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Fourth title makes history for Otago legend at national excavator competition

Otago’s Troy Calteaux has emerged as New Zealand’s ultimate digger driver at the Civil Contractors New Zealand CablePrice National Excavator Operator Competition, demonstrating his expertise to defend his title against 12 of the country’s top operators.

The Milton local and Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd employee showed grit and determination to take the title, becoming the first person to win the competition four times – and the first to win three titles in a row. He took the title over Waikato champion Michael Brown of Fulton Hogan, while last year’s runner-up Steven George of Northland took third place.

Calteaux’s success in this competition, held on 15 and 16 March at Manfeild Park in Feilding during the Central Districts Field Days, follows national titles in 2018, 2021 and 2022. He was supported at the competition by his brother Kieran and father Colin.

Calteaux said the win felt great – all the more so because of the nerves of competing for his fourth title in what he knew would be a very close competition.

“This year has been an awesome one, the competitors have been wicked. A mean group.

“I put myself under that much pressure on the course that I thought old Steve had it. Thanks to CablePrice for putting the gear up for us, and all the other sponsors. I’m just blown away.” This year’s event marked the 30th anniversary of the excavator-skills clash and featured a serious upgrade to the usual tests of on-the-job skills and crowd-pleasing activities. In this edition, competitors amazed fans in new challenges, including scooping ice cream into a cone without damaging it using a newly designed scoop attachment. The ice cream was then served up to delighted young spectators at Central Districts Field Days.

Another never-seen-before challenge was the ‘Connect Challenge’, which required operators to beat opponents by dropping giant game pieces into a jumbo-sized Connect Four-style stand using their excavators. This new task was designed for the 30-year celebration and trialled successfully by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon the day prior to the competition.

Existing challenges had a new twist for the 30th event, most notably the conversion of the traditional ’Slam Dunk’ to a marble run by the competitors, who had to plan and dig a course of trenches raised above ground for the ball to follow after it exited the concrete tower.

Runner-up Michael Brown of Fulton Hogan put in an impressive showing on the ice cream challenge in his first shot at nationals. A classic ‘dark horse’ competitor, Brown flew under the radar to lead the pack at the end of day one of the two-day competition.

He said he was proud of his achievements on the challenging course. “It’s a bit different to digging rock. I had a good day out there, and I’m really proud of myself.”

“I did not expect this at all. Thanks to my wife Megan, to the sponsors, all the guys out on the course, to the competitors, they’re a good bunch of bastards. And a real special thank you to my father… for giving me a love of machines.”

One of the challenges designed to test the full range of operators’ skills was the Z One-day Job Challenge, which examined operators’ start-to-finish competence for a task such as planning, layout, and execution of a job. John McMillan of Whanganui-based Loaders Civil impressed the judges with his in-depth understanding and clear communication to claim the coveted Z Energy One-Day Job Challenge trophy for 2024.

The Humes MVP award went to Wellington Wairarapa champion Bronson Jones of Bryce O’Sullivan Contracting, who demonstrated camaraderie with the competitors, judges and supporters through the event. This extended to helping volunteers butter bread for sandwiches each morning, and playing Sade hit song ‘Smooth Operator’ to calm his opponents’ nerves. The award recognises teamwork and goes to the person judged to be the one you’d most want to have working next to you on your team. Jones was dubbed a ‘smooth operator’ himself after placing fifth.

Invercargill local Brad Fallow of SouthRoads won the Geoff Duff Memorial Trophy. The trophy, which recognises the person demonstrating the best scores across the truck-loading challenges featured in the competition, commemorates Geoff Duff of Carterton – a former nationals judge and highly-skilled truck driver.

Civil Contractors New Zealand Chief Executive Alan Pollard congratulated all the competitors for taking part, and Calteaux on his victory.

“Troy was outstanding throughout the competition and triumphed on what was possibly the toughest course ever seen in the competition. To handle the pressure throughout the whole competition and maintain his focus and consistency the way he did was exceptional.

“He has cemented his place in the history books as New Zealand’s top excavator operator with his fourth win and achieved true legend status. For him to beat the best of the best once again is incredible – he is a shining example to the rest of the industry.”

Pollard said the competitors were the heart and soul of New Zealand’s civil construction industry and their efforts in front of a bumper crowd at Central Districts Field Days helped inspire the next generation to take on roles building infrastructure for Kiwi communities. “All the competitors are champions not just for triumphing at the regionals, but also for the critical work they do day-to-day maintaining and developing New Zealand’s infrastructure. I know all the competitors gave it their best shot during the competition and made their regions proud – I salute them all.”

He also congratulated CCNZ Manawatū Whanganui Branch for 30 years of delivering the competition, which first began in 1994 – notably competition founder Graeme Blackley, who at 85 years of age was still helping out with course design and site setup. He thanked Manawatū Whanganui Branch Chair Greg Lumsden and his team, as well as the CCNZ national office team, for making this year’s event a success. The Platinum Sponsor for this year’s competition was CablePrice, which has been a longstanding supporter of the industry and the competition. CablePrice also provided and serviced the Hitachi excavators the competitors operated during the event. Other major competition sponsors included Attach2, BeforeUDig, Brolube, Civil Trades, Connexis, Contractor Magazine, Doug the Digger, First Gas, Hirepool, Humes, Milwaukee, Major Oak Safety Training and Z Energy.

In addition to the competition, an EPIC Careers Hub was set up next to the excavator operator competition course for members of the public interested in trying excavator operation or exploring careers in the industry. The hub featured a truck-mounted excavator simulator, a VR excavator experience, truck driving and traffic control experiences, a Connexis digital simulator and floor talks from infrastructure construction workers. The 2024 winners were:

Champion: Troy Calteaux, Andrew Haulage 2011 Ltd, Otago

Runner-up: Michael Brown, Fulton Hogan, Waikato

Third Place: Steven George, Steven George Contracting, Northland

Z One-day Job Challenge: John McMillan, Loaders Civil, Manawatū Whanganui

Humes MVP Award: Bronson Jones, Bryce O’Sullivan Contracting, Wellington Wairarapa

Geoff Duff Memorial Trophy: Brad Fallow, SouthRoads, Southland

 

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