Just outside Florence, South Carolina, next to a busy Interstate 95 interchange, a six-person team from MH&S (Monty Hicks & Son) Directional LLC based out of New Zion, South Carolina, was wrapping up another challenging large-diameter water installation project. Like so many other times in the past 15 years, the City of Florence called upon the father and son team to make a critical crossing under the interstate.
“Anytime you’re working under an interstate, there is added pressure,” explained MH&S owner Monty Hicks. “However, on this particular crossing, we contended with soft soil conditions and groundwater. It’s a lot for a crew to think through, but in the end, we pushed a 24-in. diameter steel casing 400 ft under I-95 in just over one-and-a-half days.”
The auger boring project under I-95 is the City of Florence’s new business development initiative to bring more jobs to the area. The casing under the interstate carries a 12-in. water line to connect city water to the new Buc-EE’s convenience store and gas station being built. City of Florence project supervisor Doug Poston oversaw the project and said Monty Hicks and his son, Bryan, are among the best at performing trenchless water and sewer installations in the area. “We’ve worked with them for a long time, and they’ve always gotten the job done right and on time. They specialize in this type of work, which can make a huge difference on jobs like this one,” Poston explained.
Poston knows bringing in a specialist for a job like this one is important because he’s had firsthand experience watching another trenchless contractor struggle on this exact project. “We called in MH&S after it became apparent to us that another contractor, who specializes more on the telecommunications side of things, struggled even to begin this bore,” he explained. “In these ground conditions, surveying and having a good plan are critical to doing the job successfully. Once crews start boring, they need to continue to push the casing through the ground until the job is done or risk material falling into the hole around it. Monty and Bryan understood that which is why we quickly made the switch on this one.”
Upgrading Auger Boring Machines
Since 2005, MH&S has been installing large-diameter water and sewer lines using McLaughlin auger boring machines and On-Target Steering System (OTS), as well as mid-size Vermeer horizontal directional drills (HDD). For this challenging bore, though, MH&S deployed the newest addition to their equipment fleet — the McLaughlin MCL 225 auger boring system — which is capable of installing casing from 16 to 72 in.in diameter. Bryan Hicks said this new unit gives them the ability to take on even larger and longer bores.
“For years, we’ve pushed the limits of our five other McLaughlin auger boring machines doing long shots and working in some pretty challenging ground conditions,” he explained. “With the wide range of casing sizes it can handle, as well as how quickly and easily it makes setup and reduces auger removal cycle times, this new auger boring machine is really a game changer for us.”
MH&S took delivery of the MCL 225 on the Florence project, and a McLaughlin application engineer stuck around to help the crew get started with the bore. Ahead of time, MH&S’s team prepared a 19-ft pit on the entry side of the bore that required two weeks of pumping out groundwater saturating the pit. After establishing a gravel base, the crew positioned the tracks of the MCL 225, as well as the wide-body, low-profile auger boring machine. This design reduces the need to pour a concrete foundation in the pit — a common requirement for most auger boring machines.
On the front of the first casing, the crew used a 24-in. McLaughlin OTS head to aid with steering. “In these conditions, having to pull augers to make any steering adjustments could mean the difference between success and failure,” said Bryan Hicks. “Using the OTS, we knew where we were the whole time and successfully hit our exit depth of 28 in.”
The steel casing was completely in place after just a day and a half. After that, they quickly pulled out the augers using the MCL 225 Rabbit Travel feature that makes short work of cycling time. Then, they ran the 12-in. water line through the casing in around six hours. From the time they started the bore to the time they pulled the last auger out, everything was done in two-and-a-half days.
Poston said the work MH&S did on this job was so impressive that it attracted a bit of a crowd. “We had a few people from the city out there watching because it all just went so quick,” he said. “I was also surprised by how quiet the machine ran. I’ve been around a lot of auger boring machines, and this by far was the quietest.”
While MH&S excels at difficult interstate crossings, where the company has earned its reputation is on a project that requires precise product placement. On a recent project at the Fort Jackson Military Base in Columbia, South Carolina, project’s general contractor TCO Construction brought MH&S to handle a challenging trenchless portion of a hot water lines installation job.
“The boiler system on the base was being upgraded, which included installing new hot water lines — one carried hot water to other buildings and a parallel return line brought it back to the boiler,” explained Bryan Hicks. “Most of the work was done using open-cut methods, but there was a 400-ft section under the driveway to the fire station that had to be bored. The way the driveway was positioned was on a hill, so there was a lot of required steering.”
MH&S used a McLaughlin MCL 30/36B auger boring machine along with the OTS. An entry pit was created at the bottom of the hill for entry, and crews bored at 2 percent grade 400 ft to install the first 24-in. steel casing. From start to finish, the bore had an elevation increase of approximately 8 ft.
After that, the crew moved over 7 ft and did it all over again. “Both casings lined up perfectly when we were done, which is no easy task,” said Bryan Hicks. “The slightest steering mistake could have led to those pipes being misaligned, and the only way to know is to visibly check when it’s all done. That’s why the OTS is such an essential tool for us. It helps guides us to where we need to be.”
Employing the McLaughlin OTS also helped the MH&S team work efficiently on the job. “Each bore only took us about four days to complete,” he added. “It would have taken much longer to do if we had to pull augers to check our grade or right/left alignment.”
Lexington Sewer Project
After wrapping up the Fort Jackson project, MH&S took on a tricky on-grade sewer installation project that required them to exit into an existing maintenance hole. Using a 20-in. OTS head and its MCL 30/36B, the crew bored 200 ft to fix an existing gravity sewer grade issue.
“The original sewer line was set incorrectly between subdivisions and made tying another subdivision impossible,” Bryan Hicks explained. “To correct the problem, we took out the maintenance hole between where the grade was set too steep and ran a new line at a .04 percent grade over 200 ft to create a new tie in and exit into the maintenance hole exactly where the old line connected. Right, left, up, and down, everything was perfect.”
More Work Ahead
After wrapping up the City of Florence auger boring project, Monty and Bryan Hicks have several even larger-diameter bores lined up for their new MCL 225. Monty Hicks believes what has set them apart in a competitive field is their team’s expertise with water and sewer installs, whether the job calls for auger boring or HDD. “For long bores, we have mid-size drills that can handle larger-diameter lines over long distances, and we’re also the contractor others sub out to when auger boring is required on the job. We can do it all.”