Most drivers heading along a busy state highway, north of Christchurch, New Zealand are unaware that the flash of orange machine they see behind a green hedge, is an incredible piece of history.
Taking pride of place in the yard of drainage and civil contractors, Dormer Construction, is a Hitachi UH12 excavator, which owner, Pete Dormer believes to be the only fully operational machine of its type in the world with a genuine Hitachi Construction Machinery's engine. "Hitachi Construction Machinery (HCM) only made their own engines for a short time, so this piece of equipment is incredibly rare."
Pete has a lifelong passion for HCM's products, which goes back to his school days, when he had holiday jobs at various contracting firms in Canterbury. He first saw the 36 tonne, UH12 at March Construction, one of the firms he worked for. They had purchased it at an international Japanese construction machine expo in 1976, the year after it was made. "It was the only machine in the fleet I wasn't allowed to drive, but I used to watch its operator, Arthur Tocker, drive it instead. He was known as 'Art' because he was an absolute artist on the digger and spent an incredible 15,000 hours behind its controls. Art had a very high standard of workmanship and every morning would drain any moisture off the fuel. He also taught me that a little bit of grease often, was better than a lot now and then."
Mr Pete Dormer holding the control lever of his restored UH12-1.
Around 10 years ago, when March Construction was ready to finally scrap the machine, Pete, by then running his own large firm, came to its rescue. "The machine was in disrepair and the engine had seized. I saved it, always with the intention of restoring it."
This was the beginning of a lengthy and expensive process - a two-year labour of love, which brought the machine back to its former glory.
One of the biggest challenges was rebuilding the genuine HCM's engine, as Pete had great difficulty finding parts for it. In the end, he worked closely with Durk from AC Stobie Engine Reconditioners to come up with a solution for this tricky project. "We salvaged whatever original parts we could, made a lot of parts ourselves and compromised on a lot of things we couldn't buy."
The UH12's rusted cab was also fully restored, with new panels and new paintwork making it look as good as new. "A lot of money, pride and enjoyment went into this project. HCM was very interested and supportive and contributed to the paint costs which was great."
Pete is now passing on his love of the UH12 to his young sons, Max, and Edgar, who leap excitedly into the cab with their father, as he fires up the machine and drives it into the middle of his yard. They all wear vintage HCM's hats, something else Pete collects, and look at home behind the controls of the excavator, which has its original air pressure, oil, engine pressure and amps gauges, resplendent with the Hitachi emblem. "What's unique about this machine is that the controls are air operated with the foot pedals rather than hydraulic controlled," says Pete.
Given its visibility from the main highway, Pete says the occasional visitor drives into the yard and asks to have a look at the UH12. He also recently gave it an outing at the Wanaka Earthmoving Show, some five hours south. "It was the only hydraulic excavator there, and the only orange one. It definitely brought back a few memories for some of the older guys there and we had lots of great feedback." Pete has also saved more classic excavators from the machinery graveyard. "I've also saved a UH06-1 and a UH03-DT. Like the UH12 they are great old machines. It's satisfying to be able to bring them back to life."
UH12-1 operating at March Construction
Pete says his love of diggers and working in the dirt goes back to his childhood. "From the age of five I loved my sandpit. The sandpits and toys have just got a lot bigger now and more expensive."
He reckons he has owned around 60 Hitachi hydraulic excavators in the 25 years since he started his business Dormer Construction as a 17-year-old, straight out of school.
Since its formation, the company has grown to become a leading high-profile, multi-talented civil engineering company. Dormer Construction has extensive experience in the construction and installation of horizontal infrastructure including; installation of all pipework, valving, instrumentation and electrical work, and commissioning and testing.
Dormer's sheetpiling services has involved in a variety of project such as basements, dams, pump stations and culverts. Through repeated exposure to challenging soil conditions, Dormer Construction has mastered the art of dewatering to perfection.
Most of Dormer's civilwork is associated with council infrastructure, and more recently SCIRT (Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team) earthquake repair works, that requires heavy plant and equipment to meet specific project deliverables in the streetscape environment.
"I hired a hydraulic excavator for the first five months, then built up enough funds to go to Japan and purchase my first Hitachi machine - an EX200-5. I still believe Hitachi construction machines are leaders in their field when it comes to reliability and productivity."
Today Dormer Construction employs 25 staff, who operate a large fleet of more than 20 new Hitachi construction machines. The firm's latest acquisition is a ZX225USLCK "The New Zealand economy has been busy and we continue to experience steady growth, building pipelines and completing large civil and earthworks projects throughout the country."
Pete says he is proud to have "orange in the blood" and appreciates the loyal partnerships he has with Hitachi Construction Machinery and CablePrice. "I've dealt with CablePrice throughout all of the years I've been in business and they've always been supportive, with a great sales team and product. Andrew McCoy has been a superior salesman, with his knowledge and the way he looks after me as a valued customer a definite asset for both companies."
The restoration of the Hitachi UH12 was a challenging project that took longer than expected but was incredibly satisfying, says Pete. "It was great to get through the long process and start to enjoy what we had achieved. I'm hoping to operate it as a working display model at more shows and give other classic earthmoving machinery enthusiasts the chance to see it in action."
Pete says the ultimate dream would be to take this iconic piece of HCM back to where it all began - and display it in Japan.
Mr. Andrew McCoy (left) and Mr. Pete Dormer (right)
Mr. Dormer and his sons wearing HCM's vintage hats
Dormer Construction Ltd was awarded the Tri Ex Health and Safety Award at the Canterbury Civil Contractors Awards in November 2015 as a recognition of there commitment and implementation to Workplace Health and Safety.
Dormer Construction have a much focused Site Safety Management Plan that is managed by the Project Managers and the Managing Director.
Employee's are 100% involved in keeping the Workplace a Safe place. Employee's are trained in procedures, Company Health and Safety and are involved in identifying hazards within the workplace.
|Engine rated power (PS/rpm)||200/2,000|
|Feature||Following on from UH03, and UH06 machines, UH12 was Hitachi's 3rd hydraulic excavator, and the first in the large sized weight category. Equipped with a high horsepower Hitachi-manufactured K60AS engine, variable displacement 2 pump-2 valve hydraulic system and an extensive digging depth of 7.6m, the UH12-1 handled deep gravel digging with ease. The two lever type was newly adopted for easy operation, and pneumatic assist was applied for reducing lever operating load.|
45 years on and the UH12-1 looks as good as it did when it came off the factory assembly line back in 1975, complete with its original genuine engine, manufactured by HCM. This machine is estimated to be the only one of its kind in the world, that can still run at full capacity.
|■Business:||Civil construction throughout New Zealand specializing in Pipelines, Excavation and Land development|
|■Address:||779 Main North Road, Woodend, Christchurch. NZ|
Locations of Dormer Construction and CablePrice