Family of Wreckers make good

Published 18/12, 2017 at 16:39

The Perkin family in South Africa has meant a great deal to the country’s demolition and dismantling industry. PDi Editor, Kevin Mayhew, reports.

When the Galleria building was imploded in September, (PDI page 69) three members of the Perkin family were involved in designing the blast, counting it down and pushing the button to set it in motion. They have helped shape the demolition and dismantling industry in South Africa. 

Tucked away in the Johannesburg suburb of Midrand is the modest headquarters of the Wreckers Group of Companies. It houses the brains of the company which, since finding its roots in South Africa in the 1980s, has spread its tentacles to all corners of Africa and the world.

Leading the charge for its demolition and dismantling activities are Michael Perkin, who is no stranger to international demolition, son Kyle and daughter Emma. She has the rare distinction as a woman of actually being involved in explosive demolition as well as running the financial side of the business.


So where did it begin?

“I have been involved in demolition since 1966 when I joined A Ogden & Sons in Yorkshire, England, and began with a jack hammer and 14 pound hammer,” said Wreckers chairman and chief explosives engineer Michael Perkin. “We would demolish chimneys 100 feet high almost by hand, so I learnt the value of doing it safely and carefully, as the only outcome of a mistake was injury or death.” 

He was the tenth member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers in the UK, now an international organisation, and has authored authoritative manuals on demolition still in use today.

“In the late 1960s/1970s I was given the opportunity to learn about explosives and first went to ICI Ardeer in Scotland, where explosives were manufactured,” said Perkin. “At ICI a course was held for people getting involved in the explosives industry. This involved understanding the main principles of the manufacturing process, safe use and handling of explosives, detonation and the dynamics and the sheer power of what we were going to be using, and the hazards involved.”  

The next step was to get a licence to use explosives and to become a member of the IEE. Following this he practised demolishing all types of structures on big industrial sites, like power stations, steelworks and coal mine sites that were becoming redundant. These were in industrial areas far away from the civilian population and ideal for testing explosives demolition.

Perkin improved his knowledge with a stint at Du Pont in America to get a diploma in surface blasting and quarrying work. And in the late 70s he undertook the first implosion of a block of flats in Europe, called Oak and Eldon Gardens, in Birkenhead near Liverpool. This led to implosions in London, including work close to the London Underground tunnels, so he had to master minimal vibration, as well as countless other structures throughout the UK.

In 1981 Perkin was introduced to South Africa as a consultant to the country’s power utility, Eskom. He carried out the consultancy on behalf of Ogden to assist in solving a problem at Matla Power Station in Mpumalanga involving a chimney that had partially collapsed during construction. This led to an approach from a local major earthworks company DIG, based in Johannesburg, to quote for demolition of a city block directly opposite South Africa’s premier business club, The Rand Club, with its colonial design and priceless ornate windows and doors.

“After returning to the UK I was contacted to say I had been awarded the contract so I returned to Johannesburg to undertake the first Implosion of a city block in South Africa,” said Perkin. “It went very well, but was complicated and included demolishing around a tenant who refused to move and would not sell his property for the new development.”


Family joined in

Further South African activity, in Johannesburg and Durban during 1983 led Perkin, for personal reasons, to establish a joint company with DIG called Wreckers, and the family joined him the following year.  

“Ultimately, my late partner and I broke away and established what is the Wreckers of today. Working out of South Africa we have continued operating all over the world, including implosion firsts in Australia, Japan, the US, (by a non-American company), Namibia, Nigeria and Zambia, as well as consultancy work all around the world,” said Perkin.

In 1993 his daughter Emma joined the company in a financial capacity. During this period she got involved with the explosives side of the business before becoming too busy with the accounting and was appointed financial director. She insisted on being part of the Galleria project, and pushed the button for the implosion after her dad counted down the blast, something she had never done before.

“I always wanted to get involved in the business and learnt a lot from my brief introduction to the on-site activities. This is very useful today, as I know how difficult it is to accurately price for any demolition work because of variables that pop up unexpectedly. The site staff do not have to waste time trying to explain a problem as I have an idea of what is needed to complete the job, unlike somebody who only knows the rands and cents,” said Emma Perkin.

In 2006 his son Kyle joined the company and threw himself into learning, particularly from soaking up the vast knowledge of his father and other older experienced employees in all areas of demolition work. He is now one of only three demolition blasters in South Africa.

“I have practical experience in all areas of demolition and dismantling on both concrete and steel structures, including eight years of implosions,” said Wreckers contracts manager and demolition blaster Kyle Perkin.

After working alongside his father for many demolitions he was solely responsible for the design of the blasting of the Galleria building in September.

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