What we are born to do is sometimes written in the stars long before the idea of us existing is even conceived. Such is the case for Shelly Abbott, who comes from a long line of tradesmen. She fondly recalls her family lineage “a railroad worker, a blacksmith, a dam builder, and yes, my grandfather and father were drillers. When I was young I would tell my grandpa, I’m going to be a driller like you when I grow up. Grandpa would smile, but I don’t think he took me seriously. “ Having a strong family history of hardworking, successful tradesmen set fire in Shelly’s belly at a very young age to follow the same path. She has worked tirelessly to leave her mark on the world ever since, creating a legacy that her great grandfathers would have been extremely proud of. Today she is a leader, an Owner and Operator of her Drilling Company in Southern California, and an inspiration for all women who want to leap into owning their own business in a male-dominated industry. She’s a trailblazer who has proven time and time again that being a female shouldn’t hold you back from what you truly want to achieve.
Her story starts as a young girl, watching in admiration of her father and his job as a drilling owner-operator. All over Southern California, she would tag along with him, playing in the mud or building dirt tunnels in the spoil piles from her father’s still rig. This is where her love of dirt and drilling equipment was born and she went on to spend her teenage years learning as much as she could from her father. She spent countless hours in the backyard working on tools, welding, and even equipment repairs to summers working on the drill rigs. Little did she know these would be the building blocks to succeed later in life. It was through drilling that their bond strengthened, her fondest memory would be her 21st bday working with her dad out of town. They hit the bar together after work, where he would school her at pool and everything she needed to know to perfect the craft of her future career in drilling. “I found myself loving everything about drilling, the things you can find in the ground, the geology as well, and the passion to be a part of something I hold dear to my heart. I respect my family's history of hard-working blue-collared workers, and it’s the main drive to my success in the trades.”
In 2007, with six generations of tradesmen blood within her, she started her own company- Generation Drilling. After spending years as an Oiler/Swamper by her dad’s side on the drill rig and operating equipment he designed for her in 1998, she found a niche with the CASE machine with her father’s drill attachment that she still uses to this day. She’s proud to run something her father made that’s one of a kind. Cementing her position as a woman who can stand on her own two feet she purchased her father's equipment from him and started her own company. “I have to say, Dad didn’t just hand it over. I’m not one to look for handouts, but I wasn’t raised to get them either, it’s work hard for what you want, that’s just how dad raised me, whether I liked it or not.”
No two days of Shelly’s ever really look the same when you’re drilling foundation caissons for a wide variety of contractors. She hauls her equipment all over Southern California. From one day to the next she could be working on anything from gas stations to golf courses to schools. She can be in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palm Springs all in the same week, which means the variety of work keeps her on her toes.
Reputation is critical in her industry, and she has been working with some contractors for over twenty years, to the point they feel like family to her. The decades-worth of inside knowledge that she has accumulated means she seriously knows the soils throughout Southern California. This has proved to be beneficial for Shelly. “You know what you're up against,” she says, “Dirt otherwise known as Soil conditions are never the same. The knowledge helps me to prepare the right tools to get the holes drilled.” There have been times where people will completely underestimate her ability and experience, in which case she reminds herself to get the job done and when the work is finished, they will eat their words. “Take yourself seriously, take the job seriously, don’t doubt yourself, don’t let anyone intimidate you,” she says. Shelly does not let anyone push her around and when you combine this with her positive outlook on life, any difficult times she has faced have been overcome and she has always come out on top! “Both personally and professionally my experience and knowledge have saved my life, and saved my contractors money,” says Shelly, “by understanding underground utilities and the government code along with Calling Dig Alert, I can feel pipes with my equipment and prevent breaking them, some but not all the time.”
It’s difficult to condense what it is about working as a driller that Shelly loves the most. Maybe it’s the way her office changes every day, she lives life on the road and gets to enjoy incredible sunrises on the way to work. Maybe it’s the challenges that come with the job and the opportunity to improve her knowledge and skillset over many years. Maybe it's the friendships and connections that she has made and nurtured over the years with many different contractors. Maybe it’s what her success represents; generations of hard work and an excellent reputation being upheld. Or perhaps it is what this career has allowed her to be able to achieve for her own family, like qualifying for a home loan for her and her son. Every morning she rolls into her yard, looks around, and can see that her hard work is paying off. She has built her empire from dirt. She owns her business and she does work that she loves. There really isn’t a price that you can put on that feeling!
Shelly’s Instagram is a hub for other women in the trades to connect, network, and be inspired by each other. For any females considering becoming a driller, she would absolutely tell them to go for it! “I would completely recommend my profession to any woman not bothered by picking up a shovel or a hammer. Once you get the hang of running machinery, it becomes natural to operate the controls. It will take time to learn, but the ‘school of actual experience’ like dad calls it, will take you places.” Shelly is one of the ever-growing list of powerful, inspirational women who are opening doors for the next generation of females in construction. Her grit, passion, skills, and resilience are just a few reasons why she has become the powerhouse success story that she is today.
-All photos courtesy of Shelly Abbott #generationdrilling