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Ditch Witch Equipment Helps ECI Telecom Diversify

Ditch Witch

Ditch Witch Equipment Helps ECI Telecom Diversify

Ditch Witch Equipment
Established in 1996, utility contracting company ECI Telecom (ECI) of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, spent its first years of operation primarily serving multi-system operator (MSO) cable television companies. This was during the peak of the telecommunications construction boom.

Then came the telecom bust of the early 2000s, which ECI managed to survive by diversifying. Telecommunications work continues to be a focus of the company, with ECI serving MSOs throughout the southeastern United States, performing a full range of services including both underground and aerial outside plant construction and fiber-optic splicing and testing.

In addition, ECI has expanded its markets to include power, natural gas, and water distribution projects for clients that include power and gas utilities, municipal and district providers of water services, general contractors, builders and developers.

ECI crews also frequently travel throughout the region to restore vital services following natural disasters.

"In addition to expanding the company's client base, growth and diversification have enabled us to take on bigger telecom jobs that call for multi-duct placement," said John (Roger) Earle, ECI president.

Most projects today require underground construction, and ECI is equipped to do general excavation and trenching, vibratory plowing, and horizontal directional drilling (HDD).

For much of its underground work, ECI depends on Ditch Witch equipment, including two Jet Trac directional drills (JT921 and JT1220 models), 255sx and 410sx vibratory plows, a Model 3610 trencher, and an XT850 excavator-tool carrier.

Three recent projects illustrate the versatility and capabilities of ECI:

University of Alabama Football Practice Facility. A local electrical contractor hired ECI to make two directional drilling installations beneath football practice fields. The first was a 355-foot-long installation of two-inch-diameter HDPE conduit under an artificial-turf field from a transformer to athletic offices. The second installation, a 486-foot-long section of the same-diameter HDPE conduit, ran from the same transformer under a grass practice field to a point just outside the team's indoor practice facility. The installation was necessary to add more lighting to the practice fields.

"Both installations were challenging," said Earle. "It was crucial that the integrity of the fields not be jeopardized by fracs or burp holes. We were also operating within tight time constraints so that no on-field events were disturbed. The entire job was completed within ten hours."

The company's JT1220 drilling unit was used for both bores. Depths ranged from four to eight feet in soils ranging from sand to clay. The pilot hole was enlarged to four inches in diameter, with reaming and product pull-in completed in one pass on each installation.

University of Alabama Aerial-to-Underground Conversion. Earle said the university is in the process of moving all overhead utilities underground to emphasize the beauty of the Tuscaloosa campus. ECI installed 7,900 feet of 120- and 18-count fiber cables along Bryant Drive, which was being widened and having new lighting added and other improvements made at the time of the fiber construction. The street, named for coaching legend Paul (Bear) Bryant, is the primary thoroughfare for football traffic.

Both the JT1220 and JT921 were used. Earle said 12 bores were made in the street's right-of-way, with maximum depths ranging from four to eight feet. A variety of soil conditions, including rock, were encountered.

"In addition to installing conduit of various sizes and cable, we also did all the splicing and the final cut over at the cable POP link serving all MSO modems on campus," Earle said. "This project was difficult as outages were unacceptable. The cut-over had to be performed between midnight and 6 a.m."

Black Warrior River Crossing. This project involved rerouting fiber across the river.

"The 668-foot span of fiber was a crucial element of the project because it is used to regulate the barge traffic up and down the river," said Earle. "Much of the new cable crossing the river was suspended from poles in the water. The project required diligent planning. We not only incurred normal vehicle traffic on roadways, but also recreational boaters who were fishing and skiing. We used our own personal boats in the water and our XT850 to make excavations at the bridge approaches where the cable went underground. It was a stressful but rewarding project."

The XT850 warrants special attention, as this compact, versatile machine is unique.

This rubber-track unit is about the same size as popular mini-excavator models, and features an excavator boom and bucket that extend from the front of the machine. Twin lift arms extend from the opposite end where interchangeable attachments can be mounted to do scores of specialized applications.

What sets XT equipment apart from other equipment is the dual-pivot design that enables offset excavating. As with mini-excavators, the boom's pivot point is at the front of the machine where the boom is connected to the tractor. The XT's second pivot is near the center of the machine beneath the floor of the operator's station, under the seat. It rotates the boom assembly, including the boom swing pivot, while the cab remains stationary.

The compact JT921 HDD unit is powered by a 50-horsepower diesel engine and develops 9,000 pounds of pullback, 1,100 foot pounds of torque, and spindle speeds to 180 rpm. The more powerful, but still compact JT1220 is powered by a 60-hp engine and develops 12,000 pounds of pullback force, 1,400 foot pounds of torque, and maximum spindle speed of 180 rpm. Both models are mounted on rubber tracks.

The four-wheel-drive 3610 has a mechanical digging chain drive and is powered by a 35-hp diesel engine. ECI's two compact vibratory plows are both pedestrian models used for direct burial of cable and small-diameter duct, conduit, and pipe. The smaller 255sx is powered by a 25-hp engine. Maneuverability of the larger, 40-hp 410sx is enhanced by its articulated frame.

Earle credits ECI's success to the company's core values, an experienced management team, and dedicated staff. Earle, Vice President Steve Jerrigan, who heads the company's installation department, and Construction Coordinator David Richeson provide more than 60 years of combined industry experience.

"ECI is known for its quality work and competitive rates," said Earle. "We believe our commitment to quality craftsmanship, timely completion, and our proven track record give us the edge. We constantly strive to deliver excellent customer service every time and on time. In the telecommunications business, we must maintain our relationships not only with project owners, but also with their homeowner customers. In dealing with the public, we pride ourselves on our customer relations. We are proud of our excellent employees. They work hard each day to keep us successful."
The Charles Machine Works, Inc.
Manufacturer of Ditch WitchÒ and SubsiteÒ Electronic Products
580-336-4402 · 800-654-6481 · fax 580-572-5823 · P.O. Box 66 · Perry, OK · USA  73077 · e-mail:

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