Starting with specialization

It started with one man and his pickup truck. Tom Banks’ then one-man operation was rooted in specialization. Formed in 2001, Banks Gas Services, Inc. quickly grew from one employee to nearly one hundred. Today the company is a full-fledged gas distribution contractor headquartered in the Pittsburgh area and serving gas distribution companies in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“If there’s something other companies can’t do or another contractor won’t do, the project owner will usually come knocking on our door,” says Tom Banks, owner of Banks Gas Services.

This specialized approach means Banks Gas has no trouble staying busy. On any given day, Banks has a dozen or more crews out in the field. That busy schedule is a testament to the level of commitment and expertise the company brings to each project.

Peoples Natural Gas project

Often the demands of customers lead to some very challenging bores. A distribution line replacement job called for a 400-foot (121.9 m) bore, so the crew could install a 4-inch (10.2 cm) gas line. While the job itself was pretty typical, the location of the project was what really put Banks Gas crews to the test. The line had to cross Bigelow Boulevard, a busy four-lane street on the outskirts of downtown Pittsburgh. Banks Gas faced extreme grade changes, crowded underground conditions, a tight footprint and time constraints — among other things.

“This was a very challenging installation project,” says Jim Grachen, superintendent at Banks Gas Services. “The grade changes alone — it was just ridiculous what we were able to do there.”

Time and space constraints

The City of Pittsburgh did not want to disrupt traffic on Bigelow Boulevard for longer than necessary. Banks knows municipal planners will not hesitate to turn down a crew whose equipment is so big it requires street closures.

“A small footprint is essential for us,” he says. “Size matters in the city.”

Knowing there were strict time and space restrictions on this project, Banks Gas crews opted to use the keyhole method to locate the underground utility lines. This meant they would need limited space for the locating portion of the project, and road restoration would be minimal.

Banks Gas came to the job with a Vermeer VX100XT AIR Series Vacuum Excavator by McLaughlin and a truck-mounted core saw to expose and locate the utilities. This required only one lane of traffic to be blocked during the utility locating process.

“Our McLaughlin vacuum units are mounted on Dodge 5500 four-wheel drive chassis,” says Grachen. “That allows us to access narrow neighborhood streets in the city and to avoid disturbing traffic conditions as much as possible.”

Locating is not always a quick process. Pittsburgh’s underground consists of abandoned steel and cast iron lines, and, once a line is taken off the system, it’s usually not marked on maps of existing utilities. Banks knows “one-call” utility locating systems are not always 100 percent accurate, so he sends crews out to the site a few days ahead of a job to do some scout work. It can sometimes take up to five days to locate the line they’re looking for. When locating can take that long, it becomes that much more important to take up as little space as possible.

To Banks Gas, locating using a vacuum excavator is always worth the additional step and extra time it takes to ensure they identify materials in the ground.

Backfilling made easier

For the Peoples Natural Gas project, the crew was able to locate the utilities quickly and reopen the lane of traffic within two hours.

Banks Gas uses air excavation whenever possible, so they are able to reuse the spoils and backfill right on the jobsite with materials excavated out of the holes. Next they replaced the 12-inch (30.5 cm) coupon into the hole and secured it using a quick-setting grout. The crew leveled and smoothed the grout around the edges, and, just like that, the lane was ready to be reopened.

“When we finished that process,” Grachen says, “the only sign of us being there was some paint marks on the pavement.”

Once the lane was reopened, the crew began the actual bore.

Not your everyday bore

Accurately locating the utilities in a timely manner was difficult, but the ground conditions on this project were especially problematic. The materials, aside from utility lines, that the Banks Gas crews uncovered tested their skills.

“We’re finding, at times, railroad tracks, trolley tracks, old abandoned mains made of both cast iron and bare steel,” says Grachen.

In addition to the debris, the Banks Gas crews also had to adjust to changing soil conditions. The 400-foot (121.9 m) bore consisted of not only clay and mixed soil but also a rock shelf as they drilled gradually up the hill on the south side of the road.

The Banks Gas crews were able to overcome all the obstacles of this project — the changing ground conditions, the space limitation, the time constraints and the varying grades — in one shot in order to complete the bore and install the 4-inch (10.2 cm) gas line. The whole project took just under two days to complete.

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For 90 years, McLaughlin has been actively involved in the drilling tool industry. During that time McLaughlin has developed a reputation for designing and building dependable, low maintenance trenchless construction equipment. McLaughlin takes pride in providing solutions for OEMs and the underground industry.

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