McKinney Drilling Co.

McKinney Drilling Co. founder Jack McKinney had a simple vision after establishing the company in Nacogdoches, Texas, in 1938. McKinney founded the company with the financial backing of his brother, R.W. McKinney, who owned and operated a successful road construction business that worked throughout Texas and Louisiana. “McKinney said, `We are hole drillers, and expect to stay that way and be the very best in the business,’” says Bill Maher, McKinney Drilling’s president since 2005 and a 43-year veteran of the company.

Although McKinney Drilling has grown significantly since its days of hand-digging holes for telephone poles and today is the leading drilled shaft contractor in North America, the company has retained much of its founder’s humility and dedication to hard work. Now owned by Keller Group plc – the world’s largest independent ground engineering specialist – and based in Hanover, Md., the company is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

In addition to this year being the 75th anniversary for McKinney, 2012 was the 50th anniversary for Seaboard Foundations, a wholly owned subsidiary company. Seaboard now has three offices: a main office in Virginia and offices in Tennessee and Texas.

Seaboard was originally founded and owned by the family members of Jack and R.W. McKinney, and started as an open-shop foundation drilling company in Jessup, Md. Seaboard Foundations has earned a reputation for delivering and installing high-quality caissons and driven piles including timber, steel, pipe, and precast concrete on time and within budget. Seaboard continues to thrive under the guidance of President Dan Knott,  Mark Madgett and Duane Frye.

McKinney Drilling considers itself one of the most efficient, safety-oriented, and technically advanced in terms of methods and equipment in the industry. The company traces its emphasis on innovation to its founder. After performing initial projects using only shovels, McKinney commissioned his longtime friend Hugh B. Williams to design and build a modest drill rig that was pulled behind a pickup truck.

McKinney and Williams would go on to build several additional rigs from designs the pair drew in chalk on the floor of Williams’ machine shop in Dallas. Williams not only manufactured equipment, but also served a part-time role as McKinney’s pilot for many of the sales calls he would make across the country by plane. “This relationship also led to the development of the Williams Diggers (drill machines), which became the workhorse of the foundation drilling industry throughout the country for more than 40 years,” Maher says.

McKinney Drilling today has a fleet of more than 100 drill rigs, as well as cranes and associated equipment and tools supporting its 15 offices across the country.

Decades of Growth

McKinney Drilling’s first significant project involved digging 20-foot-deep holes for an ordnance depot at the Red River Arsenal near Texarkana, Texas, in the late 1930s.

Since then, the company has completed several major projects in its history both across the United States and internationally. “[McKinney] was not content just to sit in east Texas,” Maher says. “McKinney rigs have travelled from the frozen tundra of Alaska and the deserts of Nigeria, and Australia, England, Guatemala, and New Caledonia have seen McKinney crews tackling every conceivable soil condition, climate and type of project.”

One significant project was in 1973, when McKinney Drilling installed 2,300 drilled shafts for the North River Water Pollution Control Plant in New York City, a 10-city-block-long project that reached 750 feet offshore into the river and was the world’s largest infrastructure project at the time. Drilled shafts were up to 250 feet deep and ranged in diameter from 36 to 42 inches, and were socketed into hard mica schist, Maher says.

McKinney Drilling also played a role in the construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline from 1974 to 1976. The company built thousands of drilled vertical support members (VSMs) and installed more than 16,000 drilled shafts across 142 miles of the elevated portion of the 800-mile pipeline.

The pipeline project led to other work in Alaska in the early 1980s, including an $11 million fish dock in Homer at the end of the Homer Spit, a 4.5-mile peninsula that juts into the icy waters of Kachemak Bay.

Other significant projects in McKinney Drilling’s history include:

•Drilling more than 2,000 shafts for the 163,000-seat Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth, Texas, which opened in 1995. The shafts ranged in diameter from 24 to 48 inches and rock sockets up to approximately 10 feet deep;

•Installing a temporary communication tower at the Pentagon just three days after equipment was destroyed during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The company constructed shafts for a ferry terminal to replace a subway line destroyed in the World Trade Center the weekend following the attacks, a task that required moving a 165-ton crane and drill from regional offices in the Northeast to a yard in north New Jersey in much less time than the three weeks that would typically be needed to do so;

•Installing 186 shafts in a modified “bottom up” construction sequence instead of the originally designed “top down” method at the United States Capitol Visitor Center in 2003, saving $10 million in construction costs; and

•Completing more than 1,000 drilled shafts for the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in 2006 and 2007.

The company works on an average of 1,200 jobs per year. In the last five years, it has branched out into power line work with major involvement on projects throughout Texas and the Northeastern United States.

Roughly 80 percent of its work is for small to large general contractors and national construction management firms; the remainder of the work is directly for the owners and through prime contracts.

“McKinney Drilling does not rest on its previous accomplishments and continues to grow,” Maher says. “Since being acquired by Keller [in 2002], McKinney’s annual sales has almost doubled to more than $125 million.”

McKinney Drilling’s position as a subsidiary of Keller gives it access to its parent company’s material and financial resources, which it takes advantage of by teaming up with other Keller-owned businesses. “It gives us the ability to do larger projects we may not have been able to work on in the past and access to equipment that we don’t actually own ourselves,” he adds.

Keller is the world’s largest independent ground engineering specialist with unrivalled coverage in Europe, the U.S. and Australia and a growing presence in the Middle East and Asia. Keller is renowned for providing innovative and cost effective solutions to ground engineering problems. Other members of the Keller Group of companies operating in the U.S. include Hayward Baker, Case Foundation Company, Anderson Drilling, HJ Foundation Company, Suncoast Post-Tension. In January, Keller acquired Geo-Foundations Contractors, Inc., a Toronto-based specialist geotechnical contractor serving Canada.

 ‘The McKinney Family’

In 1975, when Jack McKinney was inducted into the Moles, a fraternal organization of heavy construction professionals, he accepted the honor not just on his own behalf, but also as a reflection of the work of the company as a whole, Maher notes.

“I realize that membership is personal; however, in a larger sense, this membership comes to me as a tribute to my company,” McKinney wrote in his acceptance letter to the organization. “Had it not been for the achievements of all of the men and women of McKinney Drilling Co., it is extremely doubtful that I would ever be considered for this honor.”

McKinney imparted similar advice to Maher while working on the fish dock project in Homer, Alaska. “He told me, `Anybody can buy equipment; it is your people that make you a successful company,’” Maher says.

Maher attributes the company reaching the 75-year milestone to his staff, which he calls “the McKinney family.”

“It is the hard work and dedication of our people that has carried the company through the ups and downs that are inherent in the construction business,” he adds. “We consider it our duty and responsibility to provide employees with a safe and stable work environment and to send them home safely each day to their families, because our employees are our family.”

Maher personally has seen many of those “ups and downs.” He joined the company as a field laborer in 1970, later working in the field as a foreman and superintendent before leading McKinney’s Alaska operations from 1981 to 1984, when the company closed its office there.

Maher returned to the company’s main office and later became manager of McKinney’s Washington, D.C., operation in 1987. The following year, he became vice president of McKinney Drilling’s Northeast region before taking the reins of company president in 2005.

“I have gone wherever the company has needed me and helped several of our offices become profitable,” he says. “I consider myself the company’s biggest cheerleader, and believe in allowing my staff to do what they do best.”

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