NZ – Oamaru – The Stone Mason and the Limestone Quarry

– MARCH 19, 2015

If you live in the area of Christchurch down to Dunedin and you work in any capacity in the construction industry, then you know who Bill Dooley is.  People from all over the world beg Bill Dooley to work on their projects as he is known as one of the best Stone Masons on this planet.  Fortunately, Bill Dooley is related to John Hughes (our current host), so we had the inside track to spend some time with Mr. Dooley.  John called Bill and set up a meet and greet with him and ourselves…the rest was up to Jill and I.

Bill’s office was easy to find in Oamaru, so we went to the front desk and spoke with Bill’s son John Dooley.  John had taken over the business and he was as friendly as anyone we met on the trip.  John Dooley took us through the yard and showed us their operation and what projects were coming down the line.

Dooley's Stone Masonry Headquarters

Dooley’s Stone Masonry Headquarters

One small project in particular had me thinking of Mark Chenoweth.  On the Thursdays when Mark was in Vancouver, he organized a group of the Balfour/Ledcor team to get together for Thursday night football, beer and wings.  It was a nice team building experience, so I thought of it when I saw this beauty below.

A special limestone football that made me think of Mark Chenoweth

A special limestone football that made me think of Mark Chenoweth.  The best shot was through the wire mesh fence.

Bill arrived at the Dooley’s Stone Masonry Headquarters to greet us.  He was one of the happiest and pleasurable people I have ever met in my entire life.  This man was a stone mason for 63 years and he told us about how much he loved his work each and every day of those 63 years.  He is semi-retired now, golfing every day and only getting back into work when a very special project comes knocking on the doors.  His two sons now manage the business, so he has mentored them in a very special way.

Bill decided to take us for a drive to the local limestone quarry, Parkside Quarries.  After a short drive, we arrived at the quarry office and we were met by Bob Wilson, the director/manager of the operation.  The quarry charges for tours, as their limestone is among the most pure in the world and therefore are in high demand.  Due to Bill having a close and long term friendship with Bob, we had our own private behind the scenes tour for free!

To start we got to see the original machine used in the early days of the quarry.  It’s a family owned operation, and the machine below was one of their first purchases.  The smaller wheels on the left side had to be manually turned to line up the cutters with the limestone.  It was a very slow and hard working process which has obviously been automated in current times.

The original machine to cut limestone from the earth (see the manual turning wheels to align the cutters).

The original machine to cut limestone from the earth (see the manual turning wheels on the left to align the cutters).

The main office was right beside the ready to be shipped stock area.  Here pallets were loaded and ready with cut material for job sites.

Limestone blocks ready to be shipped

Limestone blocks ready to be shipped.  Connie Holloway would have loved this tour.

We got into Bob’s 4×4 and drove into the first pit.  This pit is still actively in use as they cut into the sides and the floor to ensure the blocks come out without cracking.  When the blocks come out they need to always be kept in that same orientation.  The blocks are coming out of the ground strong in the compression force direction, not in the tension force direction.  If you stand it on its side then the block will likely break in storage.

The quarry pit looking upward. A good example of how deep they have cut into the earth for this natural product.

The quarry pit looking upward. A good example of how deep they have cut into the earth for this natural product.

 

You can see the block cuts on the walls and on the ground.

You can see the block cuts on the walls and on the ground.

The rubbish left over would then be carted off to the lime crushing/mixing area of the operation.

The limestone rubbish from removing blocks. This will become fertilizer.

The limestone rubbish from removing blocks. This will become fertilizer.  I love this photo.

We then drove to the next work area where larger blocks had been extracted to be cut down for specific orders.

The stocks of blocks just keep going and going...

The stocks of blocks just keep going and going…

At one of the storage areas is located where they first started extracting limestone from this area.  The curved shapes show where they used to blast the stone to pull it up from above.

The top shows the old techniques of blasting the block away. This left curved edges along the face of the limestone. This was their first excavation location many years ago.

The top shows the old techniques of blasting the block away. This left curved edges along the face of the limestone. This was their first excavation location many years ago.

To keep the public safe while in tours, they ensure the signage is clear for busy work days.  See the signs below on the huge truck they use for transporting the lime.

One big Tonka Truck! Dana would look good driving this beast on site.

One big Tonka Truck! Dana would look good driving this beast on site.

A real castle is being built on the south island, and their designers are specifying limestone veneer exterior and interiors so the walls look like monolithic exterior walls.  The pieces need to be curved on both sides to work with the architect’s drawings.  Piece by piece are marked to be built in a very specific manner so the whole manner is assembled correctly.

Stocks for a custom built castle. On left is Bill Dooley, master stone mason. On right is Bob Wilson, director/manager of Oamaru Stone and our guide on the tour.

Stocks for a custom built castle. On left is Bill Dooley, master stone mason. On right is Bob Wilson, director/manager of Oamaru Stone and our guide on the tour.

The shop area had limestone dust everywhere!

The automated assembly line.

The automated assembly line.

More blocks were ready for shipping to the castle project in the next loading area.

Ready for shipping.

Ready for shipping.

The specific split-face look is actually achieved by hand tools so the edges line up perfectly.  This looks like a ton of work!

Split face veneer stones.

Split face veneer stones.

The size of the saws were 48″ in diameter with Teflon blade edge coatings.

This is the saw they use for cutting the limestones. It is HUGE!

This is the saw they use for cutting the limestones. It is HUGE!

The remaining limestone gets crushed into dust and taken to the sulphur mixing area.  Bill told us a story of how when he was a child New Zealand had the black flu spread across the country.  His father would take some smoldering coal and walk it through their house to kill any bacteria before they went to bed.  The smell of the sulphur burning in this quarry took him back to that memory of his father.

Parkside lime is their other operation, using the left over limestone they combine it with sulphur to make various types of fertilizers and other products for dairy farmers.

Parkside lime is their other operation, using the left over limestone they combine it with sulphur to make various types of fertilizers and other products for dairy farmers.

The limestone dust gets mixed with various other substances as they test out mixtures at different agricultural operations.  Each farmer thinks he/she has the ideal mix blend, so the quarry customizes the orders for their customers.  They dump the lime dust into one bin…

In with the lime.

In with the lime.

…and it gets mixed as per specifications to come out the way it was ordered.

After mixing, to the conveyor and out comes the lime.

After mixing, to the conveyor and out comes the lime.

This “small family business” was anything but small.  These were only a few pictures of their much larger operation.  They even had their own lumber mill on site so they could make their own palettes.  It was truly an awesome experience to see first hand how the materials we use as designers originate from the earth.

Bill then drove Jill and I back to town to see one of the local churches that he built.  Everything is limestone and he spent a few years on this project personally.

Oamaru Church done by Bill Dooley

Oamaru Church done by Bill Dooley

The ornate detailing of the Corinthian capitals on the columns was a delicate blend of detail and skill.  This man was a true expert at his craft.

Oamaru Church done by Bill Dooley

Oamaru Church done by Bill Dooley

Bill has worked with some of New Zealand’s best architects and as such he had an intrigue in spending his day with a Canadian architect and interior designer.  We talked about the industry, where it has been and where its appears to be going.  It was special to get our feet back on the ground after the adventure tourism stuff we had done over the past 4 weeks.  To meet with a master of his craft in our industry and pick at his brain is always an experience to be treasured.

This adventure isn’t only about nature trails or adventure tourism, but its also about furthering ourselves as individuals in all aspects of who we are.  When you get the chance to spend time with someone who is among the best in their business, you should grab it at all costs.

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For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.

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