2012 marks a significant anniversary for the Earth Boring company — 65 years in business. Though Tom Yarley is not here to mark the anniversary, his passion for the trenchless industry lives on through his wife, Carmen, and son, Gene Woodbridge, owners of Earth Boring Co. Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
Tom Yarley’s dedication to and advocacy of trenchless technology helped to establish Earth Boring as one of the leading and most respected trenchless contractors in Canada over the last 30 years and the largest in Ontario. The company’s experience, knowledge and skill in trenchless construction have made it a success with its clients.
Tom Yarley passed away in 1998 but his family and company share and exude his enthusiasm for the trenchless industry and do what they can to educate communities and engineers on the benefits of trenchless technology — and that passion just pours out of both Carmen and Gene when talking about their company and the industry.
“The more educated the engineering firms and municipalities are, the more likely, they will use trenchless methods,” says Earth Boring vice president Gene Woodbridge. “This was something my father saw all those years ago [when he bought Earth Boring]— that trenchless would be a much more predominant element of construction. We tell people: Here is what trenchless is and what it can do for you — not what we can do for them.”
Earth Boring specializes in auger boring, horizontal directional drilling, pipe ramming, pipe jacking, TBM tunneling and hand mining. Working primarily in Ontario, Earth Boring does cross the border and work in the northern United States, such as Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
“We focus solely on trenchless construction,” says Woodbridge. “And that is a point of pride for us. Ninety percent of our work involves water and sewer lines. We are a niche within in a niche market. We believe that this helps our company and crews focus and understand the specific needs of the sewer and water main industry, primarily in Canada.”
Woodbridge knew at an early age that he would follow in his father footsteps, spending his high school and university summers working at Earth Boring doing any number of jobs. Like Tom Yarley, Woodbridge had an enthusiasm for the work they were doing and shared his father’s vision of keeping the business strictly a trenchless operation.
“I have worked with the company since I was 16 years old. I learned to cut and weld and shoot line and grade while working my summers through university,” Woodbridge says. “The day I graduated from university was the first day I started working full time at Earth Boring.”
Tom’s wife Carmen has been a constant with the company, as well, working 25 years in the office and managing the books, equipment and overall business. “I have no plans to ever retire,” says Carmen, who is Earth Boring president.
Earth Boring is the oldest trenchless company in Ontario. Established in Streetsville, Ontario in 1947, Earth Boring started out small, with just a few workers doing hand mining. With the introduction of hydraulics, the 1960s saw Earth Boring doing larger diameter tunnel and auger bore work. By the 1970s and through 1980s, auger boring began to really catch on in construction circles and it was added to Earth Boring repertoire of services and in the 1990s, horizontal directional drilling was added.
“We weren’t the first HDD contractor in Ontario but we were definitely one of the first,” Woodbridge says. “We also got into what was at the time large diameter pipe ramming and directional drilling. Today, we own the largest directional drill [at 1.1 million lbs]in Ontario.”
Today, Earth Boring has eight Barbco and American Augers auger boring machines ranging from 12 to 74 in. and has six American Augers directional drill rigs, ranging from 40,000 lbs to 1.1 million lbs, as well as two Robbins TBMs and five Robbins SBU disc cutter units. All told, the Earth Boring yard is home to 40 pieces of construction equipment.
Tom Yarley was a civil engineer by profession and had worked extensively with the previous owner of Earth Boring. When that owner decided to retire, Tom Yarley didn’t hesitate to purchase the company and make it his own and expand it. He also knew he wanted to keep the operation purely trenchless. That was in 1982, which is considered the infancy of trenchless technology.
Carmen Yarley laughs when remembering the early years of working in the office without computers, email or any social media for marketing — all critical facets to running a company today. “What a difference in the way things were done in the early 1980s to today,” she says, noting she did payroll by hand and kept track of everything in a green ledger.
As a civil engineer, Tom Yarley recognized early on how trenchless technology would be critical to the state of rehabbing and replacing the underground infrastructure. His son has carried on that vision and also serves as the past president and current treasurer with the Greater Toronto Sewer and Watermain Contractors Association.
Canada’s infrastructure is in the same predicament as other countries: It’s aging and in need of upgrades to meet the demand but money is scarce. Some of Canada’s water lines are 100-plus years old and the water and sewer lines that were installed in the 1940s and 1950s are well outside their design life. In many cases, open-cut is not an option. “As time ticks on, the cost of repairing and fixing [the infrastructure]is increasing,” Woodbridge says. “Nobody wants to put money into something as unsexy as underground pipes. You are seeing the same thing going on in the United States.”
“That is why we give trenchless presentations through [Centre for the Advancement of Trenchless Technology] and NASTT,” says Earth Boring operations manager John Currey. “We’ve really focused on the environmental and social impacts of trenchless technology. We do not give a sales pitch. It’s about what trenchless can do for them.”
Keys to Success
How does a company stay in business for so long? In the case of Earth Boring, several factors come into play, including the experience of its workers, the quality of its work and its passion for the trenchless industry, which spills over to its workforce.
The company has 45 employees and very low turnover, with a majority having more than 20 years with the company — a few have 40-plus years. Currey has been with Earth Boring since 1994. The owners describe their employees as hard-working and determined.
“Why has this company been around for 65 years?” asks Currey. “To me, it’s obvious in the product that Earth Boring delivers for its clients. They have come to know, trust and respect our opinion and the work we do and our passion for the industry. Gene and Carmen exhibit that every day.”
And because they are a family-operated business, Carmen and Gene get to talk about trenchless all day long. “There is rarely a time when we are not talking business,” Carmen Yarley says. “It doesn’t take a break and we don’t mind. We love it.”
Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor for Trenchless Technology.