“If it involves digging dirt, we do it,” is the way Dakota Lunsford responds when asked what his company C.H.M. Construction LLC (CHM) does. Right now, in Parker County, Texas, outside of Fort Worth, that’s an excellent business to be in. Communities like Azle and Weatherford are in the middle of a housing development boom. Builders can’t put them up fast enough. Before the first board is framed, underground infrastructure must be installed, which happens to involve digging dirt, CHM’s specialty.
The business was established by Lunsford’s dad in 1998, under the name Lunsford Backhoe Service, when digging dirt used to mean burying sewer septic systems. Since Dakota took over the Springtown, Texas-based business 13 years ago, he rebranded CHM after the names of his wife and two oldest daughters, and expanded its service depth to include water, sewer, storm drainage, fibre and telecommunications. He also invested in a lot of equipment to do all the extra work. CHM’s fleet today includes a Vermeer T555 Commander® 3 trencher for water and sewer work, a Vermeer D24x40 Series II Navigator® horizontal directional drill (HDD) for fibre and telecommunications jobs, several backhoes, multiple mini excavators and a couple of dozers.
All dirt is not created equal in Texas
Lunsford says being versatile is the key to his company’s growth. “We do a good job of shifting our focus and with the changing volumes of work out there,” he said. “For the last year and a half, the area’s hot housing market is what’s pushing us. Even though I say if it involves dirt, we can do it; around the Parker County area, much of the new development involves a lot of rock. To do water installs right in those types of conditions takes a special machine that delivers the optimal production while keeping our costs in check.”
The machine Lunsford refers to is the Vermeer T755 Commander 3 trencher that he rented for the first time in 2019 from Vermeer Texas-Louisiana. “We were working on a mainline water installation project in Azle, Texas, and we weren’t keeping up the way I would have liked to,” explained Lunsford. “So, I got on the phone to my sales representative at Vermeer Texas-Louisiana and asked him what he had that could help us get more footage installed faster. We talked about the kind of rock we were working in, and he told me the T755III could handle it.”
Skeptical about whether it would be able to power through the dense rock they were digging, the CHM crew put the rented trencher to work.
“That part of Parker County has some of the hardest rock we’ve ever worked in, and we were working on a hill,” explained Lunsford. “Well, when we fired up the T755III trencher, we may have started slow, but once we crested the hill, we were moving about 15 ft (4.6 m) per minute. That’s about as fast as you want to go if you want the rest of the team to keep up with that machine. From there, we averaged out at about 1100 ft (335.3 m) of trenching and installs a day. It kept everyone’s head down working.”
New job, same location
At the start of this year, CHM started a month-long project in the same part of Parker County, laying 20 000 ft (6096 m) of 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 in. (20.3, 15.2, 10.2 and 2.5 cm) PVC pipe at depths of 6 ft (1.8 m). Based on their experience with the T755III the summer before, CHM rented the same machine again.
“Even though we own a smaller trencher and have several excavators, the T755III with an 8 ft (2.4 m) boom made the most sense for this project,” said Lunsford. “There were some areas on the job where we had cut deeper or required a wider ditch than our trencher was set up to do. Also, excavators would have made a heck of a mess. We would have had to bring in a lot more fill material and haul away the chunky rock we dug up.”
With the T755III, the crew used the material coming from its conveyor belt as fill. “After the trench is cut, we add 6 - 8 in. (15.2 - 20.3 cm) of sand to the bottom of the ditch,” said Lunsford. “We place the pipe in the ground and then cover it with another 8 - 12 in. (20.3 - 30.5 cm) of sand. After that, the rest of the trench is filled in with the material left by the trencher with a dozer. Anything left over is fanned out. We don’t have to haul away any of it.”
Daily, the 14-person crew working on this water project averaged between 1500 and 2000 ft (457.2 and 609.6 m) of trenching, sanding, installing the pipe and backfilling. After that was finished, they made sure everything looked clean so the next construction phase could begin. The 20 000 ft (609.6 m) of water pipe took CHM 25 days to wrap up from start to finish.
Good work leading to more work
With lots being purchased around the area, the build-out timeline for many of these new housing development areas is ahead of schedule. And since water lines are one of the first parts of the process, Lunsford is keeping the T755III around a bit longer than he expected.“Developers see us working that machine and the kind of production we’re getting from it, then stop by the site to talk about it,” said Lunsford. “That’s helped us land more work without really having to chase it. So, I think we’ll be here for a while.”
While the type of work CHM is doing around Parker County is similar, Lunsford is also a big believer in looking at the economics of the equipment they use on a job. “When it comes to this type of work, I try to make equipment decisions based on what is going to be the most efficient way to complete the job,” he explained. “Sure, we already own a track trencher, and we have backhoes, but every time material is handled, there is a type of cost involved. It is measured in time and dollars. So, if a ditch is cut deeper or wider than it needs to be, we’re moving extra material. Bringing in additional backfill and hauling away the material that came out of the trench is a cost. Those costs in time and out-of-pocket expenses really add up in extra time to jobs and profit margins.”
Lunsford believes the right machine for the job is the one that minimises the amount of material you have to dig up and the number of times it has to be handled. He also looks at a machine’s operating costs and says he’s happy with how the T755III fits into that category.
“Track trenchers are big, powerful machines that do use a lot of fuel, but the extra production offsets that,” he explained. “We also get asked how often we’re replacing teeth on the trencher because of how hard the ground is where we’re working. In this past month, we’ve trenched 20 000 ft (609.6 m) with it and haven’t had to change a tooth yet. So, while I know we’ll have to, it’s sure doesn’t seem like it has a significant impact on our operating costs.”
One of the reasons Lunsford is so invested in finding the most efficient and productive installation methods on projects is because CHM isn’t his only company. He also owns a welding/fabrication shop in Springtown and recently launched an internet service business. So far, his team has bored 30 000 feet (9144 m) of fibre conduit around the Springtown community.
“I want to get more fibre laid for that business, but we’re so busy on these water projects, it’s hard to find the time,” he said. “I’m not complaining, though.”
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Read the article online at: https://www.worldpipelines.com/special-reports/01092022/c-hm-construction-digging-track-trenching-for-water-infrastructure-projects/