The Macks of Jolly Earthworks

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hiding behind a stand of unassuming pine trees on the outskirts of Wanaka is a sight to behold for any bulldog fan.


Photo: The 2018 Mack Trident heading through Wanaka mid autumn.

Wanaka is a great part of the world for a truck enthusiast. With Central Machine Hire just down the road with their fleet of Macks, Maungatua Contracting across town with their Kenworths, and Upper Clutha Transport with their Volvos, Wanaka leaves you spoilt for places to visit. But today it’s Jolly Earthworks, where we catch up with a man who has a passion for yellow and orange earthmoving machines, and anything with a bulldog on the hood. Craig Jolly is a self-confessed Mack fan. His fleet of five beautifully presented Mack trucks support his 18-odd pieces of earthmoving plant, mostly on civil works in the form of subdivisions, drainage, and bulk earthworks in and around the greater Wanaka area.

The latest Mack in the Jolly Earthworks fleet is this 1986 V8 Superliner. Simply perfection from all angles after its transition into Jolly’s colours. Craig Jolly. The man who started all of this with a passion for Macks.

Craig got his start with local contractors Maungatua Contracting, so he’s learnt with some of the best on how this sort of thing works. He obtained his drainlayers’ certificate in 1999, and in 2005 after 11 years with Maungatua he decided to give it a go on his own, and frankly has never looked back. He bought a new digger on the advice of a friend who went halves with him in the new venture. At least with a new digger they knew what they had. Things quickly progressed to the point that it was time to buy their own truck. Jolly Earthworks was using external contractors to cart in and out of sites, so the decision was a relatively easy one. A new truck was out of the question at this time, so they purchased a secondhand CH Mack. It was an ex Allied Fuels truck with 700,000 kms on the clock. Craig had it shortened, painted it the now standard silver, and fitted a clip-on body. It’s been a good truck to the company and they still own it today.

“It’s got around 1.1 million on it now and we’ve rebuilt the motor and had the clutch done,” said Craig. Going out on his own was a good decision. The building boom was gathering pace and Jolly Earthworks was moving along with it. In 2009 another truck entered the fleet to help cope with the growing demand. This time they decided to go new. A 2009 Mack Trident became the second Mack to wear the silver colours. It was fitted with a swap body and pulled around a 4-axle trailer carting in and out of sites. Roll on three years to 2010 and the digger fleet is now sitting at five and Craig bought out his partner’s shares so is now the sole owner of Jolly Earthworks. A 3-axle low-loader joined the company in the same year and the Trident pulled that around when required, again negating the reliance on outside contractors to move his big gear about. As Jolly Earthworks got busier and the plant numbers slowly increased, the decision was made to buy a tractor unit to pull around the low-loader.


Photo: Hiding behind the pines on the outskirts of Wanaka in their current but soon to be replaced depot is an immaculate line-up of Mack trucks.

“We seemed to be constantly taking the tipping body off the Trident to hook the low-loader up and move around plant, and that wasn’t ideal,” Craig said. It didn’t need to be a new truck, but it had to be a Mack. Enter ‘Jake’, the ex Jurgens Demolition 2006 LT Superliner. Craig loves this truck. “I basically bought it sight unseen from Palmerston North. It also had 700,000s kms on it but I was confident as Jurgens had looked after it.” When not pulling around the low-loader it can also be seen pulling around a 2-axle tipping trailer. But Craig admits that these days the LT leads a fairly pampered life. A lot of the plant is tied up on subdivision work so it tends to stay onsite for a long time.

Plant numbers and workload continued to rise and a second Trident was placed into work in 2018, and recently it was paired with a new 4-axle TMC tipping trailer. The Trident is a 399kW (535hp) version with mDRIVE. Rounding out the Mack fleet is some real coolness, including an E9 V8 Superliner, new on the road in 1986 for Chemical Cleaning Limited. Craig bought it off BTR in Christchurch in 2018.


Photo: The company’s first loader and their first Mack, an ex Allied Fuels CH. Both still providing daily invaluable input to the Jolly’s operation.

“It’s a bit of a pet,” Craig said. The Super Liner lives in semi-retirement in the Jolly’s kennel but when needed it gets pressed into service pulling the 2-axle tipping semi or a 2-axle TMC bottom dump trailer. The Superliner took out King Rig at the Gore Truck Show this year and was a popular win. Craig sticks with what works. MTD and Truckstops have been great for the company and the same can be said for CAT and Goughs, and CablePrice for the John Deere and Hitachi plant they operate. TMC Trailers is the preferred trailer supplier and a new 4-axle low-loader was due at the end of August to replace the current 3-axle one. A TMC unit as well. “We bought a cheap bottom dumper from Whitestone Contracting and that’s also a TMC unit. It’s been very handy for us.” Craig is happy with the current size of his operation and doesn’t see the need to get any bigger. “I just want to keep updating the plant. That’s key for us.” A new CAT D6TXL recently joined the company and proved itself to be a great machine, and with a John Deere 672GP Grader the pair is proving invaluable to the operation. With great machinery you need great staff and Craig is lucky here too.

“It’s not an easy area to attract the right staff due to the cost of living in this part of the world.” They have eight full-time staff and a number of them have been very loyal. As is the case for this industry, if they aren’t operating trucks or plant, staff are labouring. Being able to throw your hand up for this sort of work is gold for Craig. His partner Maree Shaw looks after the administration side of things and Craig himself likes to be hands-on and spends a lot of time operating plant and general overseeing, making sure things run smoothly. Jolly Earthworks, like a number of contractors in the area, is riding a wave on the back of a building boom that’s not showing much sign of slowing down. Craig is currently setting up a new yard to cope with the size of his business, moving out to where their gravel extraction pit is. A new office and workshop will also be built there, and hopefully room for more silver Macks.