“There are drillers, and then there are blasters. We’re blasters,” explains Don Burgess of Huntsville, Ontario, one of the three owners of Rock Breakers 2007.

“There are drillers, and then there are blasters. We’re blasters,” explains Don Burgess of Huntsville, Ontario. Burgess is one of the three owners of Rock Breakers 2007. Barry Genrick and Murray Keller are the other partners.

The three restructured their company in 2007, giving it the new name “Rock Breakers 2007” to distinguish themselves from the previous 14-year-old company, which itself was a continuation of the company that employed them early in their careers. They accepted executive responsibility for the company when it was offered to them upon the previous owner’s retirement.

The difference between drillers and blasters, Burgess explains, is that “drillers will come, drill the holes, and then stand by and wait. We do the whole thing.”

By “we” he was referring to his crew – his sons Shawn, Adam and Matt, and his son-in-law Scott Keller, who is the son of owner Murray Keller. All of them lay out the charges together, but only Shawn lays out the 9-foot-by-7-foot blasthole patterns, taking his job so seriously that Keller teases, “No one touches Shawn’s string,” which he uses to measure placement. He did that once, he remembers, thinking he would help out. The chuckles and smiles that followed are good-natured, yet the point clearly is made. Each of the crew respects the contributions of the others in certain well-established roles.

In Their Blood

Burgess himself began drilling as his life’s career right away after school, having come from a construction family. Around Ontario, he says, “Drilling and mining are the main kind of construction around here. My dad was in construction. This is sort of the same thing.”

A drive down King’s Highway 11 from Sudbury confirms that point. There are quarrying, drilling and mining operations of every size and purpose. Almost everyone is, has been, or is related to someone in the industry. The security agent at the Toronto airport had started in mining out of high school. A Sudbury cab driver had been in quarry work for 15 years before switching to his “city job.” The receptionist at the motel had driven a hauler.

As for the Burgess family, it’s easy to tell that it’s in their blood. “I can’t see doing anything else,” Burgess says. His sons nod as he speaks, each repeating or adding: “There’s a lot of variety. Every day is something new, something different. I could never be one of those guys who stands in one place all day doing the same thing.” This is the men’s vocation. It’s hard not to envy them for how much they enjoy their work and are loyal to each other.

Having a Blast

Rock Breakers 2007 is a highly versatile company, with experience in a wide range of drilling and blasting, from carving out highway routes through solid granite, to structural demolition, to aggregate production – wherever blasters are needed.

When they were awarded the King’s Highway 11 project, they looked into expanding the capabilities of their five-unit fleet of crawlers by adding a larger rig. It would be useful on the Highway 11 job, helping them open up the new quarry in Novar Township where they would free up rock to crush for shoulder stone, but they also were looking to the future. A slightly bigger rig would enable them to drill larger blastholes and also speed up production drilling. Their choice was a radio remote-controlled Atlas Copco ROC D9 top-hammer surface crawler rig.

While other operations in the area require larger, climate-controlled cabs for their crews, larger rigs are overkill for this company. Burgess says they would lose too much going with a larger unit. “They’re too stiff,” he says, referring to the lack of maneuverability. The ROC D9 lets them reach areas that a cabbed unit can’t get to.

Steep Slope Work

Burgess likes the sure-footedness of the ROC D9 RCC: “It goes where the other drills can’t.” His boys agree. Shawn, who was running the rig this particular day, drilling 30-foot, 31⁄2-inch blast holes on a 30-degree-plus granite slope, agrees. “I like that winch. This is nothing. With that winch I’ve had it on, I bet, more than 50 degrees, and it’ll do more. You could hang it off a cliff with that winch.” None of their other drills have this feature.

The rig is equipped with rod-handling, which supports the safety feature of having remote control. Shawn does not have to approach the crawler to add or take off steel, which was a 12-foot T45 on this job. Working the radio-control box from his chest harness kept Shawn well back from the rig as he maneuvered its dual-oscillating treads up and over obstacles on the steep grade, shifting the body back as counterweight when the rig was on steep grades. The other rigs required the operators to be right at the rigs, working their fixed controls.

Scott Keller volunteers with a grin that, for a while, they’d mark the rock with the words “Copco holes,” and draw arrows leading to each hole that was too difficult for the other crawlers. Shawn nods. “It’s true,” he affirms, “The hardest holes they started calling ‘Copcos.’”

Keeping the Crusher Busy

The crew also likes its rate of penetration. Shawn says he gets at least three feet per minute in the granite, though he qualifies that, saying it varies, because there were some really tough veins in the rock he was working, with seams and gaps thrown in randomly.

They also like the increased productivity resulting from this unit. One of the brothers says early on he’d heard from the crusher crew that they were anxious the team might not get them enough rock to work with. “But that was before we got here,” he notes.

By their third day at the site, they had already produced 1,000 cubic meters in their first blast and were just about ready for the second, which would be much larger. They will drill more than 300 holes now per blast. “We gave them enough to keep them busy a while.” The huge pile of rock by the crusher near the entrance to the quarry erased any doubt.

Burgess says he was sure they could take the whole hill out at once, but doing it in stages was the best way to ensure uniformity of material size, and orderly delivery for the excavator and trucks to haul to the crusher. Three blasts, the next larger than that initial one, will remove more than 17,000 cubic meters during this project, which Don says should take them only a couple weeks.

And then the guys will move on to their next job, which, for this crew, should be – to coin a phrase – a blast.