Heavy Haulage

A family affair

Alan Titchall was there at the crack of dawn to celebrate the arrival of a couple’s new house in the northern Waikato.

IT IS STILL DARK and the lights of the pilot vehicle beam down the access road and light up the back of the house trailer and its load.

We are high up in the hills overlooking Miranda and the Thames estuary and the pre-built house from Keith Hay Homes has been transported by Willcox Building Removals from Hamilton, where it was built, to the site.

Operated by two generations of the Willcox family, the company has been contracted to Keith Hay Homes in the Waikato region for over four decades.

The house, a ‘Horizon’ model, has been ordered by my brother-in-law, Ken Lever and his wife, Anna Bargiacchi.

The pair were up in the middle of the night and waiting at their gates for the Willcox convoy to arrive.

I arrive just as it appears that the house trailer is stuck in a dip halfway along a narrow dirt driveway that descends steeply to the house site.

Watching on is Pauline Willcox, who does a lot of the piloting for the company, while husband Arthur and son Steven make up the rest of this family business.

“It was an uneventful journey during the night from Hamilton,” she tells me as Arthur is doing a lot of yelling while fixing a cable between the trailer and a winch on a small bulldozer.

The haulage truck is disconnected and driven up to the top of the section and out of the way. Usually, the Willcoxs haul a small digger on the back of the truck, but for this job they brought the dozer.

Then slowly, very slowly, the trailer and its load is winched steadily up the driveway as the dawn breaks over the section. Then through a combination of winching and skidding, with the trailer wheels at one point cutting deep farrows into the winter soft top soil, the house finally sits near the house site.

“If it had been drier it would have been a bit easier, but we deal with a lot worse when it comes to tricky sites,” says Pauline.

The trailer is narrow and light but the house is heavy and the winter rains have soaked into the top soil of what was once farmland.

After Ken and Anna get the last opportunity to decide exactly where their new house will be settled, the bulldozer pulls the house, still sitting on its trailer into position.

It doesn’t take long before the house is jacked up high enough for the trailer to be pulled from underneath it. Holes are bored for the foundations using power from a generator in front of the truck.

The haulage truck is an old classic, made in 1987 and used initially as a stock truck. “That girl has been to the moon and back a couple of times,” says Steven, who has been working with his parents since he could legally drive.

The company uses four rigs and Ken and Anna’s house sat on two trailers attached together to represent an ‘ordinary’ width vehicle, and not the three metre wide trailers a lot in the heavy haulage industry use.

“We keep the equipment simple so it’s always easy to fix. It can be a challenging job and it can take a week to deliver one house sometimes.”

Pauline looks after the consenting and the company uses light and agile rigs. Arthur Willcox was born into the industry.

His father operated a large engineering business at Putaruru and hauled houses around for the Ministry of Works to various hydro projects in the centre of the North Island and built an hydraulic jacking system using old tractor rams on the end of two lattice made beams – one on each side of the building controlled by one valve bank, which was not very successful.

Arthur improved the design by using individual jacks, controlled by separate valve bank for each side of the building as well as calibrated flow valves to each jack.

Ken and Anna were in their new home by Christmas and they hosted the extended family Christmas day lunch.

Family relations arrive from up north for the usual feast and then settled in to watch videos of the house being moved on to the site.

This article was first published in Contractor‘s April issue.

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