Special feature: Lott Contractors

By: Randall Johnston, Photography by: Randall Johnston

Deals on Wheels catches up with Billy Lott from Lott Contractors for a peek into their busy operation in the small town of Waiau

Lott Contractors director Billy Lott is the kind of employer who cares about his staff and their lives and well-being outside of work as well.

It’s the kind of community-mindedness that doesn’t seem to rate a mention in his hometown of Waiau, North Canterbury—a town with a population of less than 500—and the headquarters of his busy contracting operation.

When Deals on Wheels caught up with Billy, he was fresh back from an earthmoving job on Molesworth high country station near Marlborough.

He was clearly pleased to be home and able to check in with his crew who have been busy working on a massive stop bank to keep the Waiau River from flooding lower lying areas of the township, something that has happened on more than a few occasions.

They fought hard to win the Environment Canterbury tender, which was hotly contested by more than half a dozen of the biggest contractors in the Canterbury region.

Dave Lott (left) and assistant operator Tui with Billy Lott

"We had never gone for a tender that big and it required that level of paperwork, but I’m glad we did because the river and new stopbank we’re building up is just a few hundred metres behind our place," Billy says.

"I would have hated to be working away here and see other people’s gear and crews coming through every day."

Their application clearly impressed, with the tender going their way, and Billy’s team of operators have been busy moving earth to the site, which stretches for several kilometres, the Hitachi 20-tonne excavator loading up the Volvo A30F articulated hauler and the Caterpillar 12H grader (with a brand-new transmission installed) smoothing her over.

It’s a big job and a crucial piece of infrastructure that will protect the town for decades to come. The young hauler and excavator operator we meet were hired straight out of high school but showed a slick aptitude, as shown when the load of earth was tipped off. The boys showed their skills and—even better—the right attitude saying they enjoy the work and, being Waiau locals, the fact it’s right on their doorstep.

Developing your juniors

What’s that they say in rugby clubs about the need to bring players right up from junior club level to professional grade? That’s a philosophy that’s doesn’t only apply to sports.

Billy has taken over managing the business, while his 92-year-old father Dave, still to this day puts in a solid 60 hours plus a week in the dozer, alongside his little Fox Terrier ‘Tui’ who rides in the cab with him.

Four Volvo ADTs are in the fleet

Billy drove us up to the quarry where Dave was at work in the dozer, high above the township. His view from ‘the office’ up there in his Komatsu 135A dozer is spectacular, and the man still speaks with a passion about the community that he loves and the business that he started, which his son took to new levels after returning from a stint as a tractor and airseeder operator in Western Australia in 2002.

"Most of the farms that you can see from up here are all our clients. We have a loyal clientele with all the sheep and beef fellows," Dave comments proudly as we look out over the plains and rolling hills.

"We’ve broken in a lot of this hill county and turned it into productive farmland. We also do a lot of stock water dams; there’s no shortage of work."

Dave was essentially an owner-operator, with no staff and just the one bulldozer prior to 2002. But when things started getting busy back home, Billy was given the option of continuing on to North America to do some contracting work or returning home to assist his father.

He chose to return and has put everything into the business and prides himself on creating solid employment opportunities for young people in an area where local jobs can be hard to come by.

"Someone’s got to give you a go," Billy says.


"These guys are usually pretty green when they come on-board, but most of them have been around machinery a fair bit in their lives, and it doesn’t take them long to become really good operators.

"I’ve also had experienced operators come on-board and that’s great too, but it’s pretty rewarding, and it’s good for the town giving these guys an income and teaching them skills that can set them up for life."

Billy has helped some of his younger staff get into their first homes when their applications weren’t looking too promising, and the respect staff have for him is evident and the passion he has for building up and supporting his community is clear.

There’s plenty of work on, too, from jobs for the Hurunui District Council to maintaining dairy farms big and small, Billy’s team of eight full-time operators and a full-time mechanic aren’t twiddling their thumbs.

"Everyone knows everyone up here and our family has a relationship with these farmers that goes back to the 1950s and that trust goes a long way."

Fleet growing steadily

The first addition (on top of the existing dozer) was a Hitachi digger. When Billy returned from Australia and started offering a wider range of services, the operation started to grow rapidly.

"The old man had been operating dozers all his life and wasn’t too keen on the diggers, but once we got going, he saw the potential," Billy says.

"Then we added a dump truck and that’s when things really took off."

Fast-forward to today and the latest edition to the fleet is a 2021 Hitachi Zaxis 225 US LC, which arrived less than six months ago. That’s currently being used on a dairy farm behind the Rotherham Hotel. The old train station platform that had been sitting unused on the farm had to be broken up with a rock hammer and removed piece by piece and now the work is ongoing, as further earthworks are required to streamline vital irrigation and water resources on his most productive flats.

The latest edition to the fleet is a 2021 Hitachi Zaxis 225 US

The Hitachi diggers are smooth to operate, have good resale value, and are popular among Billy’s young operators; his personal preference being those along with Volvo haulers and John Deere or Komatsu dozers. He puts his Hitachi excavators up for sale before they reach 10,000 hours, and they get snapped up quickly, with two sold this winter without the need to advertise.

"They’re just reliable machines, and they’re not hard for our mechanic to work on or get parts for," Billy explains.

A significant investment was required to grow the fleet from just one dozer when Billy returned from Australia to now owning four John Deere dozers (two 850s and two 750s), eight Hitachi excavators, four Volvo articulated haulers (two A25Ds and two A30Fs), two Hitachi wheel loaders, and a few Scania trucks among other ‘more vintage dozers and other bits and pieces’.

Billy is expecting a busy summer with a fair bit of work in the pipeline but is also looking forward to taking a break ‘at some stage’ with his wife Bridget and children Henry (already a slick digger operator), George, and Charlotte.

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