September 2023 Vol. 78 No.9


Directional drilling: DDURT construction tackles treacherous ground conditions to connect rural communities

100% Focus on efficient fiber installation results in streamlined approach 

by Amy Olson 

In 2016, Thomas Rathbone enlisted the help of lifelong friends to start a utility construction company that specializes in horizontal directional drilling (HDD). The friends decided to call their company, DDURT Construction, an acronym for Directional Drilling Underground Routing Technicians. 

Connecting communities with fiber for high-speed internet access is the sole focus. 

“We go into communities that have either poor access or no access,” said Mark Barrett, DDURT Construction operations manager. “We’re keeping people connected and giving them access to the things that bigger cities typically have.” 

Barrett, a founding member of the Oklahoma-based company, has known Rathbone since they were 10 years old. 

The two have always relied on each other, which has helped the company survive an early setback when they were not paid for a $300,000 project. Through some early trials, the founding members didn’t give up. This perseverance has paid off as the company continues to grow. 

“We were just a bunch of regular guys from a small town. We worked hard, and as we built up, we bought another drill. As these projects started blowing up, we went from four of us to eight and then 12. Now we are at 74. It’s been a lot of learning as we go and putting the right people around us,” said Barrett. 

Propelling growth 

The demand for high-speed internet and a strong work ethic are the major contributors to the organization’s growth. The company is engaged with installing the fiber backbone across rural Oklahoma. It recently won a bid to install fiber for the Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative that services the greater Shawnee, Okla., region and encompasses the southeast section of Oklahoma. 

Installing fiber in this region is no small feat due to an abundance of sandstone and rock. DDURT Construction is currently in the second year of the five-year project to connect customers in this area with high-speed communications. While the company specializes in directional drilling, it’s also performing trenching, excavation work and cable pulling on this job. 

The project originated in Shawnee and expanded to parallel the cooperative’s existing infrastructure. In addition, the project branched off into some areas that don’t have existing Canadian Valley Cooperative power structure, such as the city of Seminole. 

While there’s a significant amount of overhead aerial work, approximately 90 percent of the work by DDURT Construction is directional drilling. 

“There are lots of utility poles, so you have these long spans. When they have two propel line crossings, we bring in the drills. All the newer neighborhoods are going to be underground, but a lot of older areas are all overhead,” said Barrett. 

DDURT Construction recently entered the aerial installation business to help fill this regional need for above-ground fiber installation. 

“We have one aerial crew running, and it jumps between the Canadian Valley job and the East Central Oklahoma Cooperative,” said Barrett. 

Overcoming challenges 

The biggest challenges DDURT Construction faces in completing the project include finding qualified staff to keep up with demand, and sourcing equipment and parts. The supply chain continues to improve as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, but staffing continues to be a struggle. The company has managed to keep a tight-knit crew with many family members working together. 

DDURT Construction is currently averaging five crews working on the Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative project. The actual number of crews varies, as other projects start up and scheduling fluctuates. 

To help maximize the productivity of its HDD drill crews, the organization assigns hydro-excavation crews with Vermeer vacuum excavators to pothole and locate utilities ahead of the drill crews. The goal is to keep them moving so they don’t have to slow down. Traditional tracked excavator crews dig the tie-ins and pits for the drill rigs. 

DDURT Construction tries to partner each drilling crew with a tracked excavator crew, although sometimes it makes sense to share a crew. After digging the tie-ins and setting the equipment, this excavator crew comes back in and pulls all the fiber lines as well. 

Internal training of these crews plays a major role in the company’s success. Many ground hands are hired without experience, and DDURT Construction trains them internally on directional drills and excavators. Less experienced operators are partnered up with more experienced operators to pass along some of the knowledge. Local dealer, Vermeer Great Plains, has also stepped to the plate with specialized equipment training. 

“Our preferred method is to train from within if we can,” said Barrett. “Vermeer has reached out to us. For instance, with the dual-rod D23x30DR S3 HDD, they came out and worked with some of our drillers on troubleshooting, maximizing efficiency and things of that nature. 

“When we have the avenue to get external training from people who specialize in our equipment, we try to take advantage of it.” 

Drilling through heavy clay and coarse rock has proved challenging on the Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative project. The dual-rod rock drills have helped DDURT Construction maximize productivity in the toughest conditions. 

“So, in Oklahoma, we have very treacherous ground conditions,” said Gage Dugan, Vermeer Great Plains underground and utility sales rep. “With the D23x30DR S3, crews can switch over to dirt-enable mode, and then can switch heads and be able to keep drilling if they get into dirt.” 

The first Vermeer drill that DDURT Construction purchased was a single rod D23x30 S3 HDD. The company still runs three of these models and two of the dual-rod D23x30DR S3 models. 

“We can usually end up with about 500 feet to 550 feet – maybe even 600 feet – a day. And so, for production, it’s two-thirds more with the D23x30DR S3 drills. It has really streamlined our process,” said Rick Thomas, DDURT Construction field superintendent. “Any rock job we would get is a challenge, but the rig has pretty well taken the challenge away.” 

The ability to bore more stems from the machine’s tough tooling and power. A 100-hpDeutz TCD3.6L4 engine provides power to help drive the D23x30DR S3 to its peak performance, while a thrust/pullback of 24,000 pounds combines with outer rod rotational torque of 3,000 foot-pounds to help get the drill into tough ground. 

Another benefit DDURT Construction has praised for the dual-rod rig is the ease of operation and familiar features. “When I went from the standard rig to the D23x30DR S3, I noticed just the simplicity of everything,” said Thomas. “Everything’s laid out really nice. It’s just a good machine.” 

Sizing for the job  

When drilling in rock, often contractors will bring in a larger drill to do the work, which also requires a larger truck and trailer to haul the machine. Since the Vermeer dual-rod drill is designed for working in rock, DDURT Construction can get by with a utility size that can be hauled on the same trailer as the rest of its drill fleet. 

“We find the D23x30DR S3 to be the happy medium when it comes to power, being able to get out there and do the work that we want to do, but also offering the versatility to get in and out of areas,” said Barrett. 

This is important because DDURT Construction often goes from a rural environment to working in town while installing fiber for the Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative project. These drills also allow the company to maintain a streamlined approach with minimal support equipment. 

“As far as support equipment, primarily we’re just pulling the 500-gallon tanks that come with the units we purchase. It’s just your basic mud-mixing system and the 500-gallon tank on the trailer that come all together,” Barret pointed out. “We don’t have any water trucks.” 

This simplified approach allows DDURT Construction to maximize the efficiency of its fiber installation process. A hydro-excavation crew out front to locate utilities and an HDD crew supported by an excavation crew are keeping pace with demands on the Canadian Valley Electric Cooperative project. 

With the high demand for high-speed internet, especially in rural communities, DDURT Construction found a niche in the fiber market and has optimized its fleet for this application.  


DDURT Construction, (918) 887-8057, 

Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337, 

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