Attack of the Cat

South Canterbury company Rooney Earthmoving is taking delivery of two new Caterpillar twin-engine motor scrapers and an excavator to add to the three graders and two scrapers it purchased last year from Goughs.

December_175.jpgThe new motor scrapers are Caterpillar’s 627G push-pull models, and Rooney principal Gary Rooney told Contractor they would mostly be employed on border-dyking and other irrigation development work that is a mainstay of the company’s business from Otago to Canterbury.

While centre-pivot spray irrigators are sprouting like poppies all over the South Island’s eastern seaboard, Rooney says border-dyking construction and maintenance remains a major activity for his company.

“Border-dyking always has been one of our core activities, and irrigation developments of all types – including excavating of pipelines and canals, and tracking and site preparation for milking sheds and dairy conversions – gives a strong rural focus to our business,” he says.

While Rooney’s new scrapers, along with the graders he bought last year, will be mostly committed to irrigation work, the company covers the full range of earthmoving operations.

Rooney_1.jpgDairy conversions up until recently were also an important part of the business – especially tracking and doing site preparations and utility excavation for milking sheds – but this dried up with the onset of the global recession and the slump in returns for milk. This work is likely to recover, however, given that the giant co-operative Fonterra, whose huge Clandeboye factory north of Timaru is at the heart of Rooney’s operating district, has recently cranked up returns to farmers for milk-solids from $4.50/kg to $6.05 for the current season.

Over the last 10 years dairying expansion has been fastest in the south of the South Island, and Rooney’s latest buy-up of Caterpillar gear will put him in a good position to ride the expected recovery in dairy conversions.

The new machines will join an existing fleet of 27 scrapers, of which Rooney has already taken delivery of eight of the Caterpillar 627G models.

The tractor of the 627Gs is powered by Cat’s C15 electronically controlled unit injection engine rated at 330-365hp operating in tandem with the C9 scraper engine rated at 239-266hp.  The units have a heaped capacity of 17 cubic metres (22 cubic yards) and a rated load of 23,950kg.

Rooney_2.jpgQuick loading, high travel speeds and the ability to load and dump on the run are features, while stopping power is enhanced by redesigned front and rear axles which increase braking performance.

Electronic controls maximise the machines’ responses, and their advanced diagnostic capabilities ensure high levels of machine availability. The operator station features single-lever implement control, air suspension of the seat and improved instrumentation. Two-piece doors which stay open for better access ensure maintenance downtime is minimised. To further improve access and serviceability, Caterpillar has relocated the scraper bowl’s implement valve to the draft tube.

“For scrapers and graders you wouldn’t go past the Caterpillars – I’ve learned that from 32 years in the business,” Rooney says. His company’s plant spans the whole range of earthmoving equipment but Caterpillar has a virtual stranglehold on his fleet of scrapers and graders.

As well as a trucking fleet of more than 100 units, Rooney Earthmoving operates 80-odd excavators, of which the new 320D is one of just a couple of Caterpillar diggers. Powered by the C6.4 Acert engine with a net flywheel power output of 103kW (138hp), it weighs a little over 20 tonnes and has a tail-swing radius of 2.75 metres.

Rooney_3.jpgRooney describe his latest purchases as “business as usual” in terms of maintaining the fleet.

“We just have to keep replacing our plant, keeping it as new as possible, and this is just part of our company policy,” he says. “I know they’re big-ticket items but you’ve just got to do it to stay ahead.”

It’s a policy that seems to work well. Gary founded his company in 1970 as a small earthmoving business with a single Case 1150 bulldozer. Since then he has grown his business significantly and today the Rooney Group has separate companies for earthmoving, boring and holdings. Based from its head office in Waimate, the company employs up to 300 staff and has depots in Christchurch, Ashburton, Timaru and Oamaru. 

Contractor Vol.33  No.11  December 2009 - January 2010
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