Pearson Drilling: Where we Came From and Where we are Today!
Terri Jamison, and future husband Terry Trew along with Terry’s father Dale (Pearson) Trew all worked for a Seattle Washington soil sampling company. They decided to buy an old beat-up Mobile B-S2 drill rig in Oregon. After they bought it, they were quickly unemployed.
“We bought this drill rig as a hobby, hoping eventually to bring it into the company we were working for,” T.J. Trew says. But the drill superintendent thought they were planning to compete with him so he let Terry and T.J. go. He called Trew, who was just finishing a job in Alaska, with the news.“He told me I’d have a lot of time to work on the rig when I came back,” Trew recalls.
When Trew got back from Alaska, he didn’t even check in with his former employer. He started getting the rig back into working condition. “It took a lot just to get it from Portland to Seattle,” T.J. explains. The Trews proved in this instance just how good they would become at facing tough situations successfully: They had a drill rig but no jobs, so they decided to go into business for themselves.
In 1977, T.J. founded Pearson Drilling Co., Edmonds, Washington, as a sole proprietorship. Dale Trew, who had worked for two large drilling companies since 1962, had always wanted to try his hand at a family business. So he quit his job as head driller for their former employer and became the drilling technician at Pearson. To get more experience and keep money flowing in, Terry Trew spent most of his time working through the drillers union on large construction drilling jobs. He worked at Pearson on coring jobs, his specialty, and as a driller’s helper when he had time.
The owner of their former company heard what had happened and offered Pearson a one year contract to drill in Portland, Oregon, provided T.J. agree not to work in Seattle for another year after that. “Without that we would have had a tougher time getting started,” Trew acknowledges. T.J. agrees: “It was a good chance to get our name out there for the soils engineers, and it kept us busy for two years solid.”
Pearson started out drilling conventional split spoon soil sampling boreholes to test for soil stability. The company has since diversified to also drill augercast piles, bridge caissons, elevator jack shaft holes, retaining wall systems, side hill piling and tieback systems, geotechnical boreholes, environmental boreholes (including monitoring wells), and water wells. “We should have named ourselves versatile!” T.J.laughs. The common link in all this variety is that Pearson specializes in limited access and tough drilling sites; Trew says this specialty “came from doing them.”
“One advantage our former company had by • having us as their subcontractor was if they got a tough job, they would give it to us,” he explains. Pearson was being paid by the foot, so it was given the jobs with difficult access logging roads and with hard soils that required coring.
Drilling the tougher holes paid off in the long run and shaped Pearson into a tough hole specialist. “Doing the tougher work has never been a problem with me, because I cut my teeth on tough jobs,” Trew explains. “It also gave me the attitude if anyone asked me if I could do a certain type of job, I would say yes.”
Pearson is the perfect size for tough jobs. Its bigger competitors in commercial drilling make a profit on large volume jobs that Pearson can’t bid as competitively. “We look for jobs that are a little tougher to do. Everyone else is bidding a little high because they’re afraid of the job, so we bid a little lower so we can get the job. Then we work our way through it as efficiently as possible, so we have more chance of making a good profit on that job vs. simply doing volume. Instead of doing 10 jobs for $100, we’re doing 5 jobs for $1000,” Trew explains.
Pearson also drills the tougher holes because they’re challenging. “They’re more oriented toward inventiveness and personal ability to do the job vs. simply repetition of the job,” Trew observes, which is really why he’s a driller:
“If anybody could simply stand behind a drill rig and pull the levers and get the product completed, I would not be a driller today. One thing that has attracted me to drilling is that not just anybody can do it. And then within that same circle, the tougher the job is, the more intricate problems are on a project, the more exciting it is to be able to accomplish the end results,” he adds.
He has had several opportunities to solve intricate problems. On one job, he used a crane and a swinging set of leaves to drill new piers for a bridge from the top of an inaccessible gully. The company used a small auger drill rig that swings back and forth to install auger cast piles for the elephant house walking paths and fence posts at a new zoo. Pearson also uses a trackmounted rig to get around the sides of residential homes and an indoor rig for drilling up to 36-inch-diameter elevator jack shaft holes.
Two years ago, Pearson successfully completed one of its most difficult projects, BOluder Creek. They were in the middle of a riverbed, but the water had been diverted to the side. Terry drilled and cased two 8-foot-diameter caissons for a bridge foundation. The first hole hit solid rock about 5 to 10 feet down, “which was the easiest part,” Trew states. “Then we had a 50-foot shaft that was bouldered sand all the way down. It wasn’t just a boulder every once in a while, it was as if somebody had dumped truckloads of boulders into the creek bed.”
T.J. also faced scheduling problems when the snow fell early and their concrete trucks couldn’t get through the mountain roads. “That project was a breakthrough for us,” T.J. says, “Our peers were watching and we did a good job.”
T.J. incorporated Pearson Drilling in 1988, with T.J. as president and Trew as vice president and driller (Dale Trew retired in 1987). Unlike some drillers who end up spending their time running a business, Trew gets to concentrate on drilling. “Signing contracts, going through contract negotiation, scheduling, the whole ramification of what it really takes to run a business is what T.J. does,” Trew explains. “She has to make the business work. All I have to do is 64 JULY ’94/WWJ show up and drill a hole.” T.J. ran the whole office herself until Terry’s brother Jim Trew joined the company a year ago as account coordinator.
When Pearson first started out, T.J. also helped with drilling to keep her small company going. “I was the flag control on logging roads at one time,” she remembers. “And I have twisted many a sample tube myself and cleaned and been the helper on the rig when we first got started.”
T.J. and Terry got married in 1980. The same year, Terry and Dale built their second drill rig completely from scratch. The Pearson D-80 geotechnical rig is another example of how Pearson meets tough challenges with inventive solutions. The young company needed a newer drill rig to replace its old Mobile, but it couldn’t get financing. Dale had experience modifying rigs at his first company to drill through the glacial materials in the Northwest, and he felt they could build a rig themselves. So they did it.
The rig they built is similar to a Mobile B-61, but instead of having a moving drill table it “has a solid drill table with a 4-inch kelly bar that goes through the drill table. That advances at 5-foot intervals to advance the auger,” Trew explains. They also set up the auger racks, water tank, and hydraulic system exactly as they wanted them.
With a new rig, Pearson thought it was set in the soil sampling market. In 1981, however, soil . sampling opportunities dropped considerably. Pearson was one of the four major contenders left in the Seattle market, but its workload was still cut in half. To compensate, the company decided to diversify.
“Because of our close contact with residential homeowners and engineering firms, and because of Terry’s construction drilling experience, we saw there was a market for augercast piles,” T.J. notes, “which, compared to soil sampling, have larger dia Illeters, deeper depths, and usually use a cranemounted rig.” Terry and Dale modified a soil sampling rig and Pearson ventured into the residential construction market.
Once into the market, they started drilling . larger and deeper holes. “Now, we can go up to 10 feet in diameter and 120 feet deep,” T.J. says. But competing against huge, established construction drilling companies made large government projects harder to get. “Once we got beyond the small jobs and we needed to get larger jobs with more volume, I couldn’t get past that point without a little extra oomph.” In 1984, T.J. applied for a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) state of Washington certification number.
The rating was difficult to get. T.J. had to go through countless interviews and close scrutiny to prove she was in charge of the business. Once approved, the rating helped Pearson move forward. Because certain percentage of WBEs,” the WBE gave general contractors a reason to use us, to take that chance they normally wouldn’t take,” T.J notes. “Once we got our foot in the door and showed them we could do it, the WBE didn’t mean as much.”
Pearson often gets called for a job because it has worked for the customer before, not because it’s a WBE. “That’s something we pride ourselves in,” T.J. states. “I didn’t go for the WBE rating till 1984 because we wanted to make sure we could do it on our own. That made a big difference.”
Pearson also competes with larger construction drilling companies by using union employees to bid outside its employee base. Pearson has had as many as 35 employees when it had several big jobs • going at once. The company’s versatility allows it to “tool up to do the job, then tool back down and wait for the money to come in,” T.J. explains. “But inbetween those big jobs you can still be doing your service work,” which is monitoring wells, soil sampling, elevator jack shaft holes, and small residential water wells. “That’s the balance that keeps us going,” she says.
Pearson began drilling monitoring wells in ’81 when the government moved its funding from construction and soil sampling to environmental work. “So everyone who had a soil sampling rig turned into a monitoring well driller,” Trew says.
T.J. remembers the first monitoring wells were a little scary: “The hardest ones were when we first got started and didn’t have a lot of guidelines to go by. We were doing a lot of gas extraction wells and some monitoring wells for the Midway Landfill project, and it was kind of a scary feeling having to wear what we call our zoot suits.”
Because of Dale’s 20 years and Terry’s 7 years of drilling experience, “we didn’t have to learn a lot of new things to drill monitoring wells,” Trew , , says. But they also had their own way of doing things. “The clients that like us, like us more than anyone else. And the clients that don’t, don’t,” he admits. “If the consulting firm wants a driller who can anticipate the conditions and take a little control of the conditions himself to save time, and work very efficiently but safely, then it’ll appreciate the way we do it.”
Pearson’s environmental driller, Jeff Jacobs, a licensed water well driller, joined the company in 1981. “He’s the one who did all the gas station monitoring wells with our Pearson D-80,” T.J. says. Trew, who is also licensed, mainly drills the commercial and soil sampling projects, but he has also drilled Pearson’s larger monitoring wells at landfill and sewer treatment sites with the company’s LDH 70 rig.
Now the monitoring market has slowed down , considerably. “Three years ago we were really heavy into monitoring wells,” T.J. notes. “We were running one or two rigs all week and now we’re tooled down to one or two jobs a week.” The company has also scaled down to five employees: T.J., Terry, Jim, Jeff Jacobs, and Scott Brodigan, a driller’s helper.
Part of the slowdown is seasonal; Pearson , already had 990 feet of soil sampling lined up for when the weather got better’in March. Terry says it’s also because the Seattle market is saturated with monitoring well contractors. “That’s one reason we tooled back up into the commercial market,” T.J. adds. Their foundation and piling work has been consistently steady.
Soils investigation and monitoring wells make up about 30 percent of Pearson’s business. The rest of it is commercial, which includes various construction drilling projects as well as commercial water wells and dewatering wells. “Domestic water wells have dropped off to maybe 1 percent because of the economy,” T.J. notes.
When they first got into the water well market three years ago, it was booming. “People were looking at two to three month waiting, lists, and the prices were way up there,” T.J. explains. “And we did quite a few residential and some commercial wells, a lot for the fisheries. ”
Pearson started ‘drilling water wells when the Washington State Department of Ecology initiated its water well ($200 per well) and monitoring well ($40 per well) fees and lumped water well drillers and environmental drillers together. Unlike some of Trew’s fellow board members at the Washington State Drilling & Ground Water Association, he and T.J. don’t necessarily disagree with the fees and other regulations.
T.J. thinks the fees “have just made everybody aware that there are problems. I want it to be what’s right for my two children, Kyle and Katie, growing up, not necessarily what’s right for my business.” Terry believes that ground water is a natural resource that must be protected: “It has to be agreed upon that when we drill a well; what we’re doing is correct and safe.” They feel that good regulations will accomplish that.
The regulations have , also created “a real big push for bringing in more municipal work for water services,” Trew says, which will probably mean more work for Pearson. Once the company started migrating into the water well industry, “the commercial and government market seemed to be where we were contacted, more often,” T.J. says, , “because we’ve got the larger equipment and because we’re a WBE.”
Pearson usually drills shallow, less than 100 feet deep, large-diameter water wells. “We’re , putting in three 24- to 36- inch-diameter wells for an apartment complex in the Arlington area,” T.J. explains. Terry will drill those with the LDH 70 rig; the company also drills water wells with a track-mounted IngersollRand DM3.
Trew strongly believes that “the water well industry is a good industry for our company. Over the next 10 years we’re going to lean heavily into doing more water well work,” while still keeping the construction and environmental drilling end of it. He admires the water well industry because it’s still a hands-on industry. “A small water well business can survive off the talents of the individuals in the business, so I can do the best I can at it and find gratitude in what I do,” he explains.
Pearson is also suited for tougher, larger jobs, and Trew doesn’t plan to give up challenging drilling: “There are challenges in the water well industry and the municipal well industry,” he points out. “We’re going to go after the bigger diameter holes even in the water well industry.”
Pearson will keep on challenging itself as it changes for the future, and its challenges will also change. “When I , was young it was a Challenge to drill a hole,” Trew explains. “It’s still a challenge to drill a hole, but the older I get, the more challenging it is to see the business succeed.
”I’ve got plenty of tough holes ahead, but there’s no shame in drilling a small-diameter hole. You have to be able , ‘ to enjoy what you do when you do it.”