Will Keyes, CWD, has served the drilling industry for more a decade, working his way into a position as senior superintendent with Griffin Dewatering. The company offers dewatering and groundwater control services across the U.S., helping clients realize their below-grade plans. From his time as a helper, Keyes developed a passion for drilling and training those coming behind him, an effort he says has only gotten more important.

“We’re going to continue to be in a crunch for drillers and it’s only going to get worse for the next decade until we get some of these people trained up,” says Keyes, who has had a hand in training and development at companies he’s worked for.

We had Keyes on our Drilling In-Site video and podcast series. We covered sonic drilling, mentoring, site leadership and other topics. This is an edited summary.

Q. How did you learn sonic drilling?

A. The company (he worked for at the time) bought the second 8140 from Geoprobe that was made on the production line — once they made it into production and it wasn’t a prototype anymore. The gentleman that I was drilling with was a driller from the oilfield. It was him, me and another helper. I ended up, by default, being the assistant driller for that crew based on some other credentials, [like] having a Class A CDL going into the job. I was with that machine for a year and a half, and the driller decided he wanted to move on. ... Environmental drilling really wasn’t for him. He was from the oilfield. So, once he left, it was my opportunity to move into the full-time role of sonic drilling. That was late 2013 or early 2014. I stayed with the machine for the duration of that period.

You learn really fast what works and what doesn’t work with the sonic rig. You get to talk to other people, but being the only sonic driller at the company, the only guys I really had to pull from where the other drillers that were doing conventional drilling: mud rotary, air rotary, augers. When I had questions, they would oftentimes allude to things that made sense with a roller-cone or made sense with a button bit. I’d kind of piecemeal it together until we figured it out and we got to a point where our production increased. I would say we had days where we started out, [and] we may get 80 feet in a day. … After three or four years with it, we were getting almost 300 feet a day with it. That’s when we moved into, you know, buying another sonic rig, a bigger sonic rig. It went from there.

I had a good mentor going into the drilling portion of it. He was an air rotary guy. I went back and forth with him from sonic -- he needed some help. ... So I would go over and help him out on the air rigs, if it was applicable. The thing about that was, he had the biggest rig in the company. It was a Gus Pech. It was a Brute. They only made, I think, two of them. Everybody knows about the Brat but the Brute is the big brother with the 20-foot stroke. It’s got the air compressor on it. It’s got the high torque. It can spin augers. It’s got this huge mud pump. It can pretty much do anything. Just being able to stand on those controls and feel the power the first time you turn that air compressor on kind of sucks you into it. If you haven’t been around it, it kind of sounds crazy, that that’s what gets you going. But once you feel that power and you see the power that you have, it really gets you into the industry, it really just sucks you in and you don’t want to let it go. You want to see what you can do with it. You said, “Okay, today we did 100 feet. Well, let’s see if we can go 125 feet tomorrow.” ...

The gentleman that I worked with, my mentor, always made it a precedent that we were going to be done by 5 p.m. every day unless drilling dictated otherwise, which happens. He was really tough at work, [pushing] really hard to get to make sure we got production. He’d push the guys. You know, he never he never lost his temper to them, but he really pushed everybody hard. As soon as … it was 5 p.m., we’re heading back to the hotel. And, as soon as you got off, it was a knock on the door. You go to the door. He’s standing there with Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops on. “Hey, let’s go find a hobby store. I want to go look at remote control airplanes.” So, you know, something that was totally on work related. We built that relationship over the years. A good friend outside of work is somebody that you’re going to work harder for at work, because you don’t want to let them down on a personal level.

Q. What was the best lesson you learned from your mentor?

A. We were talking one day and I was upset about a situation. I was telling him that, this is how I’m going to deal with it: I’m going to go in there and I’m going to tell this guy that this is what I think about it. He said, “Well, you can do that. I have done that before, but let me just tell you that you catch more flies with honey.” And he left it at that and let me make the decision on how to handle the situation. That, I feel like, stuck with me. Going into a tough situation where you have to confront somebody about something, where you’re maybe basing your decisions off of an emotion, [instead] you cool it down, look back, get centered, figure out what the issue is, and go in there level-headed and handle the situation.

Q. Did you take his advice at the time, or did you learn the lesson the hard way?

A. At that time. I took his advice. I will say that I have not always done that and when I haven’t done it, it has not worked out well for me. That’s why it stuck with me.

dewatering systems
The company has designed dewatering systems for clients in the construction industry since 1934. Source: Will Keyes / Griffin Dewatering

Q. Did you continue that leadership style when you became the site supervisor?

A. I did. One of the things that my crew knew about me is that I like running. I’m big into running. I feel like it clears my head. Being a driller, you can’t get up at 4 a.m. and run before work. Well, you can, but sleep is very valuable and I would rather go into the day prepped and ready for the day, and then after work run. They knew that at least two days a week, we were going to be somewhere to run on a trail because that’s what I wanted to do and they’re riding with me. So they kind of got stuck with it. I said, “You didn’t have to go, but if you’re riding with me, you’re going to sit in the truck for at least 30 minutes while I get this run over with.” Lo and behold, they actually do get out of the truck after a while and decide that if they’re going to be there twice a week, they’re going to either run or walk or do something. So it actually got them motivated, but the trade-off was they got to pick what they wanted to do. Other days during the week, we did disc golf, we went rock climbing, we went bowling, all sorts of stuff. They knew we were going to be doing those things throughout the week, so they liked working. They liked working hard during the day because they had something to look forward to after the day, because a lot of times we’re out of town and the only thing you get to do after you get out of work is sit in the hotel room. Being on a small adventure each week or at the end of every day gives the guys something to look forward to.

Q. How did you teach your helpers to be drillers?

A. So the guys want to come in, and you can tell who’s interested in the process and who’s just hanging out — you know, they have to be there because they have to be there. You can pick out of a group of guys who’s interested in something and you take that opportunity. Maybe you’re drilling in a hard rock and it’s going to be 30 minutes of just standing there watching it turn. You give them the opportunity to say, “Hey, this is the down pressure you need to look for. This is the speed we’re looking at, penetration rate.” You just let there stand there during that rod, while it’s going down. Let them run the controls for a minute. You take a break. Walk around the rig. Check everything out. It gives you a chance to get a break. It gives them the chance to see what stresses you’re under on the stand. Then you walk back around and, about that time, it’s time to make the connection or change rods or trip rods, whatever the case may be. But it gives them the opportunity to see what it’s like up there, and you can tell who likes it and who doesn’t like it.

When you find that right person, on the next one, you say, “Okay, you’re going to make this connection here. I’m going to stand right here, and I’m going to tell you every lever to pull and how it’s going to work and you’re going to do it. It’s going to take you 10 minutes to make this connection that it takes me 30 seconds to make.” They understand going into it that they’re not going to make it perfect the first time, but they’re not worried that they’re going to mess something up because they know there’s somebody standing right there to help them. Once they get those small things going, a lot of it is muscle memory. But once they teach themselves that part of it, you give them a little bit more rope to lead themselves out. Let them make the connection. Let them fill the rod with water. Let them take the next sample. ... You slowly let them do one step at a time and over the course of six weeks, eight weeks they’ve done every part of the drilling process. It’s time to let them run the day. Let them run the job that entire day on their own and see how they do.

The Full Interview

We interviewed Will Keys of Griffin Dewatering for episode 40 of our Drilling In-Site series. Our talk covered mentoring, the “pitch” for getting young people into drilling trades and other topics. See the conversation at www.thedriller.com/insite, or listen to the podcast version at www.thedriller.com/insite-podcast. Episodes also in Apple’s Podcast store and on Spotify. Search Drilling In-Site and tap Subscribe.

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