Buckeye Steam Traction Ditcher
703 Co. Road 2 So. St. Stephen, Minnesota 56375 Reprinted with
permission from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers
Patented by James B. Hill in 1894 as the traction ditching
machine, this steam-driven ditcher (No. 88) survives as an example
of the first successful machine ditcher. Accurately graded ditches
were needed for open drainage, pipeline trenches, or placement of
underground agricultural drainage tile. These machines replaced
slow and costly hand labor Steam engines were replaced early in the
twentieth century by internal combustion engines.
The Old Black Swamp area of northwest Ohio and southeast
Michigan developed rapidly as an agricultural community during the
post-Civil War era. The forests had been cleared, but waterlogged
clay soils made cultivating the land difficult. Several efforts to
increase productivity, such as crop rotation, were made by farmers.
Among them was under drainage ditching, a method for laying tiles
that act as conduits beneath the soil. Ditches had to be dug along
gradients that followed the fall of the land. The tile piping was
then laid along the bottom and covered over.
Tiling techniques for draining land were brought to the United
States from Scotland in 1821 by John Johnston, who settled in
Geneva, New York. Hand labor was used to dig the trenches along a
gradient and to lay tile pipe sections to carry off water. Wood
planks were used in lieu of tiling until the brick and tile mills
could be built to produce clay tiles. A Geneva pottery maker, B. F.
Wharten by, perfected and patented the first U. S. tile-making
machine for Johnston.
As farmers moved westward, these techniques were studied by
state commissions and farmers. Black Swamp farmers had begun
digging or widening surface ditches along natural channels
beginning about 1860. According to the census, Ohio had 25,000
miles of open drainage ditches by 1920. Of those, 15,000 were
located in the Lake Erie drainage basin of northwest Ohio.
Mechanical ditchers enabled any farmer, regardless of skill, to
dig the ditches. Two workers could dig a trench at the full depth
and gradient in less time than a team of fifteen skilled laborers
by hand. In 1905 a mechanical ditcher raced a crew of fifty
workers, digging 400 feet to the 300 feet dug by the hand ditchers.
Thousands of miles of under drainage tiles were laid between 1890
and 1920, in the Black Swamp area alone.
Buckeye Steam Ditcher
The steam-driven traction ditcher, invented by James B. Hill in
the late 1880's, was the forerunner for traction ditchers used
worldwide including the Florida Everglades, New Orleans, Ontario
(Canada), and Africa. Hill founded the Buckeye Steam Ditcher
Company in the 1890's initially working from a Bowling Green,
Ohio, machine shop. The company moved to Dreshler then Carey,
before being sold to the Van Buren, Heck, and Marvin Company in
1902. The company became known as the Buckeye Traction Ditcher
Company when it moved to Findlay, shortly thereafter. It was the
largest tile ditching and construction trenching company for about
fifty years. Later models were larger and by 1908 had gasoline
engines. By 1920 the were diesel fueled. Production waned in the
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