CONTRACTOR PROFILE: Rock Boring Not So Boring

Arecent trend in the communications industry is increasing the placement of fiber optics underground, rather than aerial. Fiber-optic communication is a widely used method of transmitting information at a high bandwidth using optical fibers. It is used by telecommunications companies for Internet communication and to transmit telephone and cable television signals.

Above-ground installation of the wires and cables needed to transmit the data for fiber optics may be a thing of the past. Lately, the practice of hiding fiber optics underground in conduits has become more common. To accomplish this, trenchless methods, particularly horizontal directional drilling (HDD), are necessary. In residential areas for example, local ordinances and building specifications often require utilities to be buried for aesthetic purposes. Although it can sometimes be more costly to building owners, underground installation can also protect utilities from storms and other weather damage.

Anyone involved in trenchless construction knows directional boring is a central component to the industry. Gayman Construction Inc., based in Bolivar, Mo., specializes in directional boring for fiber-optic installation, plowing, trenching, rock saw, rock trench and general excavation. Over the last 28 years, owner and founder Doug Gayman has worked his way into the drilling industry and has now become a preferred contractor in the state of Missouri.   

But Gayman said he actually started the business by accident and that he never really intended on getting into directional drilling as a profession. He first got into the construction industry in 1984 after working for a friend who owned a backhoe company.

He recalls a bad flood in Missouri in 1986 that damaged a plant owned by General Telephone and Electronics (GTE). Gayman worked on the job to renovate and modernize the plant, working in fiber-optic installation for the company. As merges took place, he was also contracted by companies like Sprint and Alltel.

Getting Started

Gayman’s company began drilling in 1988, mainly in the southwest Missouri region. He used a single road crew and did routine work as a subcontractor for local jobs. Gayman said he didn’t start working on high-profile jobs until the early 1990s when he became a full-service telephone contractor. Today, Gayman employs 47 people and does approximately $12 million worth of annual revenue.

While the bulk of the business is fiber-optic installation through directional boring, Gayman said the company also performs specialty boring for sewer, gas and water utilities, mainly drilling though rock that other drillers can’t tackle.

“Lots of companies in our area avoid or can’t do drilling work in rock,” Gayman said. “That’s just the landscape of the area.” Other than Missouri, Gayman has worked on jobs in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. He said that it wasn’t until those high-profile jobs in the 1990s that he was able to gain more revenue. This enabled the company to buy better drilling equipment, particularly drills that were efficient at drilling through rock.

Gayman said a good example of this was a recently completed drilling job in Hot Springs, Ark. For that job, the company used a Ditch Witch All Terrain Rock Hammer, an all-terrain directional drill featuring high drilling torque and a wide range of speeds for maximum productivity in a wide range of ground formations. He said on another job in Missouri, the company once completed 2,700 ft of rock boring in a two-and-a-half week period.

 According to Ditch Witch, all-terrain air hammer drills are designed to penetrate extremely hard rock of 20,000 to 35,000 psi and harder, where rotary units and mud motors lose effectiveness. They are more than 50 percent more productive in hard rock than rotary drilling. Unlike other air hammers on the market, the all-terrain air hammers require no oiler or drilling mud, which reduces overall cost of production.

“Ditch Witch machines were the answer to a lot of our problems,” Gayman said. “We get really good production on those machines. It turned a driller’s nightmare into a very reasonable task.”

Gayman’s drill rig arsenal includes two Ditch Witch 4020 All Terrain directional drills, equip to bore with mud systems and a mechanical rock drilling system that gives more power to the bit; three 3020 All Terrain Rock Hammer drills, which include an advanced dual-drive pipe system and a hydraulic, heavy-duty anchor system that can steer, drill and backream up to 650 ft; three 3020 Class Boring machines for dirt drilling; and three 2020 dirt drills among others.

Drilling Conditions   

But drilling in tough conditions is not without its challenges. In terms of the drilling itself, Gayman said the challenge is being able to properly plan and execute a job regardless of conditions. He referenced a sewer bore the company did in south Springfield, Ill., in which the diameter of the hole was large and made controlling the drill difficult.

“Drilling through completely solid rock is actually easier,” he said. “When you are in and out of rock, it gets harder. Once you drill your pilot hole, dirt pockets can form and it’s difficult to keep your reamer straight because it wants to go where the dirt is, not the rock, especially on a large diameter hole.” 

Gayman said that while the equipment and technology in the drilling industry is always getting better, the difficulties aren’t always with the drilling work. “The biggest challenges are increased government regulations,” he said. “There are always issues with the type of fuel we burn and whether it is environmentally friendly and there are also government regulations on moving equipment from state to state. Sometimes it’s tough to simply do things in a legally acceptable way, as regulations are always changing.”

Andrew Farr is an assistant editor for Trenchless Technology.
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