Expertise Remains in High Demand 44 Years After Opening on Oak Street.
As one of the oldest businesses in Martin City, Great Plains Drilling’s love of our community runs deep. The construction contractor is known across the region for highly specialized services and a trusted reputation built on a foundation of hard work.
A Quiet Neighbor with a Long Resume.
Turn off of 135th Street in the heart of Martin City and head south on Oak Street. You’ll see a number of industrial businesses including a small office where Great Plains Drilling has been taking big orders since 1976.
“We’ve always been in this neighborhood, going way back,” says owner and President Bill Roth. “Never considered moving anywhere else. Martin City is home.”
Drilling companies tend to specialize and find a niche. For Great Plains Drilling, that niche is foundations. Most of the company’s 17 employees routinely stream out of Martin City in big rigs to drill holes for piers that support construction projects.
“We drill holes down to bedrock that are then filled with concrete to secure the foundation of a building or other type of structure,” says Roth. “That’s our core mission and we focus on it like a laser.”
Great Plains Drilling’s work is concentrated in the Greater Kansas City area, but they’ve been known to go as far away as Wyoming for special assignments. Customers range from home builders to large general contractors like JE Dunn and McCownGordon, and projects vary from houses and commercial buildings to cell towers, billboards and power line support structures.
“If you see a pole of any real size sticking up out of the ground, the work we do is probably underneath it,” says Roth.
Great Plains Drilling has left its mark underneath all kinds of buildings that now define downtown Kansas City and beyond. The team has secured foundations for hotels, courthouses, corporate campuses and iconic landmarks including Kauffman Stadium and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Heavy Tools, Hard Work and Solid Performance.
There’s hard work and then there’s really hard work. Roth says his team is small but powerful, and determination fuels everything they touch. Drilling of this kind leaves little room for mistakes and no room for excuses.
“We get things done,” says Roth. “We’re known for quality, speed and problem solving, and we have a fleet of highly-specialized drilling rigs that really make us popular.”
Getting things done means working efficiently in tough conditions to make precise, careful movements involving heavy machinery without sacrificing safety. It’s about planning for 70 degrees and sunshine but always being prepared for mud, bitter cold and snow. Roth’s family has spent decades optimizing their processes and earning a prestigious reputation for making safety as important as performance despite difficult circumstances.
“We’re very proud of our safety record and it speaks for itself. We work in a dangerous field. Our tools can weigh 3,000 pounds or more. That kind of weight won’t just hurt you in an accident, it may threaten your life.”
Massive tools are necessary when you’re attacking some of the hardest rock the earth can produce. Great Plains Drilling doesn’t shy away from the challenge. They drill right through it.
“Many drilling companies are more about dirt,” says Roth. “We go farther. We drill rock and it’s quite grueling at times.”
Roth currently has at least a dozen drilling rigs in operation. Crews carefully maneuver them to make holes that can number into the hundreds at a commercial construction site. The holes can be as narrow as 18 inches in diameter or as wide as ten feet. And Roth says they go deep — very deep.
“Some of the holes we drill go nearly 100 feet down. And when they’re 10 feet wide, you’re talking about a hole that could hold dozens of cars.”
Yep, that’s a really big hole. And creating it amounts to an epic battle of strength and determination. What you might call a drill bit is known as an auger in this line of work. Huge augers of many shapes and sizes litter Roth’s property, each of them offering the perfect solution for a particular kind of drilling mission. Carbide teeth line the business end of each auger, forming the weapon that chews into rock.
“Carbide is about as solid as solid gets,” says Roth. “It’s just below industrial diamond.”
Roth’s drilling teams are constantly burning through auger teeth. As strong as carbide is, the teeth just don’t last. Crews keep drilling until they grind away teeth and then return to home base in Martin City for new teeth and repairs. The friction at the end of a working drill is so intense, crews must maintain a steady flow of cooling water over the auger or it will literally melt.
And then there’s the metal sleeves. When you drill through soft soil, a sleeve is left behind to keep the hole from collapsing until concrete can be poured to fill it up. You’ll see all kinds of sleeves stacked on Roth’s property along with the augers. Some are so large that they resemble tunnels.
Building a Specialized Contractor Business.
Bill Roth’s father, Mike Roth, launched Great Plains Drilling in 1976 after leaving a similar business to go his own way. He chose Martin City because the location was a good middle ground for meetings with partners who were spread out across the area. The partners are gone now. Mike has turned over leadership to Bill but continues to consult full time.
Bill’s been working at Great Plains since he was a teenager and surrounds himself with a team bonded by trust and experience. On average, each employee has about 18 years of experience and that makes them an elite bunch. The administrative team includes Office Manager Brenda Lopez and Lead Estimator Sam Yager, an employee since his college years in the 1990s.
The rest of the staff is made up of union members dedicated to the tireless work of drilling, maintenance and collaboration with construction partners. Great Plains Drilling trains employees to match the processes and standards established by years of pioneering work. Every employee is carefully evaluated up front. Personality, judgment and responsibility instincts are closely monitored to ensure a good fit.
“We just can’t afford someone who isn’t exactly right for our team,” says Roth. “This work is too dangerous and too important to take chances. We’re a tight group without exception. That’s a big reason we have such a great safety record. We know what we’re doing and we’re very careful.”
Unsurprisingly, there’s not much employee turnover. A steady workforce is a blessing for Roth as he fields the challenges of a project-driven business defined by a workflow full of ups and downs.
“I like to say some days are diamonds and other days are stone. If we’re not out drilling, we’re back at home taking a breather and preparing. That’s just how it goes.”
Making Memories in Martin City
Think of how much Bill Roth has seen in Martin City since the 1970s. He’s watched our community go through good times and bad. Businesses have come and gone and those that endure have a special place in his heart.
“When I first started helping my Dad, RC’s Restaurant’s current location was still in blueprints. We actually drilled the foundation and they paid us in meat. No kidding. Every Friday night for about four months my Dad would come home with T-bones and ribeyes. We also drilled the Jack Stack Barbecue foundation and they paid us the same way. Not a bad paycheck!”
Get Roth started on the conversation and memories start flowing like concrete down a drilled hole.
“We go way back with the Van Noys over at Jess & Jim’s. Just great people. And I can remember when the Martin City Pub was at the site where Martin City Brewing Company now stands. That old pub was quite a symbol of the rough and tumble history around here — when you walked in there, you wanted to be with friends. I also remember when Sidelines Custom Floral used to be a family-owned grocery store.”
Ask Roth what makes Martin City special and you get a quick answer.
“We’re down-home. We respect each other and watch out for each other. I’m really glad to see we’re not losing that as we grow. Business owners are so neighborly. You don’t get that just anywhere.”
We agree Bill, and we’re grateful for you and your father’s commitment to Martin City. Thanks for adding to our community’s diversity and sticking with us through thick and thin. Congratulations on 44 years on Oak Street!