Three years ago, there was so much work to go around it was hard for contractors in the underground trade to resist making the long-haul, and “last mile” work a major part of their business. New players were buying trenchers and horizontal directional drilling (HDD) units so they could get a piece of the pie. Some plumbers even were figuring out ways to jump in.

Since then, those in the underground construction industry have watched that market peak and crash. Daleo Inc. rode the HDD-market roller coaster and survived. Today, 80 percent of the Gilroy, Calif.-based company’s business still is fiber-optics cable installation, which Daleo Inc. leaders are proud to call unique.

“I’m not saying we’re out making lots of money like everyone was during the boom,” says Joe Franke, vice president. “The market has dramatically affected our business and we had to cut our forces as demand plummeted. But we did survive. We did it right, and we didn’t buy so much equipment that we were burned when everything shut down … I know several contractors in the area who didn’t make it past the boom.”

While Daleo currently is about half the size it was during the HDD boom, it’s still a bigger, more successful company than it was before the market skyrocketed.

Daleo used to do a lot of work for MCI Worldcom and its subsidiaries, as well as a few other companies. “Now we concentrate on doing fiber work for Comcast,” Franke says. “We also do on-grade sewer and water bores in between to pick up the slack.”

Crews drilled near Merced, Calif., as part of a fiber-optics cable installation project, providing high-speed coaxial cable access to thousands of homes and businesses in the Valley, from Fresno to Oakdale.

Daleo installed close to 8 miles of product in six months, with each bore averaging about 450 feet. From a fleet of drills, trenchers with rockwheels and backhoes, Daleo typically used two Vermeer D24x40A NAVIGATOR HDD units on the Merced job, and sometimes as many as three or four HDD rigs in short spans. At one point, a Vermeer D33x44 model was used. The biggest reason for the trenchless methods: Crews were drilling inside city limits on strict deadline. Also presenting a major challenge was working on heavily traveled roads and dealing with underground utilities.

Franke calls the project “substantial,” but he admits that ground conditions didn’t present much of a problem, even though you can go from loam to rock or sand to cobble within a matter of feet. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” he says, indicating that the crews were equipped with the right tooling and machines.

With that said, Franke is careful to point out that his crews weren’t “just blowing and going.” In other words, there is a substantial existing network of utilities and cable that his drilling crew needed to avoid. “[It was] a true horizontal directional drilling job,” he stresses. “… working carefully in a lot of residential areas and trying hard not to disrupt homeowners’ property or utilities.”

Franke adds that there are definitely jobs they’ve done and will do that are much more complicated and challenging than the Merced project in many respects. “There are those tougher ones that give you an adrenaline rush. But projects like this are the backbone of our business,” he says. “They are the types of jobs for good customers that have made us successful.”