ASME-Landmark:Buckeye Steam Traction Ditcher


During the post-Civil War era, efforts to cultivate the land for higher crop yields prompted the digging of thousands of miles of ditches to improve land drainage, especially in the Black Swamp area, where Lake Erie drains into northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Accurately graded ditches were needed for open drainage, pipeline trenches, and placement of underground agricultural drainage tile. Teams of skilled workers laid out the direction and gradient of a ditch and dug it out with picks and shovels.

This slow and costly hand labor was replaced in the 1890s, when mechanical ditchers were introduced. The steam-driven ditcher cut in a single motion along a consistent gradient and was operated by a mere two laborers.

James B. Hill (1856-1945) patented the first successful traction ditching machine in 1894. Hill initially worked in a Bowling Green, Ohio, machine shop. He later moved to Deshler, then Carey, Ohio, producing ditchers in both locations. Hill moved to Findlay in 1902, where a foundry (Van Buren, Heck, and Marvin Company) produced the ditchers. The name was changed to Buckeye Steam Traction Company in 1906. The ditcher was also used in New Orleans, Africa, and Ontario, Canada. Steam engines powered the ditchers until 1908, when gasoline engines replaced them; the gasoline engines were, in turn, replaced by diesel engines in the 1920s.

The steam-driven ditcher (No. 88) on display at the Hancock County Museum Association in Findlay was built in 1902, making it the earliest surviving ditcher. See ASME website for more information