Bizzell ’Powers’ Through Rocky Terrain With Vermeer Tools

Wed November 17, 2004 - West Edition
Tara Deering

When Bennie Bizzell started his utility construction business 18 years ago in Albuquerque, NM, his business consisted of his wife, his son and a mid-sized utility trencher. Now with 32 employees, Bizzell has had to rent much larger trenchers in order to tackle the jobs that come his way as the Albuquerque area grows across tougher ground conditions.

“When you get right down to it, there’s not much rock in the Albuquerque area until you get to the west side where there’s the volcanic field,” said Bizzell, co-owner of Bizzell Power. “As you go farther west, the need for a bigger machine is greater.”

Though his company has been using trenchers for years to install gas, electric, water, sewer and other utilities, Bizzell said it wasn’t until three years ago that developers began taking notice of the effectiveness of trenching. As Albuquerque and other surrounding cities began growing westward, developers wanted contractors who had the equipment to quickly cut through the region’s hardest rock.

Knowing how to tackle large-scale jobs under difficult conditions is helping Bizzell complete a housing project by Longford Homes in Albuquerque, where he is installing about 30,000 ft. of wet and dry utilities. Since 1991, Longford Homes has built more than 2,000 homes in some of the Southwest’s most active housing markets, including the greater Albuquerque area, Las Vegas and Henderson, NV.

In Albuquerque, Longford Homes has planned a three-phase project consisting of 6,500 homes ranging from the $120s to the low $200s, which the homebuyer can design by computer.

As Bizzell began receiving an increasing number of utility construction jobs on the west side of the city, he soon realized the rubber-tire trencher he started his business with just wouldn’t do. Many of the jobs called for much larger equipment that could cut through the limestone, salt and lava that filled the area. To keep up with the changing market, Bizzell expanded his fleet by purchasing Vermeer T455 and T555 track trenchers.

“After we started showing developers what we could do with the trenchers, our company really started growing,” said Bizzell, who co-owns Bizzell Power with his son, Joseph. “More than 95 percent of our company’s growth can be attributed to the growth of the Southwest cities. In the last three years, our business has more than doubled.”

For the Longford Homes project, Bizzell rented two Vermeer T1055 Commander track trenchers and two Vermeer T1255 track trenchers. In addition to the rental machines, Bizzell said he also is running his Vermeer T555 unit, which he owns, a bulldozer and a backhoe to complete the $1 million job. “We have five trenchers working side by side, and we may have as many as six trenchers working at once when this project is all said and done,” Bizzell said.

Bizzell sees firsthand the benefits trenchers have over other methods of installing utilities, such as using a hydraulic hammer or excavator. If Bizzell were using a hydraulic hammer and excavators on the Longford Homes project, he said it would take him nearly a year to complete the project. With his fleet of rented trenchers, the job will only take Bizzell about five months to complete.

The Vermeer T1055 Commander can dig 14 ft. deep and 42 in. wide. The Vermeer T1255 Commander, the largest Vermeer production-model trencher, can dig 48 in. wide, and to a depth of 18 ft. The T1255 features a 600 hp (447 kw) engine and a weight of 182,000 lbs. (82,555 kg), and is best suited for large-scale trenching applications such as rock trenching, water, sewer and utility installation.

While large trenchers are a more costly rental than a hydraulic hammer or excavator, Bizzell said the machines complete the jobs in half the time, which frees up his workers to take on more jobs.

“Right now in our personal fleet we only have two trenchers, the T455 and the T555. As far as rock trenching, we’ve always rented them,” Bizzell said. “I’ve always used Vermeer because they’ve treated me better than anybody else.”

The depth Bizzell Power must dig to install the utilities at the Longford Homes site varies from 5 to 20 ft. Bizzell said his three-man crews are able to dig as much as 300 to 400 ft. per day and at least 100 ft. per day when they hit harder rock. “The closer to the surface, the harder the rock is,” he said.

But to get optimal trenching production, it takes a special understanding of the different types of rock, and patience to determine the best teeth configuration to cut through it. The trencher boom features a digging chain with carbide-tipped digging teeth that can be set in different patterns. Bizzell said he typically uses a combination of 5- and 7-sized digging teeth for normal rock conditions, but has found he gets better penetration with a combination of 3- and 19-sized digging teeth when trenching in harder rock.

“I basically use trial and error to figure out the best formation of the teeth,” he said. “I’m getting very good wear with the teeth. They thought we were going to use 10 teeth per foot, and we’re not using anywhere near that.”

Bizzell said he views renting as a viable option because much of the area near Albuquerque is made up of softer rock that doesn’t require the larger machines. Also, if he were to buy the larger trenchers instead of renting them, he would need to obtain special permits to transport them. “In the past, the work we have done has been 100 percent small trenchers,” he said. “Now we’re just starting to look at using the large trenchers, so renting is the best option for us.”

(Tara Deering is a technical writer for Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, IA.)