Family Business Follows Trenchless Trends

Ted Berry Company builds an impressive array of underground service capabilities to support New England’s aging infrastructure.
Family Business Follows Trenchless Trends
Ted Berry Company President Matt Timberlake (left) joins James Knowles, Larry Houle and Billy Timberlake on a cleaning and inspection job.

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In his early 20s at the time, Timberlake followed up after taking on a Sunday emergency call and unplugging the sewer for a water and sewer district. When he asked the superintendent if there was anything else he could do to help, he was thanked for a quality job and told of intentions to hire another company to inspect the pipe.

Intrigued, Timberlake asked if he had the capability to handle that type of job, would the superintendent consider hiring Ted Berry Company. “He said they’d love to,” he recalls. “A year later I went back to him and we started to inspect the pipe, and a year after that I was inspecting pipe for him again. It was all cracked and damaged and needed repair.”

Out of curiosity, Timberlake asked that same individual what he intended to do following the video inspection. The plan was to reach out to another company in order to reline the pipe.

It was a lightbulb moment. “We need to be able to bring solutions back to them and give them that whole package, and there’s where my love affair with trenchless technologies started,” Timberlake says.

Fast forward to today. Timberlake estimates that trenchless currently makes up about 30 percent of the business. And as it has become a core service offering for Ted Berry Company, he also noticed a larger evolution taking place industrywide.

Fifteen years ago trenchless was kind of viewed as a niche service that would typically be utilized only in places where you couldn’t dig, he explains. Now the industry seems to be moving toward the practice of using trenchless whenever possible and only digging when that isn’t an option.

“I think that kind of shift has already happened overseas, and I think we’re going to continue to see that type of transition in North America,” he says. “As systems continue to age, as population and need and demand continues to change, we’re finding that utility owners, utility operators and design consultants are becoming more and more willing to look at the true costs of traditional excavation and the true benefits of trenchless construction.”

Diverse capabilities

Founded in 1972, Ted Berry Company provides services to both municipal and industrial clients throughout New England — primarily in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont.

It operates a number of service groups that provide municipal utility services, industrial cleaning services, trenchless pipe rehabilitation and pipe inspection. The service line is built around buried infrastructure and being able to handle cleaning, inspection and assessment all the way through rehabilitation and replacement.

The work extends into a diverse array of jobs that range from potholing for a natural gas company that is directionally drilling under a water distribution main, to vacuuming grit out of a headworks chamber at a wastewater treatment plant.

The customers are wide-ranging as well. Ted Berry Company works at some of the largest pulp and paper mills in the country, for example, but is just as likely to handle a job for a small municipal utility owner.

Timberlake was recently in a customer’s waste treatment plant with a flow rate of only 35 gallons per minute, and he has also handled work in plants with a flow rate of over 100 million gallons per day. This dynamic, he says, is both challenging and enjoyable. “It’s very, very diverse,” he says, “but I think it keeps us sharp because we treat our small customers like they’re big customers, and we treat our big customers like they’re big customers.”

It’s fun to be able to bring that type of experience down to a midsize utility, he adds, recalling a recent conversation with a utility dealing with a 24-inch interceptor pipe. To that customer, the pipe seemed huge and way outside their comfort zone, but Timberlake brought in a crew that had just finished working on a bypass on a 120-inch brick sewer with 45 million gallons a day running through it.

“We were kind of bringing the major league team down to play a minor league game, but that midsize or small job is no less important than the big one because in the eye of the customer that’s the most important job they have,” he says.

Ted Berry Company’s real value to customers, he explains, is in how they take highly skilled, highly trained workers and allow them to solve a variety of challenges. “When I was younger I thought our equipment and our trucks defined us. We have these beautiful big, red trucks,” he says. “But nobody cares about our trucks. What they really care about is what we can do with them and how we can do that in a way that oftentimes solves challenges they didn’t even know they had.”

Business evolution

Now that Timberlake has assumed the role of company president, he says it’s humbling to look back on the history of a company that has grown, evolved and adapted to such an extent over the years. Founded by his grandfather, Ted Berry, Timberlake’s father, Jim, was also right there from the get-go as the company sold and serviced agricultural equipment, pumps and industrial equipment throughout the ‘70s.

During the ‘80s, it morphed into a service company that flushed municipal sewer lines, handled pumping and bypasses, and started to take on industrial services for paper mills. Jim began buying the company from Ted in the late ‘80s and also purchased the company’s first vacuum truck.

From that first vacuum truck, the value was immediately apparent. Today the company owns seven combination jet/vac trucks — five Vactors, a Guzzler Classic and another Super Products machine.

“Back in the late 1980s when my father went to Ted and said, ‘I need $150,000 to buy a vacuum truck,’ Ted looked at him like he was partially crazy,” Timberlake says. But it was a good investment, and to this day the family has held onto the loan agreement that allowed for that key purchase. It even includes a cosignature by Timberlake’s grandmother, an elementary school teacher at the time.

As Timberlake grew up, he joined right in and spent his formative years as a part of the family business. “From the time that I could walk I was in the shop,” he recalls. “I was in the shop when I was 5 years old washing trucks, and at 10 years old I was rebuilding pumps.”

When he graduated from high school in the early ‘90s, Timberlake wasn’t entirely convinced he wanted to stick around. “At 18 you kind of think you know it all, and you don’t have a real sense of what’s right in front of you,” he says.

But when he witnessed a vacuum excavation for the first time he was dazzled, plain and simple. “It was amazing to me to see how you could do something a different way,” he says. “It really piqued my interest, and at that point I wanted to learn everything I could.”

Over the next few years he began to see just how interesting the business really is. “I got hooked early, and once I saw the opportunity and the potential inside of the industry, I fell in love with it and I have been ever since.”

From there, Timberlake’s father gave him plenty of opportunities to grow and develop, designating the day-to-day operations to his son when he was in his mid-20s. “I saw it as an opportunity to grow more into industrial services,” Timberlake says, “and that’s when we started to bring on our trenchless services.”

Forward-thinking

Now as he leads Ted Berry Company into the future, Timberlake recognizes the opportunity that awaits right beneath his feet as he predicts that storm drain rehabilitation in the northeast is going to present a huge opportunity for the company moving forward.

“We are sitting on top of some of the oldest sewer and water infrastructure in the country,” he says. “The pilgrims didn’t land far from here.”

He also looks forward to continuing to introduce new methods and technologies to his customers, wowing them in the same way he was when he saw vacuum excavation for the very first time. Although they’ve been pipe bursting for 15 years now, when a utility owner unfamiliar with the process sees that put into action there’s a level of amazement that is a treat to observe.

Recently tasked with bursting a 1,000-foot-long 10-inch water main and installing new HDPE pipe, Ted Berry Company examined the conditions, performed a full risk analysis and ultimately took it on. They showed up and by 7 p.m. they had 1,000 feet of new 12-inch water main in the ground through a cross-country wetland.

The look on the customer’s face and the excitement in his eyes said it all, Timberlake notes.



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