Underground Construction - June 2020 - 27

DIRECTIONAL DRILLING
Jeff Awalt | Executive Editor

Pioneers of HDD Reflect on Hall of Fame Careers
Inaugural Inductees Melsheimer, Cherrington Inexorably Linked in HDD History
It would be impossible to describe the advances in horizontal
directional drilling during its early development in the 1960s and
'70s without addressing the pioneering work of Richard (Dick)
Melsheimer and Martin Cherrington.
From a distance, the leapfrogging accomplishments of the two
Californians may appear so closely intertwined as to suggest a
carefully choreographed script, as each built upon the engineering
feats of the other. Yet, a closer look reveals that nothing could
be further from the truth.
In fact, Cherrington and Melsheimer spent most of their
careers on opposite ends of the Golden State with unique
professional paths, distinct personalities and entirely separate
engineering agendas. When their accomplishments are viewed
together, however, they tell a story of two maverick inventors
who collectively laid out a path for an entire industry.

Dick Melsheimer: Compact Concepts
Lay Groundwork for Modern HDD

Martin Cherrington (left) and Dick Melsheimer congratulate each other
upon receiving their awards at the UCT HDD Hall of Fame.

Dick Melsheimer's initial concept and experimentation with small
directional equipment in Los Angeles paved the way for explosive growth
in the small-rig market, powering the first telecom construction boom
and laying the foundation for much of the today's urban HDD activity.

holding onto the motor one guy could get a smashed jaw or
a broken shoulder."
Crews would dig a series of potholes in order to sight the drill rod
and steer it along its path. "In those days we never knew of such a
thing as a frack-out, because you had a pothole every 30 to 50 feet,
and that's where all the fluid went," Melsheimer recalled. Laborers
would dig the holes by hand, starting about an hour before the crew
began drilling, "and they would just chase each other down the street."
Melsheimer started putting in steel distribution lines for natural
gas utilities in the Los Angeles area, but when Dupont introduced
its Aldyl "A" polyethene pipe the 1960s, that lighter material set
the stage for his next big advancement in HDD.
"Up to that time, when you had steel pipe and a handheld air
motor, you could not physically pull the pipe back through. You
pulled a cable through the hole and hooked that onto a winch to
the trucks, and they'd pull the pipe back through the hole,"
Melsheimer said. "When polyethylene came out, we came up
with the idea of putting the swivel behind the reamer and pulling
the pipe back at the same time."
That meant stepping up from the 3-hp air motor to the 30-hp,
diesel-powered hydraulic Dynamole machine, which made it
possible to ream and pull the lighter PE pipe back through the hole
at the same time, launching a new phase for the HDD industry.
The use of drilling fluids was rare in those early days,
Melsheimer said, estimating that 95 percent of contractors
working in the Los Angeles area used only water.
"We just went up to the homeowners and gave them five dollars
or something, and we'd hook onto their water with a hose that ran

The Los Angeles native was born into the underground construction business, following in the footsteps of his father, Fred,
another industry pioneer who founded Melfred Borzall in 1946.
Fred is credited with developing the slurry boring process. Dick
built on his legacy of innovation after graduating from Cal Poly
San Luis Obispo as a mechanical engineer.
After joining the family business in 1961, Dick and his brother,
Ted, developed hydraulic-powered drill rigs and patented a self-propelled boring machine known as the Dynamole, which could bore
and pull in more than 2,000 feet of polyethylene pipe per day. It
marked a significant step forward in HDD development and a big
improvement over the air motor-driven cut and bore method.
The air motor cut and bore process developed by Fred
Melsheimer, while a definite leap forward when it came into use
during the 1950s, was a labor-intensive and treacherous process,
Dick recalled during an HDD Pioneers panel discussion at the 2020
Underground Technology Conference.
"That was the first power source for HD drilling, but we didn't
call it that in those days. We just called it horizontal boring,"
Melsheimer said, describing a handheld, 3-horsepower motor that
required two operators to power 20-foot lengths of drill rod.
"It was a dangerous tool," he said. "You had a little fish-tailed
bit that you'd use for drilling a 2-inch pipe hole, and if that sucker
hit a rock or a root, the torque would go over, and if they weren't

UConOnline.com | JUNE 2020

27


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Underground Construction - June 2020

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Contents
Underground Construction - June 2020 - FC
Underground Construction - June 2020 - IFC
Underground Construction - June 2020 - Contents
Underground Construction - June 2020 - 4
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