I’m a Fitter Get Me Out of Here!

KEE On-Hire Manager Natalie Martin tells of her intrepid adventure to South Africa with KEE Maintenance Manager Mitchell White.

“Mitch and I flew over to visit the BELL HQ in South Africa. We were the lucky two who had been chosen for the mission, with thanks to KEE, Dale Smulders, Sales Representative, CE Equipment and Hitachi Construction Machinery Australia.

We landed in Johannesburg and met up with fellow industry professionals from Australia and New Zealand. Todd Alexander, National After-Sales Manager and Raj Singh, Customer Relations Facilitator (from Bell SA) greeted us at the hotel and we headed out for dinner to get to know the rest of the group.

The first morning we paid a visit to the BELL Logistics Centre in Johannesburg. The centre was huge and full to the brim with parts and oils for all the BELL Equipment, along with some pretty impressive packing machines.

We then caught a one-hour flight to Durban to the BELL Farm in Richards Bay. There, we were met by Warren Swart, OEM Product Manager, Jerremiah Mokhomo, OEM Product Marketing Manager and Llewellyn Roux, Product Marketing Manager who explained the latest technology and updates which focus on safety and cost efficiencies. These included; automatic daily check, automatic park brake and hill assist.

After test-driving the new BELL B45E ADT we headed off to the factory to learn more about the family and their company and after lunch, we were given a full factory tour. Well, what can I say? Wow, the BELL factory is very impressive. The field service unit they use for remote breakdowns is a helicopter! Mitch was slightly jealous. The factory builds an impressive 30 ADT’s per week from start to finish. Each machine is put through vigorous safety checks and once the team is satisfied, they are signed off and shipped to their customers, wherever in the world they may be.

It was very exciting to be there and see in person one of the next KEE B45 ADT and B45 AWT off the production line. Once fully tested it will be ready and shipped over to Hitachi in Forrestdale, ready for delivery to KEE Hire Welshpool (hopefully, this side of Christmas). We cannot wait!

After the tour, we headed to St Lucia, South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage site famed for the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. There, we were treated to a two-hour guided hippo and croc cruise and then we were whisked off to Bayala Private Game Lodge for the Sunset Safari.

Before the start of the safari, the importance of not disturbing the animals for our own safety was drilled into us:

  • Stay in the truck
  • Keep still
  • Do not spend too much time at a sighting

On our tour, however, all three were quickly thrown out of the window when the truck we were in blew a tyre in the middle of the game reserve. We only had 30 minutes left of daylight and the enormity of the danger we found ourselves in only became apparent when the tour driver could not fix the wheel.

I was asked to “keep look-out”. I’m not sure what I was looking out for as the animals are notorious for their cunning camouflage and I am half-blind at the best of times! However, after persuading the driver (who was taking far too long), that perhaps utilising the skills of the six fitters sitting in the truck would be a better idea, he eventually agreed and the gents jumped out to help.

As the men lifted the entire truck (with me in it) off the ground, I kept watch. It was, at that moment, that I felt the lives of my six associates fall heavily into my hands. I had been charged with looking out for man-eating predators while everyone else was doing the three things we had been explicitly told not to do!

Once the tyre was fixed, we pulled away and our driver Brian, located the lions. Brian wanted to get us there by the shortest route possible, by going up a track that he said he swore “he would never take again”. So in ‘Nat style’ I asked him why are we taking it then? We found the lions, with one tyre

off the ground. One of the group stood up to try and balance the weight and just as Dale yelled “sit down” Mitch was hit in the back of head with a tree branch. It really was a comedy of errors!

As frightening yet funny as this experience was, looking back, it was one of those moments that I will treasure.

Mitch and I are so thankful to the entire BELL team. Their interest, kindness and hospitality shown to us throughout the trip were faultless. This was certainly a trip neither of us will ever forget.”

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