Lessons Learned by the Trench from Hell

Over the 4th of July week things slow down here at Allen Trench Safety and while family and friends execute their meticulously planned vacations, I, being a small business owner, am never really afforded the opportunity to stray very far from home. So while things are quiet I try to find a project that will make life a little bit better in my corner of the world.

This time my sights landed on installing insulated piping from the wood boiler that sits at my office 400’ expansive feet across our yard in an effort to tie the stove and it’s glorious heating abilities to our house. Never mind that it was 89 degrees outside. How hard can it be? I thought. It should only take a day or two at most…

So I rented a mini excavator with a 12” bucket and started on Thursday evening. A few hours into the project found me digging sand, and that 12” bucket was not keeping up as each load I scooped caused one more to cave back in.

Lesson #1: Sometimes the soil will determine the width of your project

By the time I dug down to 6’ deep the top of the trench was 4’ wide. Well, with only a 12” bucket I was certainly not making any speed records…then WHAM! Dust flew up, filling the cab, and the whole trench caved in!

After the cursing died down I had to drive the excavator back up the trench to re-dig what had just fallen in. This scenario replayed itself out time and time again like a bad dream. Dig a 6’ deep trench with a 12” bucket for a 6” line, cave-in, curse, re-dig trench. After an entire day and very little progress my trench that started out at 12” wide from top to bottom was now 10’ wide at the top with a nice taper from all the collapses.

Lesson #2: Trench boxes are for production

When digging in soil that will not stand long enough to hear the national anthem play at a NFL football game, you’ve got to get creative.

Trench boxes are not only life saving protection; they can save production too. Using a lightweight Ultra Shore box, I stacked a 4×7 on top of a new Ultra Shore Modified 4×7 box so the mini could dig out in front of the box and then move the box forward. Because my pipe was one continuous piece the box would align the pipe as I pulled it with the machine. So when the ground caved in the pipe was already in place, and I just kept digging.

All in all, I learned a lot from this project and what I now like to call the “Trench from Hell.” Ultimately, I got to jump into the shoes of my customers and experience, if only slightly, what they go through in a day’s time.

True, the endeavor took a week but 400’ later we are all hooked up and ready to go. (The steaming showers I’ve been enjoying with the water now heated by our stove are not only costing me less money they’re pretty damn satisfying at the end of a long, hard day.)

And if any of you would like to hire me to install your lines, I think it would be best for me to charge by the hour, not the job! Or better yet, give us a call and we’ll help you find the box to meet even your most unique production needs.

From the Trenches (literally),

Chris Allen