VIDEO: Bomag compactor

By: Cameron Officer, Photography by: Cameron Officer

Here’s a question: what do you replace a hard-working, reliable Bomag compactor with when it’s time to update? Well, another Bomag would be ideal…

When I woke up this morning I didn't anticipate arriving back home all fired up about a landfill. Then again, when I woke up this morning I hadn't yet met H.G. Leach & Co's Eric Parkins.

Parkins — grey of beard, sharp of mind — is contracts manager at the Southern Landfill, a sinewy drive into the dense green gullies that butt up to the Capital's crowded southern suburbs of Island Bay and Happy Valley.

Parkins' enthusiasm for his job is infectious. He's been constructing and managing landfills for years now, starting at Tirohia, near Paeroa. Eric Parkins and HG Leach headed down south to construct a new landfill cell for the Silverstream Landfill in Upper Hutt, but are now running Southern Landfill for Wellington City Council in a team of eight.

"I really enjoy building landfills," he says. "I love the challenge of it, from both an engineering point of view and an environmental one.

"There's a real science to it and I'm always saying to my guys, 'never sell yourself short'. Some people might say we're skilled labourers — nothing more, nothing less. Not us, we're garbologists!"

Parkins is firm in his belief that to run a successful landfill you need four key elements: good roads, good water drainage, good men, and good machines.

"Road conditions through the site are crucial — they're the number one priority. Roads mean loads, after all," he says. "I'm always looking for what I call the 'confetti effect' — you don't want to bury compacted rubbish completely. It's a working landfill, not a finished one. You conceal all the rubbish when you cap the landfill with a 900mm layer of dirt."

Similarly, if the site's water drainage is managed correctly, says Parkins, the team can be sure that even in a howling Wellington gale, or after a week's worth of winter rain, they'll be able to operate without issue.

And of course, like having a good team of guys, having capable machinery on hand is part of Parkins' successful equation. That's where H.G. Leach's new Bomag BC 772 RB-2 compactor comes in. Supplied through the Porter Group, this unique tool is specifically designed for this unique environment. There's just no other machine for the job. Rather naively I ask Parkins' if a bulldozer can affect the same results as a compactor.

"Not a chance," says Parkins. "The 'dozer will smooth everything out and make it look neat and tidy. But the Bomag is a purpose-built compaction machine.

"Those polygonal wheels are designed to chop everything in their path. The Bomag has hydraulic all-wheel drive, so it just cruises over absolutely anything without any fuss. There's a huge weight differential between the two as well — you're talking about a 37.6-tonne compactor versus a 23- or 24-tonne 'dozer. For this type of work there's no comparison."

Compacting the landfill might look straightforward but it's actually a highly complex job. The geology and geography of the landscape under the wheels is constantly changing, so even in a mighty beast like the BC 772 RB-2, the driver needs to be aware of the surroundings.

I climb up into the Bomag's cab for a ride-along with operator Jimmy Jefferiss who explains further: "The Bomag is designed very cleverly. Everything is reinforced underneath and the drive components are well protected. There are scrapers that sit in front of and behind each wheel too, so that eliminates debris pushing up from the wheels towards the operator area.

"Of course, you never know with refuse. You have to keep an eye on what is being offloaded by the trucks and what's coming up on the ground ahead of you," Jefferiss continues. "On the second day, we had the compactor working here when a piece of 4x2 timber speared up and scratched the fire extinguisher. I wasn't expecting that, but it happens!"

I'm only in the cab mere minutes before I come to the conclusion that this is a rather fantastic machine. I expected a rougher, bouncier ride, but the sheer weight of the BC 772 RB-2, coupled with the grunt from its six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz OM460 LA engine (offering up 335kW, or almost 450hp in the old money) make it remarkably smooth as it trundles back and forth.

For a piece of kit this size — it's 8.4m stem to stern, including that massive 1.9m high dozer blade up front — it's also surprisingly quiet, offering a consistent thrum from inside the cab, rather than a bull-snort roar. You can actually pick out the sounds of bigger individual items of household waste breaking up as they disappear under those 1350mm wide front compaction wheels (the rears are slightly narrower at 1125mm: the front wheels boast 60 'cutter teeth', while the rears have 50).

Jefferiss points to the effective air conditioning system and the clear, wide-screen reversing camera as individual components he loves. Parkins echoes his sentiments, suggesting that overall the Bomag's engineering and level of standard specification is second to none.

And if you want proof of how tough on gear life in a landfill can be, you only have to look further down the slope to where Jefferiss' previous ride — an older Bomag — sits silently awaiting its next rubbish crushing assignment.

Actually, now that the new BC 772 RB-2 has arrived, the older Bomag is just a spare and only gets used occasionally. Parkins' reckons it has done around 19,000 hours and the battle scars of the fridges and furniture that fought back are evident. Although, as Parkins points out, first impressions can be deceiving.

"The bodywork looks a bit of a mess when you first see it, but it's actually as clean as a whistle. And as for the mechanicals, if I were to hop in and turn the key — 'Vroom!' — she'd fire up without hesitation. These guys make impressive machines, there's no doubt about it."

While the present Southern Landfill is projected to last another five or so years before it'll be returned to grass and gorse, the next stage will see the landfill moving up into what Parkins' refers to as "tiger country". The impossibly steep Carey's Gully — adjacent to the current site — is expected to have a lifespan of around 80 years.

It looks to be a huge project to prepare the site for operations — let alone manage it as a working landfill — but the job is one Parkins' is keen to get stuck into. He hopes to see the Southern Landfill well into its next developmental stage... probably not through to its 80-year expiry date, but it seems to me he'll give it a darn good go.

"I enjoy my job far too much to retire mate," he laughs.

And like the enthusiastic Parkins', it would appear H.G. Leach's Bomag BC 772 RB-2 will be good to continue pulling the hard yards — helping engineer the weird science of the landfill — for many years to come.

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