Volvo ticks the boxes for Epsom Sand & Soil

By on October 30, 2023

Epsom Sand and Soil began as a family-owned business and continues tooperate as one today.

As owner David Mills tells it, Epsom Sand and Soil started out as a side hustle, that later expanded into a successful family business.

“My old man had a concrete truck, carting ready mixed concrete, and a lot of the time he would finish up by lunchtime,” David explains. “He had a tipper on the back of his truck and once he had finished pouring all the slabs, he’d go and cart sand and fill house spaces”.

At 17, David left school to do a welding apprenticeship with his dad’s business partner who was a boil-maker. However, things didn’t quite work out with this partnership, which left David at a bit of a loose end. As David explains “at 18-and-a-half you could get your truck license, so I started driving the truck with the old man”.

Things became serious when the Mills family purchased a block of land 25km out of Bendigo with a sizable sand deposit on it. “We ended up with a contract with Bendigo City Council, supplying nature strip soil and topsoil for houses, along with brick sand and packing sand for underneath.” Being based in Bendigo, with all the mining that goes on, there is no shortage of sand, so Epsom Sand and Soil having their own block of land, were able to build their own depot for carting road base and pine bark.

As the business continued to grow, Epsom Sand and Soil reaped the benefits of the combined experience of David’s father Ken’s farming background and David’s own welding and mechanical expertise, “On the mechanical side, fixing things, I had a lot more know-how than Dad did,” David explains, “But if it was something to do with the tractor or whatever, he was always right,” he laughs.

David Mills & Daniel Rice

“In the beginning, Epsom Sand and Soil started out with my mum and dad,” David shares, “Then I married my wife, IIka, and she joined the business in 1994 – when mum and dad retired. It’s been us running the business for the last 22 years.”
When it comes to loaders and diggers, David’s fleet is mainly Volvo. “We’ve got six Volvo loaders and two Volvo excavators now. The business kicked off with just a few Chamberlain and Cat front-end loaders, and a truck, but I’ve predominantly worked with Volvo equipment since 1990.”

David recalls how he ended up with an almost entire Volvo fleet, just after Epsom Sand and Soil started a contract with Bendigo Gold Associates carting gold tailings and were down a loader. “The Volvo salesman happened to walk in right when this loader had broken down and he told us he had a machine that had just finished a demo. He said if we collected it, we could have it for as long as we wanted. We used that machine for three weeks until we got our original machine back, we ended up selling that and buying two Volvo loaders. We have owned Volvos ever since.”

Volvo machinery are a common sight at sand quarries, and as David tells, they are considered very well-suited to the job. “The Volvos are smooth, and when working with sand they fill the bucket nicer and don’t dig holes. If you try to back out of a hole and you’re bouncing around, your sand falls out of your bucket. Volvo’s just put the power to the ground better.”

As an owner operator, David has spent around 40,000 hours in loaders and 15,000 in excavators. Volvo machines are packed with numerous features, as standard, including diff lock and air conditioning. “Back when we bought our first Volvo in 1984, air conditioning was usually an option in machines. You might have had a heater, but most machines didn’t come with air conditioning, and in Australia you can put up without heat, but you need aircon” David states.

“Volvo machines are very quick and nimble” he continues, “But really, it’s the comfort and quietness that’s a huge advantage when you’re sitting in it for 12-hour days. If its quiet, you get out and feel no different to when you got in. If it had a roar of an engine at the back of you, it would be a different story.”

David also owns a Volvo Articulated Hauler, and rates it very highly. “It’s a second-hand 35-tonner and it’s just awesome. You can climb in and drive in the sand much better than anything else. You can drive down a 45-degree angle into the pit and it’ll drive straight back out the same way. Because of the six-wheel drive, the haulers can go where a front-end loader or dozer can’t.”

In David’s line of work, dust is also a major concern, particularly when Epsom Sand and Soil were contracted by Bendigo City Council for a job 15 years ago, to remove asbestos at a new sporting complex, “It turned out that asbestos littered the whole ground. They had to strip 1500mm off the top of the whole arena.”

“For the first couple of days, they had all these monitors all set up around the oval, catching asbestos fibres. Then they would send the filters from the monitors out for analysis. The first day I had to wear a respirator, and then I ended up asking if they could put a filter in my loader because it was horrible wearing a respirator in there for so long. They agreed as they had not found a single fibre inside the cab. That’s a pretty good demo of the effectiveness of Volvo’s filtration system.”Epsom Sand and Soil runs a range of newer

Volvo machines as well as a much older L120B model. “The old one we just use here in the yard,” David says, “It’s done about 20,000 hours and we use it for the coloured mulch jobs, and putting colourant through woodchips we make. The loader doing that ends up with colour all over it, so we don’t want the newer loaders doing that.”

Epsom Sand and Soil have been dealing with CJD Equipment since 1980 with the purchasing and maintenance of their Volvo fleet. “We’ve had a great run with them,” David tells. “Their back-up service is spot on. I talk to the Victorian General Manager, Daniel Rice, directly and it’s just a little bit more personal. They’re a good size, and they can accommodate anything you need.”

“We’ve had very few issues with the machines, and we have never done an engine rebuild in a loader, including the old L120B that has its original engine, transmission, and diffs, and still loads trucks as good as a new loader would.”

So, what does the future hold for Epsom Sand and Soil? “I want to retire in the next five or six years,” David laughs. “Hayden, my son, could probably take it over if he wanted to, but I am not going to pressure him into it, but he is certainly capable. He’s learned from a real young age, and he is excellent with all the new technology on the Volvo machines, he picks things up very quickly.”

These days, if Ilka and David want to take some time away, they’ve got backup sorted. “I’ve got my yard manager, Will Mayer, who can run the show if I want to go away on holidays,” David says. “Will has been with us about 13 years now. He’s at a stage where he can virtually do everything I do and that takes the pressure off us. So, we’re thinking, ‘let’s have a bit of a life.”

After 22 years, they’ve certainly earned it.

Great to see a long standing working relationship between a CMPA Voting Member in Epsom Sand and Soil and a CMPA Associate Member in CJD Equipment.

Epsom Sand and Soil has been a member of the CMPA since 2019.

CJD Equipment has been a member of the CMPA since 2004. CMPA provides a multitude of opportunities to promote our business through print and online mediums and networking such as workshops, webinars and other social events.

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