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Tools of the Trade

  May 2018 / Vol 8 Issue 3

Tools of the Trade
By: Ray Keller, National Sales Manager, Pipeline Division, BEG Group, LLC


Every construction industry has tools specific to its’ trade and designed to fill a specific need within that industry. Although some of the tools will fill the same needs in different industries, pipeliners have developed several that are unique not only to the industry but to the world. Let’s outline some of those tools this month and their specific purpose in the construction process. Breaking them down, we will discuss track type machines, ROW clearing machines, ditching machines, bending machines, welding machines, & coatings &coating machines. Although there are many more, this will give the layman a good foundation and concept of what goes on and why.



In the early days of pipelining as with all other construction, many of the tasks involved used straight man power, horses, mules, and even oxen to pull and move heavy objects of all kinds. During WW1 the military began using a track that would use a series of shoes that would revolve around 2 gears and move a platform forward similar to that of a caterpillar. BORN: Caterpillar Tractor Company. For the military it was the start of the mechanized platform for artillery morphing into the tank. For pipeliners, the platform replaced horses, mules and manpower enabling larger loads to be moved quickly and over longer distances thus reducing construction times and overall costs. Early on, a young engineer named Jim Cummings developed a machine on tracks with a blade in the front raised and lowered by wire rope and winches enabling the machine to level, grade and move large quantities of dirt with great speed. The first bulldozer was patented by Mr. Cummings and the original patent hangs on the wall in Tulsa Oklahoma at the manufacturing plant of CRC-Evans Pipeline International, a company where I spent the first 42 years of my working career. Mr. Cummings was a partner of Crutcher, Rolfs and Cummings, hence CRC. Caterpillar Tractor acquired the patent rights and began using its’ platform to build bulldozers, digging machines called back hoes, and other need specific attachments. The Cat Platform still today is finding new forms on the pipeline ROW as construction practices change and improve. Although there are many other companies that make similar equipment today, Caterpillar Tractor Company is today the premier supplier of track type equipment in all pipeline construction. Certainly no swipe intended to those other manufacturers similar high quality equipment.

One of the most unique platforms developed is a piece of equipment used almost strictly within the pipeline construction industry and to a lesser extent in the railroad recovery industry called the SIDEBOOM TRACTOR. It enables the piece of equipment to transport a single joint of pipe along the ROW or when used in series, lower several sections of welded pipe into the ditch by “booming” in or out. Counter weights can be moved to offset the weight of the pipe sections to prevent the sideboom from tipping over. It is a transport platform used for almost every phase of pipeline construction. The operators of this equipment are highly skilled and trained over several years in the field. A good operator is very valuable to the contractor and paid accordingly. It is dangerous work and the operator uses arms, legs and visual capabilities to do his job. Railroad companies use this type of equipment to recover rail cars that have come off track and lifting other heavy loads Over the years the “caterpillar” platform first developed for war and pipeline use is a common denominator for many other construction industries.



Bulldozers are used in clearing ROW’s and several machines taken from the forestry industry have taken a special form in the pipeline business. These machines fell trees and then break them down into their components using branches and trunks to be turned into lumber, landscaping mulch, wood pellets for plywood, and many other consumer products. Chain saws, chippers and mulchers work together in harmony to again speed production and save for repurposing almost 90% of every tree cleared.



These machines again work off a caterpillar track platform. The machine works off the same principal as a water wheel lifting water in a bucket, moving it upward and then poured down creating power for say an old time grist mill. In pipeline use the buckets on the wheel scoop up dirt as the machine moves slowly forward and deposits it on a belt that throws it out to the side leaving a spoil pile that can later be used to return that dirt to the same spot it came from, burying the pipe. Barbour Greene Company was a pioneer in developing this machine. Today the buckets on the wheel can be replaced by cutting bits that can saw through rock and other hard material eliminating or limiting the use of dynamite. The wheel is raised and lowered by use of hydraulics to compensate for hills and valleys keeping the depth of the cut ditch constant. Again, highly skilled operators play a very important role in this process.


As we learned in a previous article, there is no such thing as a straight pipeline. In early days, pipe was small in diameter and soft in its composition. To conform to the lay of the land, pipe was bent around trees until the proper radius was obtained. As diameters became larger and steel stronger it was evident that trees would not work as bending tools. Taking from the bulldozer technology and use of high strength wire rope, a machine was developed that pulled the piece of pipe around a die with a specific radius in a series of separate pulls. The pipe fit into the machine horizontal to the ground and was termed a Sidewinder Bending Machine or wrinkle bender. This was used for many years until an engineer from Tulsa,OK named Whitey Crose thought to bring the bending plane to a vertical position. His company, M.J. Crose Manufacturing started producing these machines in the early 1950’s and the principal is still in use today. This saved time and produced a much smoother and accurate bend than the old Sidewinder. Over time an internal mandrel was developed to exert pressure from the inside of the pipe out keeping the pipe totally round and allowing for a greater degree of bend to be achieved. In the beginning, 20″ diameter was the largest pipe to be bent. As the need for longer and larger pipelines developed, so the capabilities of the machines changed. For the building of the Alaskan Pipeline the diameters increased up to 48″ and in the mid 1970’s Shell Oil received a contract from the Russians to construct a dual 56″ 1,300 mile pipeline from Siberia to Eastern Europe. In that period of time I took part the first successful bending of 60″ diameter pipe in Tulsa, OK. The hydraulic pressure were so great that the scale rust popped off the steel and it actually smoked from the heat being generated during the bending process. That first machine and several others were used by the Russians to build the pipeline. Cudos to American engineering and manufacturing capabilities.



In the very early years of pipeline construction, welding of steel was in its’ infancy. Replacing rivets,welding flat plate was common, but welding in a vertical circle was an issue not easily overcome. Therefore, early line pipe was threaded on both ends and screwed together which created more problems than it solved. Again the ever resourceful “pipeliner” came to the rescue. Harold Price developed a procedure which integrated both “down hill and up hill ” welding to join two pieces of steel pipe together. Harolds’ company, Price Brothers Welding pioneered the process still in use today almost 100 years ago. His company has morphed into Price-Gregory, one of the largest pipeline contractors in the world. As steel components changed so did the procedures to weld them. At first, outside clamps termed “birdcage clamps” were used to align the two joints prior to welding. As techniques progressed, inside clamps were developed using air and hydraulics to align the ends. This sped up the welding time and made production of welds per day skyrocket to 20 or 30. During the construction of the Alaskan Pipeline, stick rod was starting to be replaced with “micro wire” and a semi automatic machine called a double jointing rack came into being. This eliminated half the welds made on the ROW as the now 80′ long joints were used. Offshore pipeline lay barges came into existence and refined the semi automatic process for use in underwater lines. The next logical step? You have probably guessed it. A fully automatic welding procedure. A young welding engineer along with others from TransCanada came to work for a company in Houston and over a period of years developed a system that welded both internally and externally at the same time. His name is Brian Laing. This revolutionized pipeline building around the globe. Starting with the first contracts for Brown & Root, and J. Ray McDermott offshore, this automatic process is today being used worldwide on both land and sea. Speeds are up to 150 welds per day on large diameter pipe and weld quality has kept pace with the speed. Who knows where this technology will go tomorrow. Outer space?



Many miles of early pipelines were laid in the ground bare. Over time the steel would corrode creating the need for patching or replacing the lines. Corrosion protection was born!! Engineers developed a coating made from coal tar enamel to coat the pipeline extending its’ in service life many times. First applied by hand, the tar was first heated to a liquid state in a pipeline kettle, poured into buckets on the ROW and “granny ragged” onto the pipe. A slow and messy process to say the least.  Cleaning machines were developed to remove scale rust before the coating was applied. Then a mechanized machine called a Coat and Wrap machine would travel down the pipe applying the liquid coal tar enamel and felt, and finish wrapping it with a heavy type craft paper. The pipe was then lowered into the ditch protected from moisture intrusion which caused the rust. Tape coatings were developed over the years to restrict the use of tar and finally the coating of the bare joints was moved from the ROW to the plants where the pipe was manufactured. A number of new extrusion coatings were employed as well as coal tar and tape. Enter the world of EPOXY!! Today, coal tar enamel and tapes have more or less disappeared and have been replaced with FBE powder. Fusion Bond Epoxy coatings are used in over 90% of pipeline work today. Applied at the pipe mills they are sprayed in the powder form onto a steel joint heated to 470 degrees. The powder melts into the steel forming a barrier to even the harshest corrosion conditions. Still today 3 part and other special condition coatings continue to protect steel pipe from the elements.

Again, the industry is still looking for young men and women who want to join the pipeline family. It’s about careers, not jobs. Please feel free to contact myself or any of the advertisers in this publication for more information.

As we proudly say in the industry, “AIN’T NOTHIN FINER THAN A PIPELINER”
Ray Keller





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