Christensen Boyles Corporation
Christensen Boyles Corporation
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Layne Christensen Company
Incorporated: 1895 as Boyles Bros. Drilling Company
Sales: $120 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 1081 Metal Mining Services; 6719 Holding Companies, Not Elsewhere Classified
Christensen Boyles Corporation (CBC) operates as a leading holding company overseeing 19 internationally integrated companies or divisions that make diamond drilling products, distribute related products made by other firms, and provide contract services for a variety of customers in the mining, geotechnical, and environmental industries. With over 100 years of experience, CBC has a reputation for quality products and services, operations that span the globe, and innovative joint operations with related firms.
Origin of Boyles Bros. Drilling Operations
Elmore and Page Boyles were born in Monona, Iowa, in humble circumstances. The two brothers worked on farms and saved a little, then in 1886, at ages 22 and 19, they moved to southern Arizona. For five years they worked for the Silver King Mining Company. In 1891 they moved to Spokane, Washington, where Elmore worked in the feed business and Page worked for the recently completed Northern Pacific Railway.
In the midst of a nationwide depression, in 1895 the brothers used their savings to start the Boyles Bros. Drilling Company in Spokane. They purchased their first diamond drill, using carbonados or black diamonds found in Brazil, and gained their first contract with the Hecla Mining Company in Republic, Washington. The firm’s main customer before 1905 was the Granby Consolidated Mining, Smelting and Power Company, which owned about 700 acres of mining claims in southeastern British Columbia. In these early days Boyles Bros, drilled mainly in search of copper deposits.
Early Changes at Boyles Bros.
Elmore eventually became the president/general manager of Boyles Bros., while Page functioned as the firm’s field superintendent. The firm expanded its operations in the western United States, Canada, and Alaska. By 1914 Boyles Bros, operated many of the over 30 kinds of diamond drills then available in the industry.
In 1917, just before the United States entered World War I, Page Boyles died. That same year, because of low copper prices in the United States and increased operations in British Columbia, Elmore Boyles moved the firm’s headquarters from Spokane to Vancouver, British Columbia. By that time Charles and Fred Pettersson, two brothers who had emigrated from Sweden and then changed their last name to Lindhe, and L.L. lessen controlled most of the firm’s business. Up until this time Boyles Bros, had bought its diamond drills from other companies, mainly Sullivan Machinery or Longyear, but under lessen’s direction the firm began manufacturing its own drills. In the 1920s gasoline-powered diamond drills began replacing the earlier steam-powered drills.
By the late 1920s, Boyles Bros, had become Canada’s leading diamond drilling company, although the firm also had operations in the United States and South America. In 1928 Elmore Boyles died, and the second-generation leaders Fred Lindhe and L.L. lessen took over ownership of the company.
Boyles Bros., now incorporated in Canada, opened a division in Utah to provide drilling services for the Utah Copper Company. After gaining some government public works contracts during the Great Depression, by 1935 Boyles Bros. recovered sufficiently to move out of its rented Salt Lake City offices at the corner of 300 South and Main Street to a building owned by the firm on 1300 South. In 1935 Charles Lindhe, who had left Boyles Bros, in 1922 to start Continental Drilling Company in Los Angeles, returned to Utah and bought Boyles Bros.
Expansion in the 1940s
In 1942 Boyles Bros, was reorganized with Charles Lindhe, Harold L. Baker, Arthur F. Goldsworthy, and Robert T. Golds-worthy each having 25 percent ownership. On January 31, 1948, those four plus Grant H. Bagley incorporated Boyles Bros. Drilling Company under the laws of Utah. The company listed Lindhe as president and Robert Goldsworthy as vicepresident.
Originally Boyles Bros, concentrated on hard rock drilling for mineral exploration in the western United States, British Columbia, and Alaska. In 1945 the company expanded into civil construction by providing cement and chemical grouting and monitoring wells; drilling for rock bolts, ground anchors, and drain holes; and instrumentation for the building of dams, highways, and tunnels.
Origins of Christensen Diamond Products
During World War II two unrelated friends with the same last name started a new company. Frank and George Christensen met while playing professional football for the Detroit Lions. By the early 1940s Frank ran a machinery shop that made mostly mining equipment and had a good working relationship with Boyles Bros. George meanwhile had worked for Koebel Diamond Tools, which marketed diamond tools to Detroit-area car makers. With two friends, George approached Koebel about manufacturing diamond tools, but Koebel turned down the offer. Nevertheless, in 1943 George started Christensen Diamond tools in 1943, but he lacked a supply of diamonds. George contacted a representative of South Africa’s Boart International to supply his firm with natural diamonds called boarts, then called Frank Christensen to merge their two businesses. In 1944 the two partners created a new corporation called Christensen Diamond Products (CDP).
In 1949 CDP began a joint venture with the Longyear Company in which CDP agreed to manage a joint diamond inventory and to set Longyear’s diamond bits according to that firm’s requirements. While Longyear used its name to sell these bits, Christensen at the same time competed with Longyear by selling its own diamond bits. The two firms ran joint business operations in Asia, Australia, South America, Europe, and Canada between 1953 and 1970.
By the early 1950s Christensen Diamond Products in Salt Lake City had expanded to produce diamond drill bits for both mining and oil companies. While mining firms had used diamond drill bits for about 60 years, the oil industry at this time understood little about using such technology. To meet the needs of the oil industry, CDP created sales/services offices in Denver; Houston; Bismarck, North Dakota; Midland, Texas; and Lafayette, Louisiana, while manufacturing plants were started in Oklahoma City; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Hobbs, New Mexico.
CDP in 1954 organized Christensen Diamond Products Company, France (CDPF). In a rented Paris building, CDPF began manufacturing diamond drill bits and core barrels. In 1961 CDP designed and made the diamond bit, core barrel, and recovery equipment used to drill the ocean floor for the first time in history. This successful drilling 2.3 miles below the Pacific resulted in other drillings through the Moho, the discontinuity between the earth’s crust and mantle.
In 1958 the Longyear Company had developed a new drilling technique called Wireline. Previously core drillers had obtained their samples by withdrawing long pipes after drilling was completed. Wireline allowed cores to be withdrawn without removing the pipe, thus making drilling much more efficient, and many companies adopted this technology. In 1967 Boyles Bros, improved the wireline system by developing its new Quad-Latch system for latching and retrieving wireline inner barrels. Impressed with this new technology, Christensen replaced its own “C” (for Christensen) Series Barrels with the “B” (Boyles) Series Barrels.
Boyles Bros, and Christensen Operations in Latin America
Boyles Bros, in 1961, under President Robert Goldsworthy, negotiated an agreement with the Chilean government to start drilling operations in Chile. With a five-year tax freeze and five years of duty-free imports, the deal “was the best agreement the Chilean government had ever given a foreign company,” according to a CBC history. By January 1962 the firm had shipped its first equipment to Chile under contract with Acero del Pacifico, and other contracts soon followed. By 1963 Boyles Bros, played a key role in Chile’s mining industry, which supplied about 80 percent of that nation’s foreign exchange.
Also in 1963 Boyles Bros, received a huge contract from the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) in northern Peru. Completed in 1965, that project earned Boyles Bros, about $3 million. An ASARCO subsidiary subsequently awarded Boyles another large contract for drilling in copper reserves south of Lima. To handle these operations, Boyles created a subsidiary called Boyles Bros. Sucursal del Peru, later changed to Boyles Bros. Diamantina S.A. That subsidiary built its headquarters in Lima, but political unrest in the 1970s interfered with its successful operation.
Christensen: The Tools That Make a Difference.
In 1970 the communist government in Chile under Allende undertook the nationalization of the country’s mining and drilling industry, leading Boyles Bros, to sell its equipment to the government and to leave Chile. At the same time, Christensen stayed in the country and sold its diamond bits to the government-run drilling business. When Allende was deposed in the 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, Christensen was well-positioned to take advantage of that nation’s economic recovery.
Mergers in the 1970s and 1980s
In 1970 Christensen purchased a 50 percent interest in Boyles Bros, and then in 1975 acquired the company outright. According to company literature, “It was a perfect marriage between manufacturer [CDP] and contractor [Boyles Bros.]. Christensen provided the world’s leading drilling company with the best diamond bits and related equipment available. Boyles provided their observations of what design modifications and new instrumentation were needed, and a hands-on testing environment.”
In 1977 the Norton Company, an abrasive products manufacturer based in Worcester, Massachusetts, purchased Christensen, Inc., including the Boyles Bros, operations. Many, including Norton executives, believed the energy crisis caused by the 1973 Arab oil embargo would result in coal becoming the energy source of the future. In an era of booming minerals exploration and mining, the 1977 merger allowed Boyles Bros, to gain much needed expansion capital, and the future looked bright.
By the early 1980s, however, oil prices had decreased and coal had lost its attraction. Copper prices also plummeted. Falling profits led Norton, as well as many other companies in the industry, to lay off many workers. Finally, in 1986 Norton decided to cut its losses and let Christensen and Boyles operate independently. Norton netted $8 million from this deal, which involved an eastern bank, Boston’s Greylock Financial Partnership, and nine former Norton managers. The newly independent company, renamed Christensen Boyles Corporation (CBC), was launched in December 1986. CBC was led by Eric Despain, a 1973 accounting graduate of Brigham Young University, who had joined Norton during the boom of the early 1980s. When Despain became the president of the newly formed company in 1986, CBC employed only 500 workers, about half the number before the decline of the mining industry of the mid-1980s.
Under Despain’s leadership CBC acquired other firms and increased its international presence. CBC purchased the Contract Drill Division of LaPorte, Indiana’s Joy Technologies Inc., acquired a partnership interest in Norton Christensen de Mexico, and began Christensen Drilling Supplies, Ltd. in Canada. CBC also acquired 49 percent of Elgin Exploration, a Calgary, Canada-based firm which specialized in evaluating and monitoring construction projects. Elgin’s instruments monitored highwalls, tailings dams, and embarkment slopes, and the company was well-respected in the hydroelectric, mining, and engineering fields. Elgin operations also included oil coring and exploration. With its origin in the Arctic, Elgin had a reputation for working in extreme environments with barges, tracked vehicles, or whatever it took to get the job done. CBC’s international growth continued in 1988 when it helped start Technidrill, a sales company in Nice, France, that distributed CBC’s products in Europe and Africa.
Using newly developed computerized technology, CBC provided clients with specialized services such as directional drilling, a technique that allowed holes to be drilled vertically, horizontally, or at any angle. CBC’s directional drilling, offered through its Navi-Drill Division, could drill precisely placed holes for difficult applications such as sending telephone lines under rivers or electrical lines through dams.
In the 1980s companies like CBC gained new sales due to several new environmental protection laws passed by Congress in the 1970s. After the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, to be followed by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. CBC helped cities and companies meet these new federal guidelines by using its auger, rotary, and core drilling to take soil samples and monitor underground sources of water pollution.
Mergers and Projects in the 1990s
CBC in 1992 merged with the Acker Drill Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania, a firm that had started contract drilling in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal fields in 1917. Brothers Warren and William Acker had started the company, and the Acker family continued to run it at the time of the 1992 merger.
The acquisition of Acker occurred while both CBC and Acker were bidding on a project to provide multipurpose drills to help the Egyptian government repair the Aswan Dam. The merged firms combined their bids into a single bid chosen by the Egyptians. “It really tied the groups closer together, it really made us aware of what our capabilities are,” said CBC’s director of manufacturing, Bill Higgins, in the company’s fall 1993 newsletter. While Christensen Boyles produced diamond bits for mining and civil construction industries, Acker served the geotechnical and environmental sectors. They also served complementary parts of the world: CBC in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Latin America; and Acker in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Near East. CBC’s plant in Salt Lake City covered 84,000 square feet, while the Acker facility in Scranton provided another 75,000 square feet.
With these various acquisitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Christensen Boyles Corporation could claim to be the “largest, best-equipped manufacturer of drilling equipment in the United States.” It offered virtually every piece of drilling equipment and service, “from the top of the rig to the bottom of the hole,” including smaller underground drills, drilling muds and fluids, well cleaning products, PVC pipe, augers, mobile or stationary surface drill rigs, pumps, core orientation, chemical and cement grouting, water wells, geophysical logging, and various development and consulting services.
CBC provided three kinds of diamond drill bits; surface set bits with rows of natural diamonds in the crown, impregnated bits made with tiny synthetic diamonds scattered throughout the crown, and polycrystalline diamond bits. Impregnated bits, which allowed hard rock drilling three to four times deeper than the older surface set bits, became popular in the late 1970s when competition between General Electric and DeBeers lowered prices for synthetic diamonds. The more expensive polycrystalline diamond bits were introduced in the 1980s for drilling mainly in relatively soft coals and shales, but by the early 1990s CBC’s ChrisDril products featured improved polycrystalline bits that could penetrate soft to medium-hard substances.
CBC gained 40 percent of its sales from natural and synthetic diamond bits, while 60 percent came from other items such as drill rods, core barrels, and spare parts. President Eric Despain in an interview said that 1995 worldwide sales exceeded $120 million. The company employed an average of 600 workers in the United States although that figure could reach as high as 1,000 during the busy drilling season from May to October. CBC also employed 250 full-time nonseasonal workers in South America, 50 in Canada, and 15 in Europe.
In the mid-1990s CBC gained an interesting contract to aid the California state government in retrofitting the famous San Francisco Bay Bridge to prevent future seismic damage. Earlier, 114 retrofit highway bridges had survived the terrible 1994 earthquake in the Los Angeles area, while seven bridges not retrofitted collapsed. CBC worked closely with the California Department of Transportation to take core samples from near the bridge’s foundations. Three specially designed CBC drill bits were used. In spite of bad weather and difficult drilling conditions, the project recovered 100 percent of the vital core samples.
In 1996 Christensen Boyles Corporation merged with Layne, Inc. based in Mission Woods, Kansas, to form the Layne Christensen Company. Layne had been founded in 1882 to provide water drilling and had later added drilling for minerals exploration. After the 1996 merger, Layne combined its mineral products manufacturing at the CBC plant in Salt Lake City, while Christensen Boyles’ geotechnical and environmental activities were consolidated under Layne’s plants and operations.
CBC’s products proved their worth in 1998 when TEG Oceanographic Services used them to complete a drilling project in Hawaii. To prepare for a sewage plant pipeline extension, TEG used CBC’s wireline coring technology to take samples from ten different locations at the mouth of Pearl Harbor. Also in 1998, the firm’s reaming shells were used to reach record drilling depths. In Carlin, Nevada, Newmont Gold used one CBC shell to drill to over 20,000 feet, and the project supervisor said it could have gone even further.
These projects illustrated the diversity and innovation typical of Christensen Boyles’s long history. The firm’s drillers have worked in challenging situations and places, from the South Pole to the Gobi Desert, and clients have used CBC products for all kinds of purposes. This flexibility and reliability, combined with additional resources from the Layne merger, gave the firm’s leaders confidence for future growth.
Boyles Bros. Drilling Company; CBC Drilling; Chris-Well Products; Global Drilling Suppliers, Inc.; Elgin Exploration (Canada); Christensen Mining Products of Canada; Christensen Boyles International (Cayman Islands); Productos De Diamante Christensen (Mexico); Technidrill, Ltd. (Nice, France); Boytec S.A. (Panama City); Geotec (Lima, Peru); Boyles Bros. Diamantina. S.A. (Lima, Peru); Christensen De Chile (Santiago); Norton Chile (Santiago); Geotec Boyles Bros., S.A. (Santiago); American Hard Chrome (Chile).
Contracting Division; Christensen Mining Products Division; Acker Division.
Derdak, Thomas, “Layne Christensen Company,” in International Directory of Company Histories, vol. 19, Detroit: St. James Press, 1998, pp. 245-47.
Walden, David, “Christensen Boyles Corporation,” in Centennial Utah: The Beehive State on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century, edited by G. Wesley Johnson and Marian Ashby Johnson, Encino, Calif.: Cherbo Publishing Group, 1995, pp. 104-05.
Woody, Robert H., “Christensen Boyles Men Learned Survival Lesson Well,” Salt Lake Tribune, n.d.
—David M. Walden