C.H. Nix Construction: Pipe Ramming in the Cowboy State

C.H. Nix Construction completed the 60-inch diameter pipe ram in a remote location on a soda ash mine in Wyoming. Maneuvering the casing for welding was a challenge without a large crane on site.

Soda ash is used in everything from the manufacture of glass to certain food additives and cooking ingredients. While mining soda ash or trona as it is referred to in its natural state, takes place in a range of locations throughout North America, as well as Turkey and Africa, it’s Wyoming that boasts some of the largest natural deposits of trona in the world. Recently on a processing system upgrade project, Claude H. Nix Construction, South Ogden, UT, was subcontracted to provide pipe ramming services for the installation of steel casing under a rail line at a trona mining operation in the Cowboy State.   

Family owned and operated since 1974, Nix Construction enjoys an unparalleled reputation for the highest quality, accuracy, and dependability. Since its inception, the utility and pipeline contractor has continued to stay on the forefront of the construction industry and has evolved into a premiere trenchless contractor as well. Trenchless pipe ramming has become one of the contractor’s specialties, having completed countless ramming projects over the last several decades.

The project in Wyoming included the installation of a 60-inch casing that would serve as a carrier pipe. Nix Construction Precision Manager Perry Seal coordinated the project on site.  He said, “The 60-inch diameter casing went 70 feet or so under a private rail line, like a rail spur or something similar. The casing was going to hold a 48-inch HPDE line, part of the mine’s processing system. We just went in and did the ram. No one had been out to the site yet, so we didn’t know what the ground conditions were. It ended up being straight sand with a good deal of groundwater, which added to the difficulty level of the project.”

Pipe Ramming Specialist Rick Melvin with trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, Illinois has provided technical support to Nix Construction on pipe ramming projects.  He said, “This project had all the components of a classic pipe ram. For Perry and the Nix crew, I call this one, text book for them. They’re at a high-skill level.” For the project crews used a 24-inch diameter Grundoram Taurus pneumatic pipe rammer from TT Technologies.

In order to facilitate the pipe ram, crews used a 24-inch diameter Grundoram Taurus pneumatic pipe ramming system from TT Technologies.

Nix Construction- Built Upon American Values

Claude H. Nix Construction is in an enviable position. The company enjoys long-standing relationships with its customers.  The is a result of providing fair bids, innovative solutions and on-time completion of projects. Beginning in 1974, Claude and Barbara Nix built their company on the principles of you’re only as good as your word, and do it right the first time. That’s a commitment that’s still true today.

Stephanie Nix-Thomas and Jon Nix purchased the business in 2002 moving the company forward. With a commitment to maintaining the family tradition of quality and service, they added trenchless technologies and expanded their capabilities to include the latest equipment, techniques, and innovations, and focusing on commercial, industrial and municipal construction.

Safety is another component of the company’s success and Seal has a hand in that as well. He said, “I’m also the safety guy. I help administer the training, perform company and jobsite safety audits and the incident reports. We have daily JSA meetings. In order to even get onto the site at the mine, we needed to go through MSHA training, which is about three days. And then there was specific training that we had to go through to get to the back through the actual mine and to the jobsite itself.”

The Grundoram was connected to the casing through standard ramming gear. The ram took place under a rail spur line that serviced the soda ash mine.

Ramming Prep

Getting equipment and crews to the jobsite was a difficult task. Located on the extreme end of the mining operations, Nix crews needed to transport the 60-inch casing, 24-inch diameter ramming tool, air compressors and the bare compliment of equipment along a less than developed roadway. Seal said, “It was a little difficult to get back to the jobsite. It wasn’t really hard necessarily, just took a while because it was not a real nice road. So we took extra care transporting all the equipment to the job site.”

Once at the site, crews began the task preparing the ramming pit. Melvin said, “Accuracy and stability are very important in a ramming project, so creating a solid platform to work from goes a long way toward a successful project. A good base and some kind of support track to ram from need to be established. In this casing Nix made a really good platform in tough conditions and used auger bore tracks, which is a common approach”

According to Seal, it took three days to set up the pit and then another day to get everything set up for ramming. The base of the pit was crushed gravel. Seal said, “We actually had to use a grid underneath the gravel to make the base because it was straight sand with a lot of groundwater. The grid kind of like locks all the rocks in place. It looks like fabric. But it’s a hard plastic net that you roll out and it stabilizes everything. We put steel plates on top of that and our auger bore tracks. We made the pit big enough to accommodate the 70-foot long casing. We did have some trench shoring near the rail tracks to keep things from moving. They were still running cars on the tracks, so we had to make sure that the vibrations didn’t cave our pit in.”

Once crews had the ramming pit in order, welding the casing together was next. The remote location added to the difficulty level of the task. Seals said, “The challenging part, however, was getting the pipe welded together in the pit. It was approximately 70 feet and 45,000 lbs. of pipe when it was all welded together. We didn’t have a big crane at the jobsite. We had to weld the top of the pipe and then roll it and then weld the other half of the pipe. It was sitting in our saddles. We set two pieces, got it all lined up and shimmed everything because we couldn’t use our pipe clamp. We welded one section then we used straps and two trackhoes to roll it in the saddles. And then weld the other half.”

In addition to welding the segments of pipe together, Nix crew welded a cutting shoe on the lead end of the casing. Melvin explained, “In order to reduce friction, sometimes crews will install a cutting shoe on the front of the pipe. In challenging conditions like Perry and his crew faced in Wyoming, the cutting shoes can keep the pipe from sinking in. It can also protect the pipe and help cut through rocky soils.”

Seal said, “We kind of have our own cutting shoe that we’ve designed. We weren’t sure what the ground conditions were up there, so we anticipated very hard soil, hard ground conditions. So we’ve been using a really aggressive cutting shoe lately. That’s why we welded extra pipe together so that when we got it across, we could cut it off and reuse.”

Ramming the entire 70-foot casing took approximately 4 hours. C.H. Nix Construction crews cleaned the casing out with an auger bore machine once in place.

Rail Ram

Once the casing was in place, Nix crews attached the 24-inch diameter rammer to the back of the 60-inch casing through standard ramming gear. Two air compressors powered the ramming tool, one 1000 CFM compressor and one 1600 CFM compressor. Ramming the 70 feet of 60-inch casing under the rail line took about 4 hours.

Seal said, “It was pretty shallow. I want to say like 5 feet max in the center. But we came out on grade. When we finished ramming, we removed the tool and the ram cone segments. Then we brought in an auger bore machine to clean it out so we could remove the cutting shoe and let the general contractor come in and install the 48-inch PE line.”