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Making Steep Work Easy

Ronald Lane Inc. has a reputation for surmounting tough jobs.

Wed December 04, 2013 - Northeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

“My dad was a pipeliner, and all my life I’ve been in and out of the oil and gas pipeline business,” said Ronald Lane, owner of Ronald Lane Inc.

“When I started this business in 1979, the work that I could get was what nobody else wanted — ’winch-line’ jobs. That means pipeline excavation on ground so steep that your excavator was anchored to two and even four dozers, with the dozers’ winch lines providing stability.”

That experience has since provided the company with a competitive step-up.

“Of course, we have competition. But quite a bit is from bigger national pipeline contractors following their customers to the Marcellus areas of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York — tough, mountainous areas — and they don’t all last. Steep work has become our niche. Over the years, we’ve been able to do it safely and efficiently.”

Petroleum pipeline work is a feast-or-famine proposition. New fields, explored when end-product pricing aligns with the costs associated with bringing the field online, is usually not done on a consistent year-in, year-out basis. Because of the sophisticated hydraulic fracturing (fracking) now available to the petroleum industry, shale fields like the Marcellus are booming, where just a few years ago, the oil and gas trapped within were inaccessible.

“We Lay Pipe Differently”

“We lay our pipe a joint at a time, in the ditch,” said Lane. “The norm is to weld the joints together for long stretches and lift it into the ditch. Our way keeps the backfill and the reclamation pretty close behind us. On steep ground, we think it’s also safer. We run multiple small crews, one ahead of the other, and monitor their progress daily. If one crew gets ahead of the other, we rearrange the manpower count so the entire team stays together. That also means our labor force is cross-trained so they can do more things. Man-hour for man-hour, we’re pretty hard to beat. And, by keeping the open ditch short, we have very few landowner problems, because we’ve got grass growing and fences up very soon after we’ve opened the ditch.”

“Our Hitachi Spread is Critical”

“First of all,” noted Lane, “the excavator is the most versatile and important piece of equipment on the job. About 75 percent of the work is done with Hitachi excavators. We use them to clear the right-of-way, stump it and clear it, then dig the ditch and chip rock with hammers. We use padding attachments to sift the dirt and pad the pipe after it’s installed. Then excavators work the steep slopes reclaiming the ground’s contours.

“Our Hitachi excavators have been doing us a very good job. We have 14 Hitachi units ranging from ZX60 to ZX350; they are good, reliable machines. The operators like them. Hitachi has the hydraulics right on them. The machines are smooth and strong. And, we depend on and like the folks from our Hitachi dealer, Rudd Equipment. Our salesman, Ron Jacobs, and our product support rep, Steve Myers, are first class, and do a very good job of taking care of our needs, from additional rental machines to parts and service provided 24/7.

“We take pride in the fact that our company has never missed a deadline. And one way we do that is by relying on our partners like Rudd Equipment to deliver as promised.”

Ronald Lane Inc. is serviced by Rudd Equipment, Charleston, W.Va.

This story was reprinted with permission from Hitachi Breakout Magazine, fourth issue of 2013.

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