Spotlight: the Matchbox Hatra Tractor Shovel

21 April 2011
AwaitingImage.jpg Spotlight: the Matchbox Hatra Tractor Shovel
Eric Bryan focuses on one of Matchbox’s more interesting and unusual models: the Hatra Tractor Shovel. ...
Spotlight: the Matchbox Hatra Tractor Shovel Images

**This is an excerpt of the article 'The Matchbox Hatra Tractor Shovel' first published in Collector Gazette's May issue.

There were some toys I had so early in my childhood that I don’t remember buying or being given them. For some reason, several of these were Matchbox King-Size models. I only remember back to the point at which these King-Size models of mine were already worn and battered, with much paint loss from playing with them outside in the earth.

One of these was the Hatra Tractor Shovel, Matchbox No K-3. It was a great representation of a front loader, painted orange, with a working shovel, a spare wheel on the rear over the engine and green-tinted plastic for the cab window glass. By the time I was conscious I owned one, the shovel scoop was already bare of most of its paintwork from much miniature outdoor excavating!

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The Lesney Hatra Tractor Shovel started manufacture in 1965, taking the place of the previous K-3, the Caterpillar Bulldozer. Like many in the King-Size range from the period, the Hatra had black plastic tyres fitted on red plastic hubs. A white decal with ‘HATRA’ in black lettering was adhered to each side of the driver’s cab. Earlier versions show a slanted lettering, and later ones block lettering. Mine had the latter.

The loader used the simulated hydraulic piston and ram, or hydrosleeve, system which entailed a black plastic sleeve in which a metal piston slid, allowing the loader to raise and lower. The scoop was fitted with a lug which ran tightly through a plastic plate, so that it could be tipped to empty and be drawn back again.

But, in my years of playing with this Hatra in the California earth, I was never aware of its most unusual feature: the Hatra Tractor Shovel was a swivel or swing loader. The loader or shovel system itself rotated on the base where it attached to the body of the tractor. This allowed the tractor to empty the scoop off to one side or the other, without having to turn the machine.

I never found out my Hatra’s shovel was meant to swivel, simply because the base where it attached to the body was so tight, it never moved. And, since I had no memory of the box it came in, I never saw the illustrations or diagrams showing this function. I went all those years playing with the Hatra as a standard front-loader. It was great, anyway, but the swivel system would have been an exotic feature to me because I never saw such a tractor anywhere around where I live...