Virginia Drilling Company Sticks to High Standards
Of the half dozen water well contractors around Royall Pump & Well’s Powhatan, Va., service area, owner Robert Royall could think of maybe only one other that enjoyed similar prosperity even during bust times in the water well market.
He believed customer confidence was the reason. “I figure about 85 percent of customers decide who they’ll do business with based on trust,” Royall says.
For Royall Pump & Well, customer confidence has a lot to do with its long reputation for emphasizing quality, on having the best people and using only the best equipment. But it has just as much to do with customers’ belief they can trust Royall.
While common sense, frugality and smart timing of such things as fleet upgrades is fundamental to any successful drilling program, Royall Pump & Well’s greatest asset is its people, the ones who establish a relationship at the jobsite. Royall believes the main reason Royall Pump & Well experienced no shortage of work during the economic downturn was the company’s people, its boots on the ground.
Respect from their company, which supports drillers with the finest tools available, such as two Atlas Copco TH60 water well rigs, boosts the pride drillers take in their work, which translates directly to customer confidence in Royall Pump & Well as a whole.
Happy Employees, Happy Customers
Royall is convinced success is determined by employees’ relationship to the company. At Royall Pump & Well, the relationship is that of extended family. As Royall proudly recited the names and spouses of his own children and his grandchildren, without pause he transitioned to the names and descriptions of his employees, their spouses, their community service affiliations and achievements with equal pride.
It may explain why people seek out Royall Pump & Well for employment, and why those who come on board stay.
“They can work anywhere, but they choose to work for Royall Pump & Well,” Royall says. He recently compiled a list of employee tenure. The average age of Royall’s 12-person workforce is 38. Average tenure is 12½ years. The roster begins with a new-hire in his third week with Royall Pump & Well’s filtration division, 19-year-old Gordon “Trey” Thompson. It ends with 56-year-old Steve Wertz, whose 25 years with the company is second only to Robert Royall’s own.
Wertz, who has experience in all parts of the business and is now in charge of bidding the company’s jobs, had worked five years for Royall Pump & Well, first with Robert’s father, Jesse Royall, in 1981, helping Robert make the transition to company owner through his first few years. Wertz left the region in 1986, but he came back to Royall Pump & Well when he was able to relocate in the Powhatan area again. He’s remained ever since.
Newly hired Thompson had heard of Royall Pump & Well while in high school. When he was taking the place of a friend who was running a lawn service, Thompson got to meet Robert Royall in person at his home. For the next two years Thompson had one goal in mind: signing on with Royall Pump & Well. He did whatever he could to make himself an attractive candidate for employment, even making sure he had his commercial driving license first before finally applying in person at the shop. Knowing him already and impressed with his initiative and work ethic, Royall added Thompson to the fold.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jason Harold’s story is a little different. He had a decent job but it wasn’t quite where he wanted to be. Having grown up in Powhatan, he was familiar with Royall Pump & Well’s reputation. Although no job had been advertised, he simply knocked on the door one day two years ago to ask if there were an opening. “Best decision of my life,” Harold says.
Again, Royall recognized potential. After a few meetings Royall asked him when he could start.
Sharing the company’s prosperity with those who make it possible has always been at the heart of Royall Pump & Well’s operating principles, Royall says. Quarterly company outings, such as dinner cruises, take on the atmosphere of a family reunion. The company offers employees a number of paid holidays, including an extended Christmas vacation to have time with children on winter break, and a generous, flexible leave package.
“It dawned on me that over the years it really is about family,” Royall says. “The company has been part of their life journeys. I’ve watched them have children and watched as their children grew up. Yet it wasn’t until about 10 years ago I finally realized exactly what owning a successful company is about. It’s really about spreading prosperity around for everyone to use, to make their own futures secure, their own life dreams come true.”
A good part of keeping both employees and customers happy is making sure they have only the best materials and equipment. Royall Well & Pump simply will not cut corners. “We only use premium products,” Wertz says, mentioning the high-quality stainless steel screens and pumps they use for every well that calls for them. Asked what happens if a customer should want cheaper screens or pumps to cut project cost, Wertz shakes his head. “If the customer doesn’t want to use premium products, we simply don’t take that job. Using less than premium products means a greater risk of having to return to fix that job in the near future. We won’t do it.”
For drilling rigs, Royall’s focus on quality means using two Atlas Copco TH60 water well rigs. The long-running preference of Royall Pump & Well, its TH60-based fleet has roots in the company’s close relationship with Noland Drilling Equipment headquartered in Roanoke, Va. Noland sold Royall its first TH60 in 1984 and an Ingersoll Rand T3 in 1993, establishing a rig rotation plan of replacing a rig after three years to five years of service.
The rotation plan is part of Royall Pump & Well’s “only the best” fundamental operating principle. Each acquisition keeps Royall up to date with a manufacturer they have found reliable. But Royall adds: “Don’t get the idea we’re married to a brand. Noland is a long-term partner of ours, and we really like Atlas Copco. But every time we upgrade, we always take a close look at everyone’s offerings. Every time, Atlas Copco is head and shoulders above the rest on cost of operation, power and ease of maintenance.”
Royall Pump & Well has also owned Atlas Copco T3W water well rigs but believes the TH60 to be the best for its needs. The TH60 International carrier’s 600 horsepower (477 kW) engine gives Royall Pump & Well drillers “extra oomph on the freeway and up hills,” Royall says, “and plenty of power for drilling from its PTO transfer system.” Most drilling in this area is conducted with air rotary from its 900 cfm, 350 psi (25.4 m3/min, 24 bar) airend. The most recent upgrades have been the acquisition of its 2014 TH60 and a 2016 model delivered last fall.
A Day on the Job
On this day, while the 2016 TH60 was being fitted with rod and tweaked for its initial commissioning, Chris Grosser, lead driller and trainer, was on the 2014 model TH60 with his helper, Gary McCarraher. Grosser has been drilling for Royall Pump & Well nearly 25 years after starting his career in the Catskills on an Ingersoll Rand T4W water well rig.
Grosser has noticed several benefits to working on the TH60. One is due to PTO-driven drilling. “It’s nice to be able to talk to your helper, since it’s quieter. Without a deck engine, it’s also much less cluttered.” Another example, he says, is access to the hydraulic hoses for maintenance and the extra space around the driveshaft to store such things as planking and cribbing. “Everything the rig needs for many wells is already right on board.”
He also likes the rig support he has gotten from the dealer. “If I call Noland, I know they’ll have a guy here right away,” Grosser says. “Longest wait would be, maybe, overnight. They understand about the cost of downtime to their customer, so their response is immediate.” Noland works on a number of rig makes but specializes in Atlas Copco. Noland rig technicians are all factory trained and OEM certified.
Grosser and McCarraher mobbed up to spud in on the first of what would be several water wells in a granite resource that had typically yielded flow rates of just 7 gpm or so. The customer required more than 25 gpm for light irrigation, a power wash and residential water at a rural property tucked away in a dense Virginia forest.
Several trees had been fenced off for preservation, and movement of equipment was restricted to temporary sand and gravel pathways in order to protect the pristine grounds from compaction and rutting as much as possible. The precise well location was next to the silt fencing, on a decline that dropped off the side of what would be the driveway to the building under construction.
Grosser was asked if he’d be able to get the rig into position, given the limited access. “Oh, no problem. I can get on that.” He seemed to have no trouble maneuvering the rig. He set the jacks, leveled the rig and erected its mast exactly over the location flag. He used a 10 5/8-inch wide wing bit to start the hole in the top soil, followed by a 8¾-inch tricone on a stabilizer using water with just a bit of drilling foam for more efficient cuttings evacuation.
Soils consisted of dirt and clay at first, giving way to soft, crumbly brown rock at 31 feet. At 45 feet Grosser found black and white granite, host to the water source. The specification here was for 50 feet of 6¼-inch PVC casing, so Grosser continued drilling with the tricone to 51 feet before casing the well and grouting it. Then he switched to rotary air to continue the well to total depth with an Atlas Copco Secoroc QL 60 hammer and 6 1/8-inch carbide button bit. All consumables, from bits to steel and lube, oil and parts were Atlas Copco brands, supplied through Noland Drilling Equipment.
Grosser found a fracture and broken rock at 60 feet, which was producing water. By 100 feet he was getting the 7 gpm typical for this formation but still far short of what the customer was looking for. He continued to 180 feet with a steady 7 gpm.
The property owner had known up front that to get the flow he wanted would require more than one well. He could rest confident he’d gotten the best that this underground source would give up here. That’s because he allowed only the very best to drill for him: Royall Pump & Well Co.’s quality drill crew and their Atlas Copco TH60.
This story originally appeared in Deep Hole Driller magazine.