By Lori Lovely
When a drill rig stopped working on a jobsite in northern Alberta, and a handful of mechanics couldn’t get it running again, the contractor placed a call to Ridgeline Equipment.
“It took me a day and a half to fix it,” said Ridgeline Equipment President Ryan Paulsen. “They missed some simple signs. It had rotary issues.”
After checking things like the motor and the hydraulic supply, he ran some diagnostics, which led him to a discovery: the power supply cable that controls and monitors the rotary had been stretched by about 1 metre.
“The rotary was losing power,” he said.
The former field service technician-turned business owner has dozens of similar stories. He also has a keen intuition for diagnostics.
The company started with one man and one truck and now has 12 employees, an apprentice and a fleet of 10 service trucks working multiple jobs simultaneously across Canada – with plans to add five more employees and two more apprentices in 2021.
Paulsen describes his growing company as “small-gantuous,” an apt description of a small business doing big things.
The first year, he put more than 100,000 km on that first truck, but even with more employees, the boss is still out in the field, servicing heavy equipment before returning to the office to tackle paperwork. The work ethic instilled in him from growing up on a 3,000-acre farm is also in his first employee, Shane Edwards.
“We have the same mindset,” Paulsen said.
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However, not everyone shares their mechanical instincts. He added he struggles with young mechanics because they always jump to the worst-case scenario, but most problems are usually something simple.
“It’s rarely catastrophic – and if it is, you’ll know right away because there’s usually shrapnel,” Paulsen explained.
Diagnostics is easier if you know the machine. If you don’t, Paulsen created a step-by-step diagnostic sheet. First on the list: ask the operator for information. Is it making any new noises? Is it creating heat? Does it seem slow? Are any other systems affected? Is it leaking? Have you had to add fluids lately?
Getting to know all the equipment Ridgeline Equipment sells and repairs is a tall order. In addition to their partnership with International Drilling Equipment Canada, which offers such brands as Casagrande, Marini, Metax and SIP&T tooling, they’re the Western Canada dealer for Word Rock drills, Chemgrout Grouting systems, Shocker Pass Air Shut off systems and Warrior Shotcrete Pumps. They’re also a Digga drilling drive dealer in Southern Alberta.
They offer aftermarket and dealer-level parts for equipment used in construction, oil and gas, foundation and exploration drilling, and they service all makes and models of equipment for those industries.
“We’re kind of a sourcing agency, An aftermarket service provider,” Paulsen said. “It started as an idea of being the alternative choice.”
To achieve that goal, Ridgeline needed more than just competitive pricing; they had to be able to work on all brands of equipment.
“Dealers specialize in certain brands; we are diverse, so we work on everything from small support equipment found on jobsites to $1 million to $10 million equipment.”
Often, that work involves custom fabrication, such as a custom mount of a two-speed drive onto a custom mast, or a custom-engineered telescoping masthead.
While Ridgeline provides mobile service, most of the custom fabrication is done at the shop, due to high transport fees for big equipment.
Initially named RPHD Mobile Ltd. and renamed Ridgeline Equipment in 2019, the company was founded in part because Paulsen didn’t accept lengthy delays to get parts.
With a fleet background and an understanding of the expense of downtime, he couldn’t accept that kind of delay.
At age 18, Paulsen began a 10-year stint working for Beck Drilling and Environmental Services Ltd.
“I ran their first field truck,” he reminisces.
Six winters in Fort McMurray
He spent six winters in Fort McMurray, Alberta before becoming shop manager in Calgary.
Seeking a challenge, he then took a job at Liebherr Canada as a remote technician based out of Calgary, he spent the majority of time on the road to set up, repair and commission new machines.
A bigger challenge was starting his own business. Doublestar Drilling became a regular customer – and, in fact, it was a job for them on which Paulsen displayed his characteristic work ethic and ingenuity.
During a safety meeting at Doublestar, a drill rig that had sat all summer caught on fire due to diesel build-up. When they fired the engine to pre-heat it, it began to bellow smoke and flames.
“Half the machine was scorched,” he remembers.
It melted the engine and machine-side electrical wiring harnesses. It needed three new harnesses to get it running again.
The Douglasdale McKenzie Lake Slope Stability and Pathway mitigation project was implemented as a solution to the slope that was falling away along the Bow River. In 2016, Doublestar began repair work to improve the stability of the slope and a 3.5 km section of pathway supporting the slope, which involved drilling piles to provide firm ground on the pathway at the top of the slope where it has collapsed due to erosion caused by heavy rain.
Using two drills and a crawler crane, Doublestar built a wall down the ridge to hold the bank, Paulsen explains.
“They were on the last three or four of 300 holes” of the 18-month project when the fire occurred.
To get the drill back in service, Paulsen bought “every roll of 12-, 16- and 18-gauge wire in south Calgary,” built the three new harnesses and installed them from the electrical panel to the engine, according to the schematic.
“It took 165 wires and multiple connections,” he said.
Ridgeline diagnoses faults, repairs or replaces defective parts, components or systems and performs routine maintenance on some of the biggest, most rugged equipment. They also sell and rent equipment.
But their specialty is drilling equipment – mostly for infrastructure, pilings, foundation and tie-backs, but also some oil and gas, as well as exploration rigs.
“We do everything drilling for Western Canada,” Paulsen said, with an emphasis on “we.”
The entrepreneur credits his team for the company’s success and added, “Without them, Ridgeline would still be only one truck driving around aimlessly, trying to keep up.”