Henniker Directional Drilling Keeps Focus on Employees

New Hampshire directional drilling contractor keeps operations small, but isn’t afraid to take on the big jobs.
Henniker Directional Drilling Keeps Focus on Employees
The staff of Henniker Directional Drilling took a fishing trip with Dave Marciano, right. Marciano is a captain on the National Geographic television show Wicked Tuna. The company won the fishing trip at a fundraiser and gave it to the employees as a Christmas gift.

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A strong family-type atmosphere at Henniker Directional Drilling has allowed the company to maintain low employee turnover and become a successful contractor in the New Hampshire region.

“We’ve stayed small; we’re only seven people in the company between the office and field employees,” says Jeff Martin, president and co-owner with the company, based in Henniker, New Hampshire. “My wife and I both left our jobs to start this company and that was one of our main goals, to have a good place to work for our employees.”

Martin and co-owner Rick Patenaude started the company in 2001. Patenaude had experience in drilling already, owning a water well drilling company. The company started with just four employees — Martin, his wife Danielle, Patenaude and Charlie Hunt.

“The amount of work we’re doing each year has grown substantially,” Martin says. “And the projects have become more profitable as the years have gone on.”

A SLOW START

Martin was working for an equipment manufacturing company and Patenaude was one of his customers before the two started Henniker Directional Drilling. “Rick and I developed a friendship over the years, and eventually it was time to move on from where I was,” Martin says. “Between the two of us, we decided this was something we wanted to try. He had a water well drilling company, so it just seemed like a good offshoot from typical well drilling to directional drilling.”

When the two started out, the industry was in a downturn and not many underground utilities were being placed. “The first few years were pretty slow,” Martin says. “Just the four of us could handle it.”

Business picked up as more underground utilities started to come in and the company has grown to the point of being busy year-round. The company typically serves as a subcontractor to a general contractor.

“We’re pretty much strictly drilling and do very little excavation,” Martin says. “There are certain areas of projects that need to be drilled, whether it’s across a river, an intersection or a road that they don’t want to disturb. We’ll go in and drill just that one section and install the pipe in those sections.”

With the exception of gas line work, Henniker crews do their own pipe fusion. “Most of what we put in is high-density polyethylene pipe.”

Henniker uses three main front-line drills — all Vermeer — that run from 16,000 to 100,000 pounds. For its fluid mixing and vacuum systems, the company uses Ditch Witch equipment.

For locating the drill bits, the company uses transmitters from Digital Control.

“We have the equipment to run two full-time crews if we need to,” Martin says. “We just haven’t grown on the people side yet.

“Most of the time we’re one crew, but we do split up into two from time to time. At times I’ll go out with one of the guys or by myself to do a little job here or there if we have to. I’ve also got a couple of other local drillers that have helped us when we get too busy.”

KEEPING IT FAMILY

Over the years, Henniker Directional Drilling has expanded to seven employees, but the owners don’t want to see the company grow too big and lose the family atmosphere they strive for. “We try and treat the employees the best that we know how,” Martin says. “It’s certainly more than money.”

While at a fundraiser in December 2015, Henniker owners bid on a fishing trip with Dave Marciano, the captain of the fishing boat Hard Merchandise, from the TV show Wicked Tuna on the National Geographic channel. The company won and gave the staff the trip as a Christmas gift.

Martin says he thanks his employees for the work they do. “It’s a very hard job and the guys work very, very hard,” he says. “I’m sure I’m not the easiest person to work for, but I think we’re very fair and we try to do the best we can for them.”

Besides Martin’s wife, the staff includes Eric Butler, office assistant, and four workers in the field — Hunt (foreman and driller), Bill Martin (drill crew), David Bumford (drill crew) and Fred Currier (drill crew). Having a strong relationship with employees has had benefits, including very low turnover.

“Finding quality people is extremely difficult,” Martin says. “I’m fortunate that the crew has been with us for a long time. It’s a very unpredictable job as far as the end of your workday.

You don’t shut off at 5 o’clock and go home. It’s just the nature of how the business works. You’re there until you’re done or you’ve met your goal for the day.”

However, when the time does come to add a new crew member, Martin looks for someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in the industry.

“We tend to look for a simple, hard worker who’s interested in what we’re doing,” Martin says. “We haven’t had to hire a lot of people, but the ones we have hired have come with limited experience. There is a lot to learn, but it can be an interesting job and certainly different every day.”

FINDING THE UNIQUE JOBS

One of those interesting jobs came in winter 2014 when the company was doing work at a Wal-Mart store near Henniker. The store had just expanded and was still on a private septic system that was getting outgrown. The store needed to connect to a small treatment plant behind the building, constructed for its own use.

The problem came because of where the store’s leachfield was — in front of the building. Crews would have to drill across the store from the front to the back and then pull the pipe back to the front.

The job called for a 600-foot-long bore from entry to exit. “The main problem we had was the ability to locate our drill bit,” Martin says. “We spent two days trying to get the drill started.

We would get within 200 feet of the building and we would get interference and we couldn’t locate our drill.”

Martin called the Digital Control representative, who came to the job site and spent about two days with Henniker using a new, experimental transmitter. “He dropped everything and came out to help us get drilled across the store to the exit pit,” Martin says.

As crews monitored the drill bit, they needed to be above the drill path — inside the store in this case. “We had our guys in the store tracking the drill bit as it was going from the music department to the kids’ clothing department and out to the parking lot,” Martin says.

During drilling, Martin likes to have a line of sight to ensure that the drill is heading in the correct direction. In the store, there was no clear line of sight, so the crew improvised. “We actually used some balloons off the displays and used those on the ceiling at our locate points for our line of sight,” Martin says. “It certainly was not the norm.”

The company was on the job site for two weeks and had to battle snowstorms, including one that dumped 3 feet of snow on the work site.

“Near the end of the job, we were at the point where we begin pullout, and we normally don’t do that on a Friday, but this time we did,” Martin says. “We had another snowstorm coming in and the guys decided they would rather do the pullback on Friday instead of coming back the next week, shoveling out the snow and doing the pullback.”

Martin called in for reinforcements, and an employee from Patenaude’s water well drilling company came to help that day.

“We got there early and started pulling the pipe out, and we got back to the shop about 3 a.m.,” Martin says. “That employee doesn’t volunteer to help us anymore. I think we scared him away, but it was great to have him.”

STATUS QUO FOR THE FUTURE

Martin is looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the small but prosperous company. While he would like to see the company grow some to help serve more of its regular customers, he also knows that growing too big can be a problem.

“We don’t want to be a whole lot bigger,” Martin says. “We’re not trying to be bigger than we need to be. We didn’t open the business to set the world on fire.”


Locating tools add value

Of all the directional drills, fluid mixing and vacuum equipment that Henniker Directional Drilling has in its arsenal, the pieces most valuable to the company are some of its smallest.

“The one single piece of equipment we couldn’t work without would probably be our locating equipment we use to track our drill bit,” says Jeff Martin, president and co-owner.

The company uses Digital Control locating equipment, including the F2 and F5 systems. The DigiTrak F2 allows for two transmitter frequency options, left/right and up/down target steering and off-track guidance that can be used when walkover locating isn’t possible.

The DigiTrak F5 is the most advanced in Digital Control’s F Series. It allows multiple transmitter options in five frequencies at depths up to 90 feet.

“Directly behind our drill bit, we put in a sonde that sends the information to a hand-held receiver that we use on the surface,” Martin says. “It sends us information on where our drill bit is pointing and what the inclination is.”

The Digital Control transmitters can track existing nonmetallic ducts and measure pullback tension and mud pressure. “We’ve used Digital Control since we started,” Martin says. “Their service is fantastic, and that is what has kept us with them.”



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