readers under 60 years of age will understand this statement: 'We
installed a tin horn in our bar ditch.'
A tin horn is a corrugated, galvanized metal culvert installed alongside
roadways to let floodwater pass through. I know this fact, but I don't
have a clue as to why a crooked gambler appearing in many western
stories is called a tinhorn. Any ideas?
The slang term bar ditch supposedly comes from barrow ditch when hand
labor and wheelbarrows were used to haul dirt dug from a ditch and
dumped into the roadbed to raise it above the surrounding terrain.
Another version states dirt borrowed from a ditch and placed on the
roadbed gave birth to the term bar ditch.
Improving wagon tracks, sufficient for wagons and buggies, into raised,
dragged-smooth roads came with the advent of the automobile. Such
road labor was first done under the Statute Labor Law, which required
property owners living adjacent to or near public roads to donate
a certain amount of hours each year to the upkeep and maintenance
of the road. You could work yourself with your teams and equipment,
hire someone to do the work for you, of if you refused to participate,
your proportionate cost would be added to your annual taxes.
My father recalled that the first winter after he arrived in Ochiltree
County in 1928-29 he lived on the Calvin Flowers farm some 20
miles south of Perryton.
To make a living, he borrowed a work team, walking plow and fresno
and then contracted with the county to dirt-up tin horns along the
highway bar ditches.
This was long before today's Highway 70 and 83 when the road between
went south by Buller's Store, turned east at the 21-mile corner and
on to Taz and Notla rural schools. Each day his team dragged the equipment
to a site containing a tin horn. First, he plowed the bar ditches
on both sides to accumulate loose dirt. Next he hooked his team to
the fresno and moved the loose dirt to the sides of the culvert. All
the plowing and dirt moving was done by walking behind the teams with
reins in hand and guiding the equipment. When finished moving dirt,
he leveled the road by hand with shovel and rake until the site was
smooth and safe to use. He then chained his plow behind the fresno
and traveled to the next site.
Dirt-moving equipment of the time provided little choice. There were
'slips' that loaded then slipped along the ground and had to be tipped
upward to dump. Drags and hurtles were used for short hauls and moving
grain with the operator wailing behind holding on to the wooden handles.
Later, a tumble-bug / fresno combination became available using a
jerk-rope for dumping and loading. This device came about after tractors
arrived on the farms.
Though crude and simple by today's standards, each of these dirt-moving
inventions were a big improvement over a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" September
19, 2006 Column
Related Topic: Historic Homes