May 2021 Vol. 76 No.5


Track Trenching for Water Infrastructure Projects

“If it involves digging dirt, we do it,” is the way Dakota Lunsford responds when asked what his company, C.H.M. Construction LLC, does. Right now, in Parker County, Texas, outside of Ft. 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 construct homes fast enough. Before the first board is framed, underground infrastructure must be installed, which happens to involve digging dirt – C.H.M. Construction’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 C.H.M. Construction after the names of his wife and two oldest daughters, and expanded its service depth to include water, sewer, storm drainage, fiber and telecommunications. 

He also invested in equipment to do all the extra work. C.H.M. Construction’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 fiber and telecommunications jobs, several backhoes, multiple mini excavators and a couple of dozers. 

Lunsford says being versatile is the key to his company’s growth. 

“We do a good job of shifting our focus 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 and asked 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, the C.H.M. Construction 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 trencher, we may have started slowly, but once we crested the hill, we were moving about 15 feet 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 1,100 feet of trenching and installs a day. It kept everyone’s head down working.” 

New job, same solution 

At the start of this year, C.H.M. Construction started a month-long project in the same part of Parker County, laying 20,000 feet of 8-, 6-, 4-, 2- and 1-inch PVC pipe at depths of 6 feet (1.8 m). Based on its experience the summer before, C.H.M. Construction rented the same machine again. 

“Even though we own a smaller trencher and have several excavators, the 8-foot 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.” 

The crew used the material coming from its conveyor belt as fill. “After the trench is cut, we add 6 to 8 inches of sand to the bottom of the ditch,” he said. “We place the pipe in the ground and then cover it with another 8 to 12 inches 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 1,500 and 2,000 feet of trenching, sanding, installing the pipe and backfilling. After that was finished, the crew made sure everything looked clean so the next construction phase could begin. The 20,000 feet of water pipe took C.H.M. Construction 25 days to wrap up from start to finish. 

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 trencher 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 C.H.M. Construction 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 minimizes 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. 

“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 feet with it and haven’t had to change a tooth yet. So, while I know we’ll have to, it 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 that C.H.M. Construction 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 of fiber conduit around the Springtown community. 

“I want to get more fiber 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.”


C.H.M. Construction, (817) 888-7274, 

Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337,

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