Tim Dodge: Filling the cracks

When Kaikoura was severely shaken in the massive earthquake last November, Hawkes Bay contractor Tim Dodge was moved in a completely different way. He was compelled to get down there and help. 

WHEN CANTERBURY WAS hit with several big earthquakes, Tim had wanted to go down to Christchurch and help with the repairs, but hadn’t been able to. So, when the magnitude 7.8 quake shook Marlborough, he was determined to use his skills and machinery where it was sorely needed.

“On the news we only heard about the people in town – the farmers were forgotten,” he told Contractor. “People were helping them – repairing fences and the like – but there weren’t any diggers.

“I went to Civil Defence and a farming organisation to find out who needed a hand but they wouldn’t give me names. They told me to stay away,” he says.

Undeterred, he persevered.

Through a mutual friend, Tim was introduced to Rick and Julia King, who own Middle Hill Station in Clarence, which was devastated in the quake. The damage to the King’s 3500-hectare station has been estimated at $1.5 million.

In a December interview with Stuff, Rick said all their infrastructure had been damaged, and the house was only partly liveable.

“This new faultline, the Papatea, has gone through the cottage, wool shed, sheep, cattle and deer yards. Insurance only covers certain things, and does not include tracks and fences.”

The Kings were one of many farmers in need of help.

“Soon I had three farms lined up, which was enough for me to head south,” says Tim.

He loaded his 10 tonne Cat onto his transporter, and his five tonner onto the back of his truck – “just in case I got buried in a slip and had to dig myself out” – and set off.

When Tim and his diggers arrived at Middle Hill Station, Rick seemed a bit apprehensive. However, he gave Tim a list of jobs and left him to it. Tim soon got to work rebuilding fence lines and tracks, digging up the damaged irrigation system and relaying the pipes, and filling the massive cracks that had appeared in the land.

Rick was impressed with the amount of work Tim got through – and, even more, that his work wasn’t just limited to moving dirt.

After three days at Middle Hill Station, Tim moved onto the next farm – working tirelessly from 7am to around 10pm each day, and sleeping in a shed at night.

In his 11 days in Marlborough, he happily gave his time and expertise to seven farms and ended up with “some of the best friends in the world”. So much so that Tim and his wife went back over Waitangi weekend to holiday with their new friends.

Tim stresses that his philanthropy was selfless: “It wasn’t meant to be about me, I was just minding my own business.”

But the Kaikoura farmers weren’t about to let this act of charity go unacknowledged. The King family, along with the Chaffey family who Tim had also helped, ran a half-page ad in the Hawkes Bay paper profoundly thanking Tim for his 
time and efforts.

“For me it wasn’t a big thing, but for them it was massive,” Tim says.

“Before I got there, Rick had been beside himself about his farm – shattered – but afterwards he had started to regain hope for the future.

“People don’t realise how much you get out of giving,” says Tim. “I didn’t.

“It has changed me as a person.”

Tim and his wife set up Dodge Contracting 28 years ago. Over that time the company has fluctuated in size – at its biggest it had a permanent staff of 18, more recently it’s been just Tim and his son Matt operating the machinery. Things are changing though, with two new operators recently hired (along with a new accountant), and Tim stepping back to focus on growing the business.

The company has also been upgrading its machinery, recently buying two new Caterpillar excavators to add to the fleet.

“We have focused our energy on getting our quality of work right and getting good machinery,” says Tim. “We are selective – we don’t do just digging, we do lovely jobs.”

This focus on quality has paid off, with Dodge Contracting taking out CCNZ Hawkes Bay regional award for projects under $200,000 for the past three years running.

Tim admits to some satisfaction in fending off the ‘big boys’ three years in a row.

Last year’s winning project was the construction of a walkway through Otatara Pa – a political minefield involving iwi, DOC and the Historic Places Trust.

“It was a very political but very cool job, and it turned out to be our most profitable,” says Tim.

Winning the awards has prompted Tim to get more involved with CCNZ, and he urges other contractors to do the same, saying the benefits are well worth it.

When he was about to head to Kaikoura, his local branch of  CCNZ talked to Z Energy, which then gave Tim a $300 credit on his fuel card to help him get down there.

Once in Marlborough, the local farmers wouldn’t let him buy diesel for his machinery, digging into their own pockets to keep him fuelled up.

“I think I came home with more diesel than I went down with,” he laughs.

The farmers’ appreciation ran to more than fuel though, providing him with all his meals, and happily obliging his Paleo diet requirements, which excludes grains, dairy, and processed foods. In fact, one farmer’s wife followed him from farm to farm each day to give him a Paleo lunch. Such was the level of appreciation for Tim’s work.

But Tim says he was just happy to help out. He describes his trip as very satisfying and says he was “pretty emotional” coming home.

“If I never do anything else in life, that work’s enough.”

This article first appeared in Contractor‘s April issue.

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