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G & W Construction Focuses on Innovation to Become a Leader in Directional Drilling

by: Debra Wood
Ditch Witch Mid-States performs routine maintenance on one of the AT40s. (Photo courtesy of Ditch Witch Mid-States)
Ditch Witch Mid-States performs routine maintenance on one of the AT40s. (Photo courtesy of Ditch Witch Mid-States)
Crews directional drilling an 8-inch pipe for Louisville Gas & Electric.
Crews directional drilling an 8-inch pipe for Louisville Gas & Electric.
The G & W Construction team
The G & W Construction team
G & W Construction also used an FM25X fluid management machine to improve drilling fluid flow.
G & W Construction also used an FM25X fluid management machine to improve drilling fluid flow.
From dragsters to directional drilling, Darrell Alderman, President of G & W Construction, continues to lead an exciting life.

“Darrell is a three-time world champion in NHRA (National Hot Rod Association),” says Matt Di Iorio, President of Ditch Witch Mid-States in Columbus, Ohio. “He brings that competitive spirit to his directional drilling.”

Racing Cars
Darrell reports he began drag racing as a young man, after working at the Morehead, Kentucky, construction business as a teen. He won a few races on the International Hot Rod Association circuit. Members of his mechanical team were racing with NHRA, and when offered a car to drive in NHRA, Darrell decided to give it a try. “It’s a very competitive class,” Darrell says. “We were running a Camaro.”

The following year, the team received a sponsorship from Mopar and spent a year preparing the car and engine. In 1989, he won his first national event.

“From that point on, things just kept getting better,” Darrell says. “We won the world championship in NHRA Pro Stock in 1990, 1991, and 1994. We had 28 or 30 national wins in that run. It was sweet.”

His partnership with Mopar lasted 16 years. Throughout the racing years, Darrell continued to work at G & W Construction, completing utility and other projects. His son, Chase Alderman, filled in for him in the field when needed to ensure the work went smoothly. Chase began working at the firm after high school and now serves as a Superintendent and Secretary Treasurer.

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“Everything went on while I was gone,” Darrell says. “Chase made sure things went smoothly.”

Darrell admits he would get little nervous before each race, but as soon as he started the engine, he followed his plan for winning.

“When you are in the fast lane of flying everywhere, racing and working, it gets in your blood,” Darrell says. “There is no stopping. … It was a great run.”

Darrell ended his racing career after 20 years and became President of G & W in 2009, after his father Gabe – the company founder – passed away. The excitement of overcoming new challenges and winning remains part of Darrell’s life.

“Racing was a good part of my life,” says Darrell, adding with pride, “I can get the same thrill watching my son succeed.”

Driving for Optimal Directional Drilling
G & W remains family owned and operated and primarily works in Kentucky, Ohio, Georgia, Indiana, and Virginia. The company employs about 100 people.
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“We look for employees who are talented, dedicated and take pride in their work,” Chase says. “The employees have worked their way up according to their interest. Those who take interest in drilling, we train to operate the drills. It is also very important to us that they take care of the equipment. We keep good employees because G & W trains well, pays well, and we are loyal. Loyalty is a two way street and we appreciate our employees.” 

As soon as directional drills hit the market in the early 2000s, Darrell was eager to give them a try. He rented at first.

“I could tell right off the bat this was something we would be good at,” says Darrell. “Then we bought a drill and have been going strong ever since.”

When drag racing, Darrell drove a finely tuned and developed car. In the utility business, he relies on Ditch Witch equipment from the Mid-States dealership, with four locations in three states.

G & W Construction’s fleet includes two AT60 all-terrain directional drills, five AT40 all-terrain directional drills, two JT40 directional drills and a JT24 directional drill. The company recently installed an 8-inch steel pipeline – for Southern Pipeline Construction of Searcy, Arkansas – on a Louisville Gas & Electric project in Preston, Kentucky, using a Ditch Witch AT40.

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“We absolutely love them, they are great machines,” Darrell says. “The Ditch Witch dealership has been fantastic on service work.”

Chase adds most of the ground in Kentucky contains rock, necessitating the company switching to inner rod, AT units. Some jobs with heavy rock require an air hammer.

“We prefer rock jobs, because most of our drills are AT,” Chase says. “We try to find bigger jobs with the capacity to use all of our crews together.”

Going under a creek or a parking lot, G & W likes to use a dual-rod technology to avoid fracing up through the black top or the creek bottom. Crews can install pipe up to 24 inches in diameter or more.

“We’ve been working with Darrell, Chase, and the rest of the team members for a number of years,” says Sam Swartz, Vice President of Ditch Witch Mid-States. “He has been a great Ditch Witch customer and shares many of the same philosophies we do. Wanting to be innovative and create the best solutions he can to be productive and profitable. He runs a first-rate company in all aspects.”

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Swartz reports that the Aldermans always look for solutions that give crews “the ability to put more pipe in the ground, do things the right way, and bring a level of service to their customers beyond their competitors.”

Bigger and Better
Mid-States recently added larger equipment to help put more pipe in the ground; American Augers horizontal directional drills up to 100,000 feet-pounds torque, auger boring machines up to 1.2 million pounds of thrust, recycling systems up to 1,000 gallons per minute (gpm) capacity, mud pumps up to 750 gpm, and Trencor mechanical large track trenchers up to 326,000 pounds max operating weight.

When one of G & W’s operators runs into difficulty in the field, Chase troubleshoots and finds a way to proceed, Darrell says, sometimes combining air and water.

“With Chase, it’s almost like he has eyes in the hole,” Darrell adds. “He’s the one who really comes up with solutions into how to get the boring in correctly.”

During the years, the bores became larger, necessitating larger machines. “Customers like Darrell challenge us and force us to get better at what we do,” Swartz says. “It becomes a partnership.”

Di Iorio adds that Ditch Witch Mid-States listens to its customers and then passes information learned at job sites to Ditch Witch leadership, so the manufacturer can continually innovate and improve its products. The operator’s cab on the AT40 is one of many examples that involved specific, industry leading, design ideas from the customer. Elliott Carter, Territory Manager and Trenchless Specialist for Ditch Witch Mid-States, works closely with G & W and the Ditch Witch factory.

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“It seems there is always a new challenge,” Darrell says. “When something new in the industry comes out, I can hardly wait to get my hands on it and see if it’s better.”

G & W Construction has noted a large amount of directional drilling requests for water, sewer and fiberoptic lines. The company evolved from a commercial building and sanitary sewer construction firm, under the direction of Darrell’s father. Then, providing water, natural gas and fiberoptics to rural areas through directional drilling became important.

Darrell adds that if that changes, he will adjust the business again to provide the services needed. “We’re open to any challenge,” Darrell says. “That’s when we really shine.”

A bore with many different utilities or big elevation changes can present major challenges for directional drilling contractors. One of the many techniques G & W utilizes to overcome these challenges is to create a custom bore profile to ensure a good finished product. This process includes taking GPS elevation measurements, bend radius of the product to be installed, and terrain changes creating a bore plan or bore profile for the AT drill operator to follow.

“Innovation is critically important to Darrell,” Di Iorio says. “He wants to be the leader in his space. He is the leader, because he will accept nothing less than the best.”

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