For most residents of Quitman, TX, plowing means cultivating the fertile land surrounding this quiet, pleasant community 90 miles east of Dallas.
But for Wood County Electric Cooperative, plowing has a different meaning. The progressive, member-owned electric cooperative serves nine northeast Texas counties from its base in Quitman, and last summer it began burying underground power cable with a large vibratory plow.
The machine buries cable and conduit directly into the ground without digging a trench.
“Our goal is to install underground cable with as little disturbance to the land as possible,” said Debbie Robinson, chief executive officer and general manager of Wood County Electric. “This machine helps us achieve that goal.”
Vibratory plowing can make installations faster than open-cut construction and reduces the cost of restoration, said Kyle Lee, Wood County Electric construction foreman. In some conditions, plowing also can cut down on erosion problems that occur when contours of the land are changed by excavation, he added.
The plow unit, a Ditch Witch model HT185, was purchased in June 2003, and installed 28 mi. of cable by the end of the year.
“We use the machine to install primary cable –– No. 2 and 1/0 conductor –– and also a lot of 2-inch duct,” Lee said. “Most of the work is in rural areas and is to extend power to new developments.”
In the past, such installations would have been trenched.
The 185-hp HT185 is a track machine with a vibrating component mounted on the rear. Cable or conduit being installed passes over rollers and into the chute of the vibrator’s plow blade.
The vibrator oscillates the plow’s blade vertically approximately 1,500 times per minute, and the vibrating action separates the ground in front of the blade, lessening resistance to soil against the sides of the blade and reducing the force to pull the blade through the ground.
The vibratory plow component can be offset behind either rear track. On narrow easements, this feature permits a plow unit to install material adjacent to a street or highway while the tractor remains on the road.
Lee said that most plow installations have been in open terrain at depths of 54 in. through soils ranging from clay to sandy loam to pure sand.
“From the beginning, we have used a custom plow blade designed by the Ditch Witch factory specifically for our needs,” said Lee. “Now that we’ve run the machine a while, we are having another custom blade made for direct burial of cable. It will achieve the same cover depth, but is smaller, and we believe it will increase production.”
Wood County Electric still operates two trenchers, including a 100-hp Ditch Witch R100. The trenchers are used in hard, dry soil conditions which make plowing difficult.
Today, most new cable is placed underground. When conditions permit plowing, this method of construction can be the fastest and most cost effective. Production speed varies with conditions, but Lee said the big plow has installed as much as 3,000 ft. a day in ideal conditions.
Wood County Electric Cooperative was founded in 1938 to bring electric service to rural northeast Texas. For many years, Quitman has served the needs of agricultural operations in the area, and the discovery of oil in the early 1940s helped the area rise from the depression of the 1930s. The opening of several nearby recreational lakes boosted growth and prosperity.
Today, the Wood County Electric system also includes 650 mi. of buried cable, 4,400 mi. of overhead lines and 97,113 ft. of connections serving business and residential customers and vacation homes around Lake Fork, Cypress Springs Lake and Lake Bob Sandlin.
Commercial power users include various manufacturing companies, oil field support organizations, dairy and poultry operations.
Wood County Electric is one of more than 600 Touchstone Energy cooperatives serving more than 17 million customers in 44 states.