Melfred Borzall Turns 70

2016 is a year of milestones and transitions for Melfred Borzall.

This is the company’s 70th anniversary year and also marks the transition to the third generation of Melsheimer family leadership.

Melfred Borzall was founded in Los Angeles in 1946 by Fred Melsheimer, a true industry pioneer. He developed the “wet” or slurry boring process, adapting oilfield techniques and literally turning them on their side to more productively install natural gas lines and electrical conduit. All modern HDD has its roots in Fred Melsheimer’s slurry boring process.

Fred’s son, Dick Melsheimer, guided the company through some of its greatest growth and innovation. After graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as a mechanical engineer, Dick Melsheimer joined the company full time in 1961 and accelerated the innovations. Like his father, he had a real genius for mechanical design. Working with his brother, Ted Melsheimer, he developed hydraulic powered drill rigs and the “Dynamole,” a self-propelled boring machine that could bore and pull in over 2,000 ft of PE gas pipe per day.

In the late 1970s, Dick Melsheimer developed the first electronic drill bit locator, the precursor to today’s HDD locating equipment. Dick Melsheimer was always looking for ways to improve drilling productivity. In the late 1980s, using newly improved locating equipment, he designed and built the Sure Shot – one of the very first directional drill rigs. He developed several very important safety tools, including the first electric strike alarm — the Zapalert, the Insul-Tool line of insulated boring tools, and the first remote HDD operator’s station. As the HDD industry matured and larger companies such as Ditch Witch and Vermeer entered the market, Dick Melsheimer guided Melfred Borzall toward its current focus on HDD tooling.

“Drilling tools have always been our strength. Our goal is to make every manufacturer’s HDD rig run better with the right drilling tools,” says Dick Melsheimer.

Peter and Eric Melsheimer — grandsons of founder Fred Melsheimer — both virtually grew up in the company. Summers during high school were spent assembling couplings, running turret lathes and drill presses, painting and sweeping.

Peter Melsheimer began his professional Melfred Borzall career at the very start of modern HDD. His mechanical engineering senior project at the University of the Pacific was the design of a sonde housing to be used with the Sure Shot. This design formed the basis of Melfred Borzall sonde housing designs for many years to come. Peter Melsheimer’s engineering skills were soon bolstered with practical drilling and sales experience as Peter demonstrated the Sure Shot from coast to coast and educated the underground utility industry on the possibilities of HDD.

“Those years of demonstrating — with light, lower powered equipment and first generation locating equipment were extremely challenging. But it really emphasized to us the crucial importance of properly designed tooling for successful HDD. Cutter placement, clearances, fluid port placement — small refinements can make all the difference for a successful bore,” says Peter Melsheimer.

Eric Melsheimer came to Melfred Borzall after working several years in aerospace. After graduating from Princeton and Stanford, he worked at Rocketdyne and later at Cal Tech. “I had always loved rockets and spacecraft. But the reality of aerospace at that time was of going from one canceled project to another. It was so rewarding to come back to Melfred Borzall and be able to learn of a problem from a customer, design a solution, build that tool and then go out and use it to solve that customer’s challenge,” he says.

Eric Melsheimer also jumped straight into HDD. In his first month at Melfred Borzall, he trained a drill crew to use the Sure Shot to make the first successful HDD river crossing ever in New Zealand.

Eighth Decade and Beyond

As the company begins its eighth decade, Dick Melsheimer has moved into a “President Emeritus” role. His years of HDD experience, genius for mechanical design, and great personality continue to support Melfred Borzall as he works in the field with HDD drillers and Melfred Borzall dealers. “I’ve made so many great friends in this industry. I really enjoy spending time on job sites and finding new solutions to drilling challenges,” Dick Melsheimer says.

His new position also gives him more time to pursue another passion — promoting manufacturing education. Dick Melsheimer leads an outreach that brings welding training to career days at local high schools. “We suit up the kids and teach them to arc weld a small project. They kids love it and it really opens their eyes and gets them thinking about what they can do after graduation,” he says.

While Eric Melsheimer now has the title of president, the brothers share the leadership responsibilities at Melfred Borzall, with Peter Melsheimer heading the marketing and sales efforts and Eric Melsheimer directing engineering and production. “It’s a real partnership. We try to leverage each other’s strengths,” Eric Melsheimer shares.

“We are very excited about the direction the company is going. There is some real momentum as we combine 21st century manufacturing and design, new sales and marketing approaches with the knowledge of 70 years in underground construction,” Peter Melsheimer adds. “We are very humbled and fortunate to be able to step into leadership roles at Melfred Borzall. There is a long legacy of innovation and customer service from our father and grandfather. We are looking forward to continuing that tradition.”
Diane Farnsworth is with Melfred Borzall.

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