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From the operators seat to salesman (Part Two)

Digger Blogger | 13:19, Sun September 02 2012

Continuing our look back at the operating career of current M&M Plant salesman Luke Harris, with more photos from his excellent archive collection.

Luke spent a fair bit of time working on the regeneration of Sutton Harbour in Plymouth, whilst operating for Alex Sim. In this shot we can see a Komatsu PC400 excavator actually working down in the harbour at low tide, always a messy and challenging line of work!

In this very interesting photo, we see Luke at the controls of one of Alex Sim’s 2 large Liebherr R974’s, which is sporting a massive Rammer G120 hammer. At the time, Mr Sims owned 2 of these hammers and they were the only ones available for hire in the UK. Luke commented on them, “Those Rammers were one hell of a hammer, they weighed 7 tons and packed a hell of a punch!” For those of you that have visited Plymouth either on holiday or for business, this shot was taken on the site of the current Plymouth Marine Aquarium looking back across to the famous Barbican area of the city.

Luke spent a considerable amount of time on the big Liebherr’s for Alex Sim, during what was a busy time for bulk excavation work in the UK. I especially like this early shot of the machine when it was brand new, with Luke’s 4x4 pick-up parked in front of it for scale.

At one point Luke was asked to go with the R974 to work on a Taylor Woodrow Mining pit just outside of Swansea. The machine was going in to cover for an O&K RH120 that was going to be down for a week so essential maintenance could be carried out. Needless to say Luke took the opportunity to take a close look around the big O&K.

Alex Sim ran a lot of O&K machines back then, including the 2 RH30’s that were mentioned in part one of this post. Luke was often out operating one of the company’s RH9 models, which he described as “a great tool”.  In this shot, his RH9 is seen parked next to a Caterpillar 215 on the site of the Okehampton bypass, where they were digging out for bridge bases for the Meldon river crossing. A familiar sight down in this neck of the woods due to tough digging conditions, one machine is often deployed with a breaker whilst the other machine performs the digging role.  

Luke and his O&K RH9 went on to work on water pipeline projects, on hire to Bodmin based T. J. Brent (now part of the May Gurney group).

Some of this work saw them run a pipeline right through the historic National Trust property of the Lanhydrock estate. In this cracking shot taken from the cab of Luke’s RH9, we can see the pipeline making its way across the beautiful Cornish countryside on the estate. Note the ever popular JCB 3CX performing backfilling duties in the background.  

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And how about this for a dramatic shot from down in the trench. This could have easily featured in an O&K RH9 brochure back in the day, a photograph to be proud of Luke!

Luke also worked on the construction of Roadford Reservoir in the late 1980’s, the job involved a considerable amount of excavation and earthmoving works which was tackled by Alfred McAlpine, who in familiar style amassed a vast amount of kit to assault the job with, including this Caterpillar 245 in face shovel mode.


The job involved the formation of a large rockfall embankment which would form the dam, which would eventually impound water from the River Wolf to form a reservoir with an impressive net storage capacity of 34,500 megalitres (around 8 billion gallons). The rock was transferred to the embankment area by a fleet of Caterpillar articulated dumptrucks and pushed out by a Komatsu D155 dozer.

Compacting the rock and stone on the dam embankment itself presented additional problems, but McAlpine’s came up with a solution of using two dozers and a winch system to propel a vibratory roller up and down the face of the dam.

Luke was later given the opportunity to become a plant manager for a Plymouth based demolition company. However he joined M&M Plant Sales Ltd in 1997 as Regional Sales Manager where he remains to this day, working out of the company’s Launceston, Cornwall, depot. Luke’s love affair with the levers still remains though, and he still likes to keep his hand in operating kit at the weekends. It also looks like a family tradition of starting them young is continuing, as we see Luke’s young daughter at the controls of a Case CX210B.

In summary, Luke echoed the thoughts of many of us from this generation when he said, “although I like to keep my hand in when I can, I can’t help but think that the operating job certainly isn’t what it used to be anymore, as the day to day working on sites has sadly changed so much”. I say never a truer word spoken.

We would like to thank Luke for sharing his photos and memories with us here on the Digger Blog. And there are a few more I will post in the future so look out for more gems.


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