Poweram comes to Africa

February 10th, 2010

Poweram makes push to West Africa
By: Jim Bell

Bill Koser of Poweram, Inc. in Barron, WI is doing his part to move the current U.S. trade deficit towards the positive side of the balance sheet. Koser and his wife, Mari, now into their 41st year of manufacturing in Barron, have just completed a deal that put one of their Poweram hydraulic pipe pusher-pullers into service across the Atlantic Ocean to the coastal city of Accra, the capital of Ghana, West Africa.Poweram designs and markets hydraulic equipment used mostly for installing and replacing underground utility lines.Koser said his African business venture began a couple of years ago, when a representative of the state-owned Electricity Co. of Ghana contacted him through his home page on the Internet at www.poweram.com. One thing led to another, and the long-distance negotiations culminated with an order for one of Poweram’s Model 1915 Hydraulic Rod Pushers.

The Poweram package included a power pack, fueled by a gasoline engine, which connects to the hydraulic machine that pushes a string of steel rods through the soil and then pulls a utility cable or pipe back through the boring. Accessory items, in a steel tote box designed for them, included push rods, push heads, expander cones and pipe couplers. An electronic locator system was also supplied. The Poweram equipment was purchased to install new utility lines (up to 8″ pipe) beneath the streets of 2-10-10 006 - small copyAccra.

The Republic of Ghana, with a population of nearly 24 million, is an English-speaking country located in West Africa. Accra, the capital since 1877, is a growing, bustling city approaching 1.7 million residents.

But how to get the equipment from here to there? And who would instruct the utility workers of Accra how to use it? The haul to Accra proved to be a circuitous.

The equipment was shipped to Montreal, where it was loaded onto a boat headed for the Netherlands. From there the Poweram unit was loaded onto another ship, which headed south to Ghana. The equipment spent more than two months in transit.

The order was received in June, and preparations began.

One key element was to find someone to go to Ghana to train the customer’s workers to use the equipment. According to Koser, the best man for the job was Darren Bjustad of rural Barron, who had owned and used Poweram equipment extensively in conjunction with his excavating business.

Last year Bjugstad traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, to instruct a customer on how to use Poweram equipment. “The client was very pleased that we sent Darren,” Koser said. “They couldn’t say enough good things about him.” So Bgustad answered the call to go to Ghana. He left in mid-December, but began planning for the trip much earlier. “I had several immunizations to take, including one for yellow fever. They won’t let you into the country without that,” Bjugstad said. “The rabies immunization was optional, so I passed on that one.”

Bjugstad didn’t get his Visa until just before he left. “You can’t get a Visa until all flight preparations have been documented, and that set the trip back a full day,” Bjugstad said. He flew out of the Minneapolis airport in the freezing weather of mid-December and changed planes at the JFK airport in New York for the fight to Ghana, where daytime temperatures averaged 90 degrees. When he walked off the plane in New York, he was greeted by the pilot, who turned out to be an old friend! They had time for a short reuion over lunch before Darren had to board his next flight.

“I was in the air for about 16 hours, and when I arrived I had my days and nights backward.” Bjugstad was met at the airport by utility company personnel, who drove him to an Accra Holiday Inn, which Bjugstad described as a fully-modern hotel. “I slept the first night and all the next day,” Bjugstad said. That evening utility company representatives treated him to dinner at the hotel. “They were very accommodating,” Bjugstad said.

His first day on the job began when he was picked up at the hotel for a short drive to utility headquarters, where he conducted classroom training. The Poweram equipment, still in crates, was then unpacked and inspected. Bjugstad was then taken to the job site where he checked soil conditions. That preceded a trip to two hardware stores to look for some basic tools.

“We spent several hours looking for tools that you could find in any hardware store here in 30 minutes.” Bjugstad said they didn’t find everything they needed, but did find enough tools to get by. “Bill and I are now putting together a basic tool kit to send over there.”

Bjugstad said that square blocking timbers were also hard to come by, which made pushing with the Poweram equipment worrisome. “I was concerned, because we were pushing underneath a street with an 8-inch water main right behind the working pit for the equipment.

“The Poweram generates 98,000 pounds of push, so there is a lot of back pressure.” The soil conditions were also challenging. “There was a lot of shale rock, but the equipment handled it,” Bjugstad said.

Job site in Ghana

Darren’s daily routine included a drive to the utility before another short drive to the job site, which was an eye-opener. “Everyone was going somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. The horn is a very important part of a vehicle there.”

Bjugstad said a 1.5-mile trench, 2 feet deep, followed the road all the way to the job site. “It was all dug by hand in 90-degree heat. I didn’t see any heavy equipment.”

Bjugstad said that the workers digging the trench were not paid by the utility, but were employed by a private contractor. “There were perhaps half a dozen people at the job site who were utility company employees.” Lunch was at the site, and Bjugstad ate some interesting meals. “One day I had fish and fries. The fish were looking at me, but the scales were off,” Bjugstad said.

Evening meals were taken in the open air at the hotel. “That can be expensive, but just like any hotel, you can find more reasonable fare for about $15 if you look for it.” The official currency of Ghana is the cedi, and the exchange rate is 1.4 cedi per U.S. dollar.

Bjugstad spent nearly a week in Ghana and said that the training went well. “The soil conditions were challenging, but I prefer that. The workers learned a lot more that way.”

Koser said the utility was pleased with the way Darren handled things, and that more business with Ghana may be in the works. “The whole package came to about $43,000, training expenses included,” Koser said.

Bjugstad said the trip was far from a vacation. “Work is work, whether it’s here or in Ghana. But it was a very rewarding experience. It made me appreciate more everything we have here. Everyone should have the opportunity to visit a third world country.”

Barron News-Shield January 12, 2010