Digger Man

Digger Man Blog

by Nick Drew  |  Wed 18 Nov 2020

Welsh Cat Fan Goes Solo

Taking a look back at one of my articles previously published in Earthmovers Magazine, bringing it to life on the internet, with alternative photos and video footage.

Many of us in the plant game have had that one special mentor in our lives, offering advice, guidance and direction in our formative years. For Andrew Matthews, who hails from the small village of Machen between Newport and Caerphilly, that guiding light was fellow Welshman the late Mike Harkins.

Welsh Cat Fan Goes Solo

Mike’s father Len Harkins had started the plant hire company that bared his name as far back as the 1950’s. Talking about how it all started for him Andrew said, “I first met Mike Harkins in 1995, when I was about 15 years old, at the time Mike was working on a site in my home village of Machen, like many a young boy, I would spend hours watching the machines in action and I struck up a friendship with Mike, which would eventually progress to me spending time in the cab and he would occasionally let me loose on the controls which I loved”.

Andrew continues, “That job eventually came to an end, but Mike told me to give him a call a few days before my 16th birthday which I did, and he offered me a start on the books there and then. From that day on he took me under his wing and taught me how repair and fit parts, spray paint and most importantly, how to operate a machine properly with a good eye for the job. That is basically where I get my good habits from, like checking the oil and water every morning, good housekeeping/polishing, and generally looking after the kit!”

“I had a great 17 year working relationship with all the Harkin family and especially with Mike who was not only my boss, but my best friend too and someone who I had so much respect for, If I wasn’t out operating a machine for him, I would’ve been out doing some servicing or helping out in some other way, I owe everything to Mike and was deeply saddened when he passed away, and when I got my own machine I wanted to have his name “Harks” on my cab as a tribute to the man”.  

As the title of this story suggests Andrew is a life long fan of Caterpillar equipment, primarily because machines from the American machinery giant were the first machines he got to drive in anger when he started his operating career with Mike Harkins Plant Hire, with the first model being the Mitsubishi inspired Cat E120B hydraulic excavator.

After that he moved onto another 12-tonne class excavator the Cat 312, then in a slight departure from the Cat brand Andrew received a new 13-tonne Case CX130, that machine was later replaced by a Hitachi 13 tonner and eventually returned to the Caterpillar fold on a 323D model, roughly spending around 4 years on each machine before they were traded in for new.

After 17 years with Harkins Plant Hire, Andrew felt it was time to spread his wings so when an opportunity arose, he went off doing some stuff on his own and joined another local company called Green Hill Construction Ltd operating a Doosan DX140LC.

Around 18 months later he was on the move again this time joining Lewis Civil Engineering, a big firm locally who do a lot of work for Welsh Water, he was with them for 3 years, this job turned out to be quite lucrative and saw him working all the hours under the sun.

A more recent move saw him join Cinderford based KW Bell Plant where he was operating a brand new JCB 220XLC fitted with a Leica GPS system which he said he was very impressed with overall.

It was while working for KW Bell that Andrew started to ponder his future and like so many before him he had the hankering to give it a go on his own, it had been a long held ambition to one day purchase and run his own machine, although in reality he never expected it to happen, but an opportunity arose for some ongoing work, so he decided to give it a go.

It’s a daunting prospect for anyone setting up on their own, especially from a flat start, but after initial concerns about finance and how it would all workout, Andrew felt very comfortable with it, he said “The guys from Finning UK were really good, especially my local Sales Rep Iwan Jenkins and Simon from Cat Financial who was very helpful in putting a good package together for me and clearly and concisely explaining it all the way through the process to be honest”.

Talking about his decision to go for the 313F L GC model Andrew said, “As its my first own machine I really liked the simplicity of it and the fact that it is fitted with the lower horsepower engine which requires no AdBlue, which is a big bonus, as its one less hassle and it helps to keep running costs down”.

“I had heard people suggesting that the model has no grunt, but in all honesty I don’t find it a problem, its fast and does everything I ask of it, I just think its because the engine isn’t roaring like machines of old, people think it has no power, but with the power mode selected correctly, I find it works fine for me and I’m very happy with it”.  

Local Finning Sales Rep Iwan Jenkins said, “When I originally spoke with Andrew  I wanted to ensure that he was having the correct machine for the work he was doing, as you can appreciate with all the options you can have on a CAT machine it very easy to over sell or not provide the right solution for Andrew's needs, with that in mind we both agreed that the 313F L GC would be the best solution for his needs”.

The Japanese manufactured 313F L GC was officially launched into the European market some 5 years ago during the International Press Reveal Event in Malaga in 2015. Tipping the scales at 13,300kg the machine was specifically designed and manufactured with the UK plant hire market in mind and has proven to be a best seller in despite its single hydraulic pump design.

As previously mentioned, one of the features of this machines design, is the fact that it is fitted with Caterpillar’s C3.4B engine, which is rated at just 70hp (52kw), this means the machine does not have to conform to the latest Stage 4 and now Stage V emissions regulations. This is very appealing to customers engaged in the plant hire sector and in this instance an owner/operator looking for a more-simple and cost-effective solution.

Andrews machine has been supplied with the 37050mm long undercarriage with 700mm triple grouser pads, a spacious and fully appointed, air-conditioned cab, with a new seat design which is fully adjustable, standard UK spec 3m dipper stick with hammer lines, Cat hydraulic coupler, 3 x Cat buckets, check valves as standard, Finning’s Vision Link (in cab telematics) plus extended  3 years or 6,000 hours premier warranty for long term peace of mind.

The 313F L GC features the same working envelope as the old 312E model and features a 15’3’’ (4.65m) main boom, with this machine being fitted with the UK standard 9’10’’ (3m) dipper arm. In this configuration the machine offers a ground level reach of 28’3’’ (8620mm) and a maximum dig depth of some 19’9’’ (6040mm). In another nice touch from Andrew, he has had his two daughter’s names put on the front of the fuel tank, Abbie May (9) and Brooke Andie (4) are both delighted to have their names emblazoned on the Cat. 

We visited man and machine on site in Blackwood, Gwent, where he was working for his customer Darran Watts the owner of Riversee Developments, who are building 12 luxury new homes on the site. Andrew was busy doing a reduce dig operation ahead of digging the next set of foundations on the ongoing development, and he certainly wasn’t hanging about, displaying that this model is as fast and productive as any other in the right hands, it was a joy to watch the man in action!

Riversee Developments is described as a small operation which see’s all members of the team working together and from what we saw on the day that is definitely the case with Andrew and his machine right at the heart of the action. The small team managed to keep going right through the Covid-19 situation which could have been catastrophic for a new start up business, which was great news to hear during a difficult period for all of us.

My overwhelming memory from this visit will be Andrew’s beaming smile as he put the machine to work, clearly a man who loves his Caterpillar kit and really enjoys what he does for a living.

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