Contractor profile: Counties Siteworks

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle and supplied

Counties Silteworks' Abdul Salaam and his machines have become a well-recognised around Auckland building sites

The CAT brand is a favourite

Growing up in Fiji, Abdul was always fascinated with excavation equipment and couldn’t wait till he was old enough to go out and get a job operating a machine; it was a case of ‘the sooner the better’ as far as he was concerned.

Abdul Salaam

At the age of 18, he was already proficient at operating machinery, and by the time Abdul turned 19, he found himself behind the wheel of a Caterpillar 920 loader, with one of the jobs being bulk loading of sugar.

Loading a Moxy in South Auckland

Having mastered the art of operating a wheeled loader and clocking up many hours on the machine, it was time for the 20-year-old to try his hand at operating a hydraulic excavator. It didn’t take Abdul long to transition from a wheeled machine to one with tracks; he loved the work but broader horizons were beckoning.

In 2004, he saw an ad that had been placed in the Fiji Times by a New Zealand company looking for experienced machine operators to come to New Zealand to advance their career prospects. He made contact with the company, was accepted because of his credentials, and pretty soon he was on a Fiji Airlines flight bound for Auckland.

Having already procured a two-and-a-half-year work visa, he was all set up to work in New Zealand. There was also the case of finding somewhere to live until he established himself in the City of Sails, and his sister, who was already living in South Auckland, allowed him to stay at her place until he got himself established.

Being the kind of bloke who’s always up for a new challenge, Abdul didn’t mind one little bit when he was immediately placed on an 85-tonne Komatsu D455 bulldozer.

Stepping up from the 10- and 20-tonne machines he was operating back home in Fiji to the 85-tonne D455 is a fairly big ask in any man’s language, and young Abdul was not only up to the challenge but he was living his ultimate dream of being in control of all that raw power created by the D455’s 600-plus horsepower, inline-12-cylinder engine at his disposal.

Openly admitting that while he was always happy to get up early in the morning to be at the quarry face at some ungodly hour and climb into the cab of the huge machine with its 11-metre-wide blade and its monstrous single tine ripper, he always knew that working for ‘the man’ wasn’t where he could see himself looking into the future.

Make no mistake about it; Abdul had his sights set on owning machines that were sign written with his company name someday soon, however, he knew that before that could take place, he needed to get some civil contracting experience under his belt.

Before long, he found a job with a well-known civil contracting company and put in the hours making a dollar and learning the ropes.

Abdul is quick to point out that he’s grateful for the hand-up he was given by an ex-boss who took him under his wing and taught him everything he knew about the art of reading and understanding site plans, something Abdul knew he’d need to have a good understanding of before he gave any serious thought to starting a business of his own.

"You can get yourself into quite a bit of trouble and cause yourself a lot of grief if you misread a drainage plan and dig too deep and hit a sewer line, or even worse, snag a power cable," he says.

The next step

By the time 2014 had come around, Abdul realised that it was either ‘now or never’ if he was going to step out on his own, so he went out and bought a Caterpillar 305.5 excavator and a second-hand six-wheeler Hino tipper.

The 5.5-tonne digger and six-wheeler combination worked well for a time, however, the age-old problem of finding a driver for the truck came into play, and he found it was a whole lot easier to phone up a trucking firm and order one of theirs.

He sold the six-wheeler and bought a three-tonne tipper to do the odd small job, where it wasn’t worth hiring in one of the big guns and stuck to what came naturally to him at the controls of a machine.

The idea of sticking to what he knew best proved to be the right decision, as housing development across the city took off during the 2010s and hasn’t shown any perceptible signs of slowing down ever since.

On the job

EA housing project in Blockhouse Bay, Auckland

The notion to write a story on Abdul came about as the result of a short truck driving stint the writer of this article did in May last year. Having backed the six-wheeler up a residential driveway in West Auckland, I climbed down from the cab and introduced myself to Abdul who was sitting in his machine, awaiting my arrival.

A very tight West Auckland site

I was immediately impressed by the fact that you could’ve eaten your lunch off the floor of the cab. It was the middle of winter and it had been raining on and off for several days, which made even the base course on the well-prepped site a bit dirty to walk on.

The sky’s the limit

Inside the cab was a folded newspaper with a pair of work boots sitting on top. Glancing around the rest of the CAT 505.5’s cab, I could see it was every bit as clean as the floor was. My initial assessment of the tidiness of Abdul’s operation proved to be correct over the course of the next several days that I had the pleasure of working with him.

A room with a view of Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges

One particular job I recall required some tight manoeuvres on the operator’s behalf due to the high walls at either side of the driveway, which left little room for error when slewing the 5.5-tonne machine to load the truck.

Ripping it up

This part of the job required the use of a rock bucket to uplift and break the concrete into manageable sizes that would fit in the truck’s bin. Abdul would’ve made several hundred manoeuvres during the course of the day, all of which required a high level of concentration.

Not much room for error here

It was impressive to watch—every manoeuvre was as smooth as silk and there were no nasty surprises for the owner of the truck or the neighbours on either side of the fence, in the form of little bits of damage to their belongings at the end of the day. It’s little wonder that Abdul told me that he never has to advertise his services.

The CAT 216B skid steer loading a six-wheeler

Before one job is completed, there’s always at least another one waiting to be started, he says. It would seem that simply doing tidy work is the best form of advertising. Caterpillar is his preferred brand of machine, proof of which lies in the fact that his skid steer is a Cat 216B and the 1.7-tonne roller is a Cat CB14B.

The only things that aren’t CAT are the Hilux ute and the trailer

The only deviation from the Cat brand comes in the form of his Hilux ute, which is decked out with a well-stocked tool chest, spare oil, grease, and fuel. Although he reckons the excavator most suitable machine for the majority of his work is the 5.5-tonne Cat 305.5E, he also has a larger 308E for use on bigger jobs. Abdul says he’s ready to tackle any job, large or small, and he covers all suburbs Auckland wide.

Sometimes a skid steer gets the job done more quickly

For more information, contact Abdul on 021 204 1684.

Find new and used heavy machinery for sale in NZ

Keep up to date in the industry by signing up to Deals on Wheels' free newsletter or liking us on Facebook