“Komatsu gets the job done”
Two weeks after his high school graduation in 1987, Chuck Horton took a roughneck job and believed that he had found his future career path.
Thirty-plus years later, the oilfields of Oklahoma and beyond remain a constant in Horton’s life. Today, along with his son, Tagus, he operates his own businesses, which provide a host of services, mainly to the region’s oil and gas industry.
Horton recalls roughnecking for some five years, where he met many new people. One of them introduced him to oilfield-type dirt work.
“I decided that was what I was truly interested in and wanted to do. Starting with a single dozer and moving forward, I kept adding to my equipment fleet to build it to where it is today,” Horton recounted. “During our first few years, we focused on securing and building site locations for various oil and gas companies.”
His company, Black Hawk Services, continues to do that, but has diversified significantly to take care of customers’ needs from start to finish (groundbreaking to ongoing maintenance). With eight to nine crews and a staff of approximately 75, Black Hawk covers all of Oklahoma and completes projects in Arkansas, Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.
“In addition to all the earthwork to prepare work sites, our capabilities include everything from roustabout work to construction-type projects. We have also built many office buildings and gas-plant facilities,” said Horton.
Black Hawk can provide construction of tank batteries and compressors, install piping and hook ups for different areas at well sites as well as maintain pipeline facilities by sandblasting, painting and blading lease roads to keep them easily travelable for flow-through traffic.
“We also have tanker trucks that haul away wastewater from sites to our own disposal wells, as well as transport well mud. Whatever the need, in most instances, we can fill it,” stated Horton.
Inventor, environmental service advocate
Horton’s entrepreneurial spirit extends beyond the traditional realm of an oil and gas services provider. Another company he owns, Environmental Recovery Solutions, provides soil farming. Black Hawk picks up drilling mud, which is the waste left after drilling a new well, and then applies it as well as disks it into farm fields.
“It contains a lot of nutrients for the soil such as pot ash and phosphorous, so it’s a good fertilizer,” explained Horton.
He also invented and patented a machine known as the “Mudcat” that’s designed to separate and recover diesel fuel from drilling mud. The mud goes back into the rig, which decreases costs. The resulting material is cleaner and can be more easily disposed of. Throughout the past 12 years, Horton has built 24 of the Mudcats.
Black Hawk Services’ diversification reaches to areas outside of the oil and gas business. Approximately three years ago, the firm began offering its expertise to customers in the windmill industry, once again taking on a role in energy services. Horton estimates that this sector now makes up roughly 20 percent of the company’s assignments.
“A windmill sits on a large concrete pier, and we have the capability to dig the holes for those,” Horton shared. “We help with site preparation such as dirt work for locations and the road work, including hauling rock and placing the gravel. Additionally, we have lowboys to move any items that customers request and provide tankers for the jobs.”
Kirby-Smith’s service, Komatsu maximize production
Black Hawk Services uses those lowboys to move its own equipment as well. A large portion of its fleet consists of Komatsu excavators, dozers, wheel loaders and trucks purchased from Kirby-Smith Machinery with the help of Territory Manager Dean Traylor, who has also assisted in the acquisition of Godwin pumps and other products.
“Service is of utmost importance to me, and Kirby-Smith is head and shoulders above the rest,” proclaimed Horton. “They track my newer Komatsu machines with KOMTRAX, and if something shows up, Kirby-Smith is on it right away. The technician locates the machine, determines what the issue is and can get any needed parts before coming to the site. That saves time and maximizes production.
“Because we operate in varying locations, if we need something we call on the nearest Kirby-Smith branch, which may be in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Dallas, Odessa, St. Louis, etc.,” he continued. “We are taken care of consistently. I can’t always say that about other dealers.”
While service is Horton’s main priority, he appreciates that Kirby-Smith carries quality equipment from top manufacturers such as Komatsu. He uses two 354-horsepower, nearly 90,000-pound D155AX dozers with 12.3-cubic-yard blades to strip topsoil, level pads, slope banks and more.
“In southern Oklahoma there is a lot of rock, so having powerful, durable equipment is essential; and Komatsu fits the bill,” said Horton. “We have some similar-size competitive dozers, and the Komatsus out-push them, hands down.”
Black Hawk Services relies on several Komatsu excavators to dig and load, including PC130, PC210, PC290 and PC360 models. “Trenches vary in size, so we have a variety of trackhoes,” said Horton. “If a project calls for hauling materials, we use 40-ton HM400 articulated trucks, and, in order to be most efficient and productive, we pair bigger excavators with them.
“In this business, maximum production is key. Most of our work is by the yard, and the more you move and faster you do it, the better,” Horton added. “Across the board, whether it’s excavators, dozers, trucks or our WA200 and WA320 loaders, Komatsu gets the job done.”
Turning challenges into opportunities
Horton stays busy with additional ventures, such as a recently constructed building in Coalgate that houses the insurance and loan companies he helped start. He also owns an RV park and nearly 50 billboards along Oklahoma highways. Horton keeps inventing, too. He’s currently focusing on new technology for flowback water in the oil and gas marketplace.
“There have certainly been some challenges to reach this point,” said Horton. “For instance, at one time, we did quite a bit of residential earthwork. Right before the crash in 2008, I could see that housing was going to be rough. I got out of that market and never really went back. Oil and gas are cyclical. Sometimes, the downturns present an opportunity. I may not have invented the Mudcat, if I was busier in 2006.
“You have to learn to take the bad with the good and persevere,” he concluded. “I don’t give up, and I believe that’s why Black Hawk has survived for nearly 30 years and will be here for a long time to come.”