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Texas | Columns | "It's All Trew"

Dirt-moving methods improve through years

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Few 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 Perryton and Canadian 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

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