Pipeline contractors often, and fondly, refer to the industry as a family; both because of how closely they work with each other but also because many on the right of way are blood relatives. This is the case — on both fronts — for a “little old” family-owned contracting firm out of Henderson, Texas.
But, for a company that works within 200 miles of its home base, it’s received ¼-miles of coverage because of its sponsorship of two of the premier rides in the National Hot Rod Association’s (NHRA) Top Fuel class. CAPCO Contractors Inc. is not only the sponsor of two cars, but the drivers, Billy and Steve Torrence, are the owners of CAPCO Contractors. Steve is Billy’s son and the 2018 Mello Yello NHRA Top Fuel Champion.
The business, formed nearly 25 years ago by Billy Torrence, works in pipeline construction, rehabilitation and testing, as well as other midstream sectors. There is rarely a lack of oil and gas work in the company’s neck of the woods and the company has seen steady growth since its formation.
While it is clear that racing is in their blood, the Torrence family knows that without CAPCO, none of this is possible and both men spend their time balancing racing and work, returning to the office every Monday following a race weekend.
“CAPCO Contractors Inc. is a family-owned business that I started with myself and about 25 employees,” says Billy. “Today, we have about 350 employees and we specialize in all aspects of pipeline work. We work for companies like Chevron, Exxon, Kinder Morgan and others.”
The company has found great success working in the Permian Basin and Barnett and Haynesville-Bossier shale plays on projects that, Billy proudly says, deliver oil and gas products to the Texas coast.
For the elder Torrence, starting his own business was in play from the time he was a young boy. Though Billy is a first-generation pipeliner, his construction industry roots grow deeper. When Billy was younger, his dad worked as a superintendent for a road building contractor and then started his own company completing a variety of construction work. It’s here that Billy first got his taste of the construction life.
At 20, Billy became a pipeline welder — fell in love with pipelining work — and at 30 he began working for construction companies as a general superintendent. Five years later, he started CAPCO. The company will celebrate its 25th year in 2020.
“This is what I wanted to do. Owning my own business was a natural progression. I learned the business at a young age and I enjoy pipelining. I always have,” Billy says. “Nearly 25 years later, we are the largest and most successful pipeline contractor in our area, we employ a good many people and we have been blessed and fortunate to have a great family business.”
The 61-year-old Torrence — even though his duties have shifted to the project procurement and estimating end — still enjoys getting out on the right of way and the camaraderie of the pipelining community. He notes, with a hint of pride in his voice, that going to the races — there are 24 on the Top Fuel calendar — he and his son get to meet pipeliners at each event.
Like his father, Steve says that he has always enjoyed the pipeliner culture and camaraderie. He grew up in the industry and always had a goal to work at CAPCO. “I’ve had two jobs in my whole life and that’s driving a race car and working at CAPCO, and only one of them has ever paid,” he says. “You always want to follow in what your dad does and that was a natural progression for me … to be a pipeliner.”
Steve, 35, like many second-generation pipeliners, started working hands-on when he was in high school and has worked in all facets of the business at CAPCO. Today he is co-owner, operations manager and estimator for the company and notes that his goal is to continue to grow the already-successful business his dad started.
“I have enjoyed having Steve grow up here and work at the business for all of his life. It’s gratifying to see him come up and enjoy what he gets to do every day,” Billy says. “He’s a big part of the business and there has been a lot of success with him here. I have a front row seat to watch a good young man take his swing at the business. It’s a young man’s game, and he’s taken hold of it and taken some of the responsibility off of me. I enjoy that too.”
While he says that Steve’s involvement has taken some responsibility off of him, Billy is in no way slowing down. Just before the call for this interview the two were working on bid specs for a 24-in. pipeline project. To this day, Billy is teaching Steve different aspects of the business.
One of those areas is equipment procurement – and like many aspects of the pipeline industry – it’s based on long-standing relationships. Billy proudly says that, by-and-large, CAPCO relies on Komatsu hydraulic excavators, Caterpillar crawler equipment, Peterbilt and Kenworth semis and GMC trucks. He’s found that these are the best pieces of equipment for CAPCO’s work.
“The pipeline business is all about telling a person what you are going to do and getting it done. You give the customer a price and a schedule and you make it happen,” Billy says. “There are several dealers within a 200-mile range that supply all of the equipment, and we are very loyal to our local people. Over the years we have built a good rapport with a good many people, and we can pick the phone up and they will work with us because they know what we need.”
Another area where Billy is working with Steve is in hiring. Pipelining is a people business and without the right people a contractor is sunk. Many of CAPCO’s key positions are filled with people who started at the company more than 20 years ago.
Bringing new people into the industry, however, is a challenge and both Billy and Steve know that to continue to be successful and grow you need new high-quality people to fill the ranks. In March the two were at the Texas State Capitol talking with the state’s leaders about the importance of vocational schools and technical training.
“There are many guys out there that are six-figure wage earners. They work hard, but the reward for this kind of work is there,” Billy says. “The machinery has changed to where these young people that are adept at playing video games would make a good excavator operator because of the way [joystick]controls have changed. In some instances, some 22-year-old kid may be able to get into the equipment and be a better operator than some guy who has been on one for 20 years.”
Steve notes that the challenge is educating people about the jobs available. People need to be made aware that they can come right out of school trained as an equipment operator or in some other pipeline-related task, they can go directly to work and make a good living.
Luckily, CAPCO has found this right mix of dedicated workers.
“I say this time in and time out, with the race team and with CAPCO, it’s the people who are in place that make this a success. We have all of the right people, parts and pieces in place,” Steve says. “I have had the front row seat to see how my dad runs this business and deals with these people on a daily basis. You give someone a job, a good opportunity and support them very well and they will take you to the front and take pride in what they do. I think that is something that everyone here at CAPCO possesses and that is pride in their work.”
He adds, “We’re competitive in everything that we do, in racing and our pipeline work. I know It sounds cliché, but we try to do the most, with the least, and outdo everybody and be an industry leader, and we have been successful at that. Over the last couple of years, we have grown CAPCO to be bigger than it has ever been.”
Mike Kezdi is associate editor at North American Oil & Gas Pipelines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.