Dick Gill started the business in 1932 with a Chevy 4 Truck. His first contract was carrying meat to the West Coast. He would leave home at 2am to protect the unrefrigerated meat. He sold the meat on the way finally stopping at the Denniston Coal Mine, which he would then back load with coal.
His next Truck was a Leyland ex Shell Oil followed by purchasing a new Chevrolet from H R Dix Ltd, in each of the next 5 years. After the War the only options to were new Fords and Bedford’s, until the 1960’s when new Leyland’s from Bowater Motors in Nelson were available. The Business moved to road construction and general earthworks and later to more general carrying.
The ranges of Trucks used were from early Chevrolet, International’s, Bedford, Leyland’s, Mitsubishi and more recently Isuzu.
Dick Gill was a real character: On one occasion whilst working on a roading job one of his men did something stupid. He was fired on the spot and left on the side of the road. Two hours later he picked him up and re-employed him because he had a Wife and four children.
One of the early construction jobs was joining together of the ends of the main truck Railway from Picton to Invercargill. This was completed 29th September 1945, the official opening by Bob Semple, Minister of Works on 14th December 1945 at Kaikoura.
They also supplied trucks and the first front end loader to be used in Marlborough, forming the new river bed for Roses overflow during 1939-40 for the Wairau River Road. The Engineer was “Orm” Marshall. Most of the work was carried out by horse drawn drays and men with shovels.
In 1949 they put the road through to Molesworth, living in caravans and having a cookhouse on the back of an old truck, completing the job in June 1950.
In 1953 they had the contract along with J A Robinson Ltd and Marlborough Transport Ltd to fill in the Taylor River loop which circled the RSA Club Building which reduced the risk of flooding in the Borough. At its peak 2000 tons of fill were carted daily. Around this time, they purchased the earthmoving contractor Geoff Rouse, to gain more equipment for their road construction business.
Gills have built many roads through very difficult terrain. Some examples; Whangamonga to Oyster Bay, access to the Medway, the road through to Te Mahia and The Portage, Robin Hood Bay to Rarangi and much of Port Underwood Road. To improve the efficiency of their roading work and access to the right material they purchase a crusher which operates at Spring Creek, supplementing a portable crusher.
A challenging contract was filling the Lagoon in Picton to provide for the Ferry Terminal. They were fortunate in being able to source much of the material from a hillside close by. The remains were known locally, as the Borrow Pit. They also created the waste treatment ponds for Waitaki Freezing Works.
The Company expanded into freighting of a wide range of farm requirements and of the more general needs of the District, as the demand for new roads in the province decreased. This expansion into general carrying was achieved by purchasing or amalgamating with other local companies. In March 1972 Gill’s amalgamated with Prompt Carriers, Rex Priddle, a partner in Prompt becoming a Director of Gills. This brought in a further 6 vehicles and much sort after licenses.
A year later they purchased Awatere Transport Ltd including their depot in Seddon. This depot is still being used by Gills, with the local manager Mike Lyon, formerly with Awatere completing a further 35 years with us, and still used as a casual driver when needs arise, an impressive record.
In late 1974 Gills purchased Fisseden Transport Ltd in Kaikoura along with their depot which is operated until 2020.
One of the more public activities of the Company was the destruction of many of Blenheim’s prominent brick buildings. His Majesty’s Theatre probable being the first major job, others being the old Post Office, finishing the Town Hall after the original tenderer was bankrupted as he had no idea of the strength of the building, the Bank of New Zealand and all of the adjacent buildings up to Wynen Street, plus many others.
Shortly after the Post Office was demolished, courtesy of combined contractors effort, Bill Gill publicly stated if he could get the Council to agree he would get rid of the many concreted piles of stone known as the ‘Bolder Bank’ in Market Square. When the Council did make the decision, he kept his word and cleared them at his cost. This was a significant act of generosity as apart from breaking them up all of them had to be carted to a disposal site. One ended up at the Mayor’s house weighing at least a ton and he had rapidly find a home for it.
In later years the company has stayed with its Rural, Roading, Earthmoving and Aggregate supply with its two large crushing plants, one portable and the other fixed at our Spring Creek location supplying aggregate for roading, sealing chip and also concrete gravels for Firth Ready-mix Plant.
Our stock of vehicles is now more than 100 from Truck and Trailer units for Livestock and General Cartage to Earthmoving equipment like Diggers, Bulldozers, Loaders and a Crushing Plant as well a Portable Crusher Plant.
In 2022 the acquisition of Bryant Earthworks Ltd, whom have been around the Marlborough region since 1995, will allow for a specialised operational business in the Forestry sector which will complement the general operations for the company into the future.