Experience counts in the foundations and construction drilling industry, and Dale Scheffler stands by his. The owner and president of D.J. Scheffler & Nye, based in Pomona, California, started the business as D.J. Scheffler Construction in 1979. The company adding drilling to its services in 1985, and now offers foundation, environmental, and geotechnical drilling and shoring services to private- and public-sector customers across the western United States.
“The more clients you work, for the more work you do that’s good work, the more chances you have of them recommending you to somebody else,” Scheffler says.
Decades later, the company has made a name with work like the micropiles anchoring the Grand Canyon Skywalk in Mohave County, Arizona; and pilings and micropilings for the historic Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California. From one drilling rig to about 30 now, Sheffler says he’s maintained a philosophy of treating people as the company’s most important asset.
We had Scheffler on our Boring Conversations video and podcast series to talk about these projects and more. This is an edited summary of our talk. Click here to see the full video, or here to listen to the podcast.
Q. You’ve got quite the list of landmark projects, from the Rose Bowl stadium to the Grand Canyon Skywalk. So what project would you consider the coolest to have completed, and why?
A. Well, the coolest one still today is probably the one that’s most recognized by people that come up to us, and say, “Wow, you did the Grand Canyon Skywalk?” Yeah, we did. We helped with the value, engineering the work. After we got the job, we didn’t want to spend a long time drilling a 54-inch diameter hole in 21,000 psi rock, and the only way that you could do that was with pneumatic tools. Having a 54-inch diameter shaft and a pneumatic tool for that was just barely starting to come into our industry. But if you would put that much percussion 4 feet off the edge of the rock and the face drops 3,000 feet, you’ve got a chance that you might destroy all that rock. So we didn’t even try to go there. We were looking at conventional drilling. … Especially with the client being the Hualapai Tribe — they believe that the river is their father and that the land is their mother, and they don’t want you to even pick up a rock to take home with you because that’s sacred to them — one of the things that I suggested was that we change the pile from a large-diameter pile to micropiles, which are much easier to manage on this job. We knew that we could get in and out of it because we were able to use small-diameter percussion tools with down hole hammers. That got us in and out of the job. … We would have sat there for so long to try to drill conventionally through 21,000 psi rock. I thought that rock was sandstone. It looks like sandstone, but they call it limestone. But who am I? I’m just a practical applicator. After we are awarded the job is when we came back to them and said, “Hey, we can get done quicker and more assuredly … by using micropiles. And, guess what? It’s going to save you a half a million bucks. I can take a half a million dollars off my contract if you let me do it this way.” Then we talk with the engineer and I had my engineer work on developing what could replace that 54-inch diameter shaft and use micropiles. We used a cluster of micropiles that were 6-inches diameter. That was very easy to drill to 40 feet and then grout them up with steel.
Q. I understand your company completes over 150 projects per year. How has project volume evolved since you started the business and what does it take to achieve such output, in terms of staff and crews and equipment?
A. In the first 10 years, we didn’t get any repeat business. But after the first 10 years, we started getting a lot of repeat business. I think that it just takes time for people to realize what we can do. As we prove what we can do, word travels. Then people start hearing about us. “Oh, yeah, we’ve used them. They were good the first time. So let’s try them again.” But you can’t get repeat business for at least six to eight, maybe 10 years in this business. In fact, there’s a lot of guys in this industry that will burn a bridge with a client because they know that they’re only going to experience this once in their life. I’ve always wanted to be honest and I’ve always wanted to charge up front, and get paid for what we say the project is going to cost. We try to take the risk out of the client. What I mean by that is, in our industry, many of the contractors would say, “You’re going to have to pay the drilling contractor separately because they’re shoring up this; that’s too much risk for us. Or they’re going to be drilling these deep shafts; that’s too risky for us. We don’t want anything to do with it.”
Nowadays, the industry’s evolved enough to where guys do bid work without talking to us drillers. But in the old days, they’d have to call us and find out how to do the work. Then, after I spent enough time talking to them, they would realize that I was honest and they would realize that I gave them information that others might not have. That’s how we would get our work. Our reputation has always been to be honest and get the job done. If we don’t think we can do it, we recommend other companies. In the very beginning, that’s what we had to do all the time because we only had one drill rig. One drill rig can’t do every job, although we wish that could happen. I own 25 to 30 drill rigs, just so I have the right drill for the right job. Of course, I got started before I was married, so I was able to reinvest everything back into the company. Mark Nye, my partner, he had a truck when he first came to work for me. He banged it all up on one of the jobs, and he never asked for a new one. I kept saying, “You want us to put money on a down payment for a drill rig, or you want a new truck?” He always said, “Just go get the new drill rig.” He was always loyal and helpful that way, and he still is that way. He’s about the best partner anybody could have.
Q. With the kind of work your crews do, a safety program is obviously critical. Can you highlight your philosophy and approach regarding safety?
A. Well, safety is my biggest concern. … The day, I started this business, I prayed every day that nobody would get hurt because it happens. We’ve had injuries and they’re surely accidents, but we try not to have accidents. The more you have experience around the work, the less accidents you have. Obviously, when you first get started, you have people that come to work for you that you’re not quite sure of yet, and then they get into an accident with their back, or whatever. I mean, anybody getting hurt just bothers me. … I don’t want to have a company that I felt that we did something that hurt somebody. If I ever had that happen, where it wasn’t truly an accident and it was because of me, I wouldn’t have been able to stay in this business.
Obviously when you’re in a business like this for 37 years, we’ve had some accidents, unfortunately. But I do pray that we stay away from them. We do all that we can to educate our people by going to three or four company meetings a year — all about safety, total safety, covering all the different aspects of safety.
Now, when you talk about safety, you talk about OSHA. … None of us can remember everything that the OSHA laws say, so we have to continually talk to our people and keep telling them. Every time I walk on a jobsite, I have an eye for things and I’ll tell them about something that I think could be a little safer. They probably don’t like that about me, but that’s my job. I can see those things and I just let them know. Then they comply. Our guys comply, and they comply with the inspectors too and whoever comes from OSHA to the job.
We have to put out a notice every time we go to do a job because we’re shoring the ground. Even in a drilled shaft, we’re shoring the ground. OSHA says that we have to notify them for each job that we go to where we have shoring. Consequently, every job we do, we send the note to the local OSHA office so that they have the opportunity to come by and see how we’re doing. OSHA does move around, and they go to different jobsites, but they usually just react to complaints. They don’t usually go out looking for problems, because they’re already busy looking at the problems that they’re being called out on. We work closely with them to show them and get approval from them on how we cover our holes, for instance. The way that we cover the holes, the method in which we do it, complies with the rules and regulations of OSHA. We had to get that approved before we got started in the business. That took me a few months before I got started. That was one of the difficult things when I first got started, was to be able to have an employee safety plan, and to be able to get the insurance for this industry and to prove that we had the ability to do the work.
The Full Interview
We interviewed Dale Scheffler, owner and president, D.J. Scheffler & Nye, for the premiere episode of our Boring Conversations video and podcast series. Our talk also covered how he got into the drilling business, his keys for business growth and other topics. See the conversation at www.thedriller.com/boring, or listen to the podcast version at www.thedriller.com/boring-podcast. Episodes also in Apple’s Podcast store. Search Drilling In-Site and tap Subscribe.
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