March 2020 Vol. 75 No. 3

Editor's Log

Reunion and Reflection

In late 2018, a germ of an idea was floated about that turned into a true gem of an idea – how about having a reunion for the horizontal directional drilling industry?

It sounded like a great concept. HDD, in it’s 50-plus years of existence, has clearly become a game-changer for the underground infrastructure construction industry. It is a disruptive technology that truly changed the way underground pipes and cables are installed. There are few, if any, contractors who don’t consider using HDD on energy pipelines, gas distribution, telecom, electric and water projects.

HDD also changed the way consulting engineers developed their project planning. Coffer dams have decreased from frequent use on pipeline projects to rare. In the early 90s, I attended “lunch-and-learn” seminars conducted by some of the early large-rig drillers. As engineers became comfortable with the capabilities and performance of HDD, pipeline construction went through a metamorphosis. Today, when planning a project, one of the very first steps in the process is to determine areas along the route that will need to be drilled, whether it be a body of water or an environmentally sensitive area.

It also changed the way owning companies view their new construction projects. Their confidence in the capabilities, quality, flexibility and economics of HDD is essential to any job.

When HDD really cranked up in the late 80s, it steadily spread from those early large rigs to small units as well. The small, mid-sized and large rigs are all driven by many of the same markets, yet each carved out its own area of specialty, such as telecom for small rigs and energy pipelines for large rigs.

HDD exploded onto the market in a way few could have foreseen. Yet for all of its growth, it remains a compact, tight-knit industry – especially for those who have been active since the “early days.” All these points to be considered, hosting a reunion for this unique market had to happen.

Thanks to the enthusiastic participation of friends (and long-time HDD participants) Grady Bell and Jay Miller,
a reunion plan was hatched. Underground Construction magazine has always provided the leading coverage of the market and UCT, since 1995, was the established growth mechanism for the HDD market, making the event an obvious choice
to host a reunion.

It was also agreed that the time had come for an HDD Hall of Fame. There are so many who have contributed to the growth, development and success of the industry that any kind of reunion needed to initiate the process of honoring those individuals who reinvented underground construction.

Word of a possible HDD reunion quickly spread and was greeted with the enthusiasm one has come to expect from such a group. By late spring 2019, industry partners and sponsors were lining up to support the event. Details were hammered out and suddenly, the idea had arrived. A full-on HDD Reunion and Hall of Fame were a reality.

An industry committee was formed to select the first members of the Hall of Fame. It was an obvious choice, as two men stood out as true pioneers in the development of HDD. Dating back to the 60s, Dick Melsheimer’s efforts, particularly in small units, and Martin Cherrington’s work in larger rigs, laid the foundation for HDD as we know it today. At an overflowing UCT educational session, the two shared the stage answering questions from both moderators and the audience, reveling all with tales of the trials and tribulations experienced throughout their remarkable careers.

The expanded HDD portion of the UCT educational program included a heavy focus on various aspects of technology, job performance and case history. The annual HDD Contractors Roundtable drew high interest and praise from an overflowing audience. The Distribution Contractors Association conducted a well-received panel on drilling mud disposal and related issues.

The exhibit hall grew as well with many additional HDD exhibitors enjoying the opportunity to meet with the influx of customers and friends attending UCT as part of the reunion activities.

It was all fantastic; but the HDD Reunion reception blew us away.

Attendance swelled to more than double our expectations. Hall of Fame inductees Dick and Martin were formally introduced to the crowd, and their exploits cited, all to rousing applause. Smiles were everywhere as both old players and new participants greeted each other, shared tall tales and even talked a little business.

I confess I was one of the old-timers – talking, shaking hands, connecting with friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen in years. We discussed the past and the future of this remarkable industry. It was a great time to be involved with HDD. •

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