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Third-Generation Texas Firm Tackles Pipeline Project

Wed December 16, 2009 - West Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Few families can claim the pipelining experience of the Gorman family of Perryton, Texas. From their home base in the panhandle of northwestern Texas, three generations of Gormans have been involved in building pipelines for almost 75 years.

H.V. Gorman traveled much of the country during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s working for several major pipeline construction companies.

Eventually H.V. tired of being away from home, so in 1962, he and Floyd Phillips started their own pipeline contracting company, Gorman-Phillips Construction. A couple of years later, H.V. bought out Phillips, but retained the Gorman-Phillips name.

In 1976, H.V.’s son, Kenneth Gorman, became president. He ran the company until his death in 1992, at which time his wife, Judith Ann, and son, Todd, took over. Today, Todd Gorman runs day-to-day operations as president of Gorman-Phillips and Judith Ann serves as CEO.

“I’m extremely proud of the job that Todd’s done,” said Judith Ann. “We haven’t missed a beat. In fact, Todd has expanded our services and grown the business. That’s pretty impressive for a third-generation company that was already well-established.”

“I guess you could say pipeline construction is in our blood,” remarked Todd Gorman. “My dad had me out on jobs when I was 15. I always knew this was what I wanted to do, so in 1983, I quit college after a couple of years and came back here to work. I’ve been here ever since.”

Gathering Systems, Mainline Construction

Gorman-Phillips got its start by setting compressors and expanded into laying natural gas gathering-system pipe in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The company, which began doing mainline projects four or five years ago, has worked for most of the major oil and gas firms in the region, and many independents as well.

Today, it offers a complete list of pipeline construction and repair services.

“We lay gathering systems and mainlines using steel or plastic pipe from two-inch up to 24-in., and we still build compressor stations,” explained Todd Gorman. “A gathering-system pipeline may be as short as 500 feet and a mainline could be 100 miles or more and include all manner of river or road crossings.

“With our experience, we’re comfortable doing virtually any size or type of pipeline job.”

Gorman-Phillips does about 150 gathering-system pipelines and two or three mainlines per year. Their territory, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, offers a full gamut of ground conditions — from soft sand to hard dirt and creek bottoms to solid rock.

“Laying pipeline is somewhat like building a highway,” said Gorman. “We deal with what’s there; follow the topography with its bends and turns and try to build a job that’s going to last a long time.”

A job last year in southeastern Oklahoma illustrates the challenges of pipeline work.

Gorman-Phillips laid about 60 mi. (96 km) of 16-in. (40 cm) line through countless hills, creeks and ponds, as well as both the Wichita and Canadian Rivers.

“I think we had 2,500 bends on that job,” Gorman recalled. “Almost every other joint was a bend. It was a rough job but we have what we believe are the best crews in the business and we enjoy challenging projects like that.”

Employees as “Difference-Makers”

Gorman-Phillips currently has about 65 full-time employees. That figure swells to a couple of hundred when there’s lots of work.

“The 65 include our longtime superintendents and foremen, and we do our best to keep them on full time because they are key to our success,” acknowledged Gorman.

“The other hands are what I would call long-term/temporary. Although we’d like to keep them all on all the time, if we don’t have the work, we can’t afford to do that. But it’s gratifying that when we do get busy and need to hire again, most guys who’ve worked for us in the past come back to us.

“Our employees are difference-makers and we believe they are what separates us from our competition,” he added. “Because of their talent, experience and dedication, we’re able to complete jobs faster than our competitors. That means we can submit lower bids and still make money. I’d say that’s our claim to fame — we do quality work and we do it fast.”

Lance Suitor is Gorman-Phillips’ general superintendent in charge of coordinating equipment and crews. Phil Burnett is construction superintendent responsible for mainline projects. Todd’s wife, Sheri Gorman, helps out in the office, assisting Office Manager Rhonda Murry.

“Many of our top guys have been here for 20 to 30 years, or more,” noted Gorman. “Many are also second-generation. Phil Burnett’s father, Ernest, worked for my grandfather back in the ’50s. Eddie Overton is one of my key superintendents and his son is now also a superintendent for us. We try to take good care of all of our people because they take good care of us.”

Reliable Equipment

Beyond a talented and experienced work force, Gorman cites a topnotch equipment fleet, including many Komatsu machines, as a key factor in Gorman-Phillips’ success.

“I bought my first Komatsu piece, a used PC300LC-6 track hoe, about seven or eight years ago. I admit, I bought that first one based largely on price — I thought it was a bargain.

Turns out it was. We still have that initial piece and use it regularly. That demonstrated to me the quality of Komatsu equipment.”

Today, Gorman-Phillips has six Komatsu hydraulic excavators (PC300s, PC220s and PC200s) and six Komatsu dozers (all D65s).

“We’ve had really good experience with our Komatsus,” confirmed Gorman. “The best thing is their reliability. We rarely have to work on them other than regular maintenance and wear items. Major problems are almost nonexistent.

“I believe the D65 is the best dozer on the market,” he added. “It’s stronger and quicker than the top competitor, plus we get a much longer life from the track and undercarriage.

Fuel consumption and ease of operation are also pluses for the D65.”

“We like the Komatsu excavators for their speed, power and versatility,” noted Superintendent Phil Burnett. “The 300s are strong enough to dig out hard rock while the 200s are extremely quick. We had a brand-new competitive excavator comparable in size to the PC300. It’s one of the best-known brands out there and still had the plastic on the seat, but all my operators would walk by it and go to the PC300, which was quite a bit older. They preferred the Komatsu because it was so much faster, they could get a lot more work done with it.”

“We’ve worked with Kirby-Smith for many years and are very pleased they are now the Komatsu dealer here in north Texas,” said Gorman. “My dad used to rent equipment from Ed Kirby when he had work in Oklahoma. They have a large inventory and excellent service. I’m really happy to see them in Amarillo now because it’s two hours closer than Oklahoma City.”

Continued Growth the Goal

As in much of the construction economy, things are slow right now for Gorman-Phillips, but as Todd points out, it’s not like the company hasn’t seen downturns before.

“Energy is a cyclical, boom-or-bust type of industry. At Gorman-Phillips, we’ve ridden the highs and survived the lows. We’ve always been a conservative company and we’ll continue to operate that way, but down the road, I want us to grow. I’m certainly not satisfied yet. I’d like to see us do more and larger mainline projects. There’s a lot more big pipe to be put in the ground and we want to be involved in putting it there.”

Gorman said he thinks growth is possible because of the reputation Gorman-Phillips has earned through the years.

“We’ve been around for a long time. People in the industry know who we are and know we deliver for our clients. Our goal on every job is to put pipe in the ground faster than the other guys. As long as we continue to provide our clients with industry-leading quality and consistently beat their schedules, we’re optimistic that we’ll be in demand when the market for natural gas turns back up.”

(This story originally appeared in Kirby-Smith Machinery’s Connection publication 2009 No. 1. Kirby-Smith has given permission to reprint this story.)

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