Growing up on a ranch just outside of Post, Texas, Brandon Bird discovered his passion for pipelining while working with his dad in junior high and high school. When Bird graduated from Texas Tech a few years later, he knew exactly what he wanted to do — start his very own pipeline company. Now, with 23 years under his belt, his company, Brandon Bird Utilities Construction, is responsible for installing and rehabbing gas lines throughout the Lubbock, Texas, area. Bird employs more than 50 highly trained individuals and owns a fleet of equipment that includes excavators, several Vermeer trenchers and one D8x12 Navigator horizontal directional drill (HDD) from Vermeer, a NUCA Sustaining National Partner.
“With the size of the installs we normally do and the location, open-cut installation methods usually make the most sense for the majority of our jobs,” Bird explained. “However, there are still times where we need to bore gas service lines, which is why we added the compact Vermeer D8x12 HDD unit in the spring of 2018.”
Horizontal directional drilling isn’t new to Brandon Bird Utilities Construction. At one point the company owned and operated several drills, but Bird determined several years back that at the time it was more economical to enlist HDD subcontractors to do the trenchless work when needed. However, as infrastructure work around the area has increased in recent years, those subcontractors are busy with other jobs, and Bird doesn’t have the time to wait. So, he decided it was good timing to get back into the HDD business.
Finding the Right Size Rig
The gas service installs that Brandon Bird Utilities Construction usually performs does not warrant the need for a large HDD since most of these projects are smaller-diameter short bores. “The bores we were outsourcing were usually located in tight urban areas,” Bird explained. “So, we didn’t want to get anything too big because it may be hard to maneuver in alleys or around buildings. We also wanted a machine that was convenient to use and priced right.”
Bird communicated that information to his local Vermeer Texas-Louisiana dealer sales representative, Mitch McCalib, who introduced him to the new D8x12. Sized for working in tight spaces, this compact HDD features straightforward controls and delivers quiet operations.
“Horizontal directional drilling rigs have come a long way since we worked on that side of the business, and I’m sure all of the technology in today’s machines make a huge difference for contractors specializing in that line of work,” Bird added. “However, we wanted a more basic machine, something like we used to run — that’s what we got with the Vermeer D8x12 rig. It still has a lot of great features to help our guys get work done quickly and safely, and it’s priced to be a real value. It’s the exact machine for our needs.”
Getting the Team Up to Speed
McCalib, with the support of the rest of the team at the Vermeer dealership, made sure everyone on the new HDD crew for Brandon Bird Utilities Construction had what they needed to start drilling. “Mitch (McCalib) told us what locating system we should be using and what tooling we should have for the type of installs we do,” explained Bird.
Chris Altman and Richard Serenil, two seasoned equipment operators for Brandon Bird Utilities Construction, became the proud new operators of the Vermeer D8x12 HDD. “The guys from Vermeer brought the drill out, and they spent a lot of time with us going through the controls and helping us learn how to operate it,” Altman said. “By the end, I had already completed my first successful bore. They did a great job of making sure we were up to speed, and Mitch has also been extremely responsive to any questions we’ve had since then.”
Altman went on to say how impressed he was with the controls on the D8x12. “It was real quick to sit down and feel comfortable with how everything worked. And with the locator we’re using (the DCI DigiTrak Falcon F5 location system), I can see where I’m at on a bore from the seat of the rig. It does all of the hard work.”
The Brandon Bird Utilities Construction HDD crew has been impressed with the productivity of the D8x12 since putting it to work. Bird and Altman both agree that it has plenty of power to do the 200- to 400-ft small-diameter shots they need under roadways and in areas where trenching is not an option.
“We’re primarily using the drill to install 2-in. poly pipe in urban areas,” Altman said. “Some shots are more challenging than others, like a recent 275-ft bore we did down an alleyway near an apartment building. We couldn’t restrict access to the apartments, so our equipment had to be strategically placed. We also had to do a lot of potholing to make sure we knew exactly where other utilities were located. Once all of that was done, we got to work, and honestly it didn’t take us long to complete. There were no complaints from people living in the apartments — that’s sometimes one of the best compliments a crew can get.”
With a narrow footprint of just 35.5-in., the D8x12 is suited well for jobs like this. It also has an onboard 25-gal fluid tank, which helps on short bores when it’s not possible to get additional equipment near the drill. On most projects, the Brandon Bird Utilities Construction team connects the drill’s pump to a 300-gal tank they carry on the back of one of their trucks.
Saving Time and Reducing Expenses
According to Bird, adding the Vermeer D8x12 HDD has helped his crews better meet their customers’ timelines and reduced the company’s expenses. “Waiting on subcontractors was really starting to become a challenge. Waiting meant we couldn’t wrap projects up as quickly as we wanted to. On top of that, the costs to hire subcontractors was steadily increasing. With the Vermeer D8x12 HDD, we are no longer waiting on someone else, and we’ve been able to do a better job of managing our expenses. We’re really glad we made the investment,” he concluded.
Kayla Breja is Senior Marketing Specialist – Utility for Vermeer Corp., Pella, Iowa.