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Big Trenchless Job Leaves Little To Look At

Project Profile:

  • Grundomat 110 ZSK 4 1/2-inch diameter piercing tool.
  • Install 8 miles of 3 inch conduit to house broadband cable.
  • Wallaga and crew needed to dig their launch & exit pits 30 inches deep to clear the base of the roots system.
  • 15-30 foot bores, Grundomat 110 ZSK’s bore length topped 150 feet.
  • Impressive 126 foot bore underneath two sidewalks and city street.

During the summer of 1997 in Longmeadow, MA, TT Technologies’ trenchless equipment did what it does best, worked hard and stayed out of site. Longmeadow, Massachusetts is an upper class suburban town, that was first settled in 1644 and pre-dates the civil war by 200 years. Needless to say, this town of just over 15,000 people has a long proud history and they don’t want it disturbed. So last summer, when Early and Sons Inc. was hired to install over 38 miles of new broadband cable for the local cable television provider Media One, they knew it was a tough crowd to please.

This was especially evident at the Longmeadow Selectmen’s meeting before the project even began. Early & Sons Field Supervisor, Mike Wallaga remembered what happened when cable lines were installed in Longmeadow for the first time in the mid-1980’s, before Media One. According to Wallaga, the previous cable provider directed buried the entire system. They cut roads, driveways and lawns and left many unfinished and in a state of disrepair. Lawns and landscaping were also damaged and the residents were slow to forget and slower to forgive. With 92 miles of roads in the 7th wealthiest town in the commonwealth, Mike knew that much of the job would require a trenchless solution.

The soil in Longmeadow is clay and sand. The town was originally settled on the banks of the Connecticut River. At times it is rather rocky, and in most places it’s a combination of all three. The job called for 33 miles of 3 inch conduit to house approximately 38 miles of broadband cable. Wallaga figured that almost 8 miles of the job would have to be trenchless. He also judged from the initial Selectman’s meeting, that the town itself would not stand for substandard work or even standard work for that matter. Not that his crew would ever just get by on a job, but rather these people were sticklers and there could be no mistakes.

On The Job

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The Grundomat avoided trees, sidewalks, roadways and more on this job.

Early & Sons started the job using conventional fixed head piercing tools, but as rocky soil conditions persisted, a reciprocating head Grundomat was employed. According to Wallaga, they just couldn’t count on the accuracy of conventional piercing tools, especially in the soil conditions they were used to working in. After being introduced to the Grundomat piercing tool from TT Technologies, the crew of Early & Sons was impressed. The tool literally blew away other conventional tools. Its accuracy was unmatched.

TT Technologies Product Specialist Ric Micelotta explains, “The Grundomat 110 ZSK 4 1/2 diameter piercing tool has a reciprocating head. The chisel head assembly moves independently of the main casing, creating a pilot bore for the body of the tool to follow. This ultimately leads to greater bore accuracy.”

They put several Grundomat tools with reciprocating heads to work and the Longmeadow job was underway. Over the next 18 weeks, the 68 person crew encountered several tough boring situations.

Long Live The Trees

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The Early & Sons crew with the Grundomat 110 ZSK piercing tool.

The town of Longmeadow has an extensive amount of boulevard trees referred to as the “tree belt.” There are 12,000 trees in Longmeadow’s tree belt. This posed a dilemma. Harry Reynolds, Longmeadow’s tree warden, is in charge of protecting and preserving the trees within the city. He was not about to allow any type of trenching, drilling or digging that would harm the trees or their root systems. With no other option but to drill underneath the root systems, the Early & Sons crew needed to count on the accuracy of their Grundomats.

Reynolds made it clear from the start that any action by Early and Sons that threatened any of the trees in the tree belt would end the job. He had that authority. Wallaga assured Reynolds that trenchless boring with TT Technologies’ Grundomat would spare the trees of any harm. Reynolds stipulated that all launch and exit pits must be dug at the edge of the drip line. The drip line on a tree is the imaginary line that descends from the outer edge of the umbrella or canopy of the tree. The thought behind this is what happens below the ground with the root system is mirrored by what occurs above ground. Tree roots extend out almost as far as its branches. With the Grundomat 110 ZSK’s bore length topping 150 feet, 15-30 footers were basic. Wallaga and crew needed to dig their launch and exit pits 30 inches deep to clear the base of the roots system. These drip line bores were no problem.

Look Both Ways Before Crossing

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Longmeadow’s boulevard trees referred to as the “tree belt”. The crew depended on the accuracy of their Grundomat tool to spare the trees of any harm.

Trees were not the only obstacles faced by the Early & Sons crew on this extensive job. Sidewalks and roads needed to be crossed. Again the crew turned to the Grundomatpiercing tool. Several diagonal bores underneath roadways and sidewalks were successfully completed, including an impressive 126 foot bore underneath two sidewalks and a city street. The bore occurred across busy intersection and was completed from corner to corner. Again, trenching and replacement was not an option. The city couldn’t have been happier, no traffic delays, detours or road closings. Media One couldn’t have been happier either, no hassles with the city. And with the time Early & Sons saved by directional drilling, they were able to complete the project on time. But what about the residents of Longmeadow, well, they were the most pleased of all.

Landscape Nightmares

The town of Longmeadow is filled with beautiful homes with well kept and maintained yards and landscapes. The thought of trenching through lawns and driveways gave most residents nightmares. Many of the driveways are more exotic than average asphalt. Many are brick or concrete, some are cobblestone. Several residents have underground sprinkler systems and some even have underground electronic dog fences. Small launch and exit pits were much more tolerable. Much of the original cable installation of the mid-1980’s was direct buried and many driveways still bare the scares. Not this time. Early & Sons did not have to disrupt driveways with their Grundomat piercing tool. They skirted sprinkler systems and dodged underground fences. And the small launch and exit pits they dug, were repaired quickly, re-sodded and barely noticeable within a few weeks of the job.


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Just one of the many homes with well kept and maintained yards and landscapes that were not disrupted by the Grundomat 110 ZSK piercing tool.

Early & Sons contractors received glowing letters of recommendation from the Longmeadow Department of Public Works, Fire Department, the Tree Warden Harry Reynolds and Media One. The Early & Sons crew praised Ric Micoletta from TT Technologies for his on site expertise. The Early & Sons crew ran into a few problems on the job, but Micoletta worked with the crew and with TT personnel like Rick Bissonette and Brian Mattson to resolve their difficulties. Wallaga had nothing but great things to say about the Grundomat as well as TT’s service. This big job was an even bigger success. So the trees are still standing, the roads are free and clear, the landscaping remains intact and the residents of the Longmeadow have a new broadband cable system that brings them the latest in cable TV, as well as, the world wide web. But you’d never know it by looking at the ground, it was trenchless.


by Jim Schill

Construction, April 1998, Pages 30-37