure removal in second story turkey coops. (Courtesy of Bobcat)

The brothers were very busy because there was nothing like that on the market at the time. After many sleepless nights, they finally assembled the basement loader. Farmers were initially skeptical about the machine because it didn’t have a steering wheel and that wasn’t common at the time. But once they demonstrated it, their product spoke for itself. One turkey farmer explained he didn’t need a toy, he needed something to clean barns with when he first saw the loader. His tune changed quickly after seeing the demonstration.

“He bought two of them. So he bought two just for this demonstration. You had to demonstrate it or you couldn’t sell it,” said Joe Keller, son of Louis Keller and nephew of Cyril Keller.

James Toyne began working as a welder for the Keller brothers in 1956. He couldn’t believe at the time that the loader would have the demand it had.

“Louis would come into the dining room with this one and roll around while we were having lunch. I remember one day he said, “What do you think? A machine like this complete with a bucket would sell for $2,000?’ I thought, oh man, and kind of doubted it, that was a lot of money. We were wrong,” Toyne said.

The loader’s success was noticed by the Melroe Manufacturing Company, now known as Bobcat. The company invited the brothers to the 1957 Minnesota State Fair to demonstrate their machines. The demonstration was successful, and there the Melroe Manufacturing Company acquired exclusive manufacturing rights to the machine and hired the Keller brothers to refine the design and bring the machine into production.

Three men pose for a photo in front of a red agricultural machine.
Joe Keller, James Toyne and Edmund Schillinger stand in front of the Keller Loader serial number 1. The photo was taken on January 17th in Forman, North Dakota. (Emily Beal/Agweek)

The machine is now known as the Bobcat skid steer loader and accounts for 40% of the world skid steer loader market.

Both brothers had no formal schooling after eighth grade, but hold six patents in the United States and have had a lasting impact with their inventions – so much so that they were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2023.

Edmund Schillinger began working for the Keller brothers in 1956. He said it was extremely rewarding to see the impact their product had on today’s world. Cyril Keller died on October 28, 2020 at the age of 98 and Louie Keller died on July 11, 2010 at the age of 87.

“I grew up with brothers Bobcat and Keller,” Schillinger said, adding of their induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame, “It’s well deserved.”

While cleaning the barn isn’t a fun task, there’s no doubt that the Keller brothers have made the job more bearable.

“The tractor replaced the horse and oxen. The Bobcat replaced pitchforks and wheelbarrows,” Keller said.


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