Iowa collector honors family heritage with restored traction ditcher
Buckeye traction ditcher
'Gentlemen: As you know, it was quite late in the season when we started to operate our machine. We had only 52 working days. Eighteen jobs were all that we could muster. Our net profits were $589.45. Enclosed please find a photograph of our machine. All the farmers around here stopped digging by hand as soon as they saw the machine work, and everybody wanted us at once, so we have to say that we are very well satisfied with our investment.'
- Early testimonial of customer satisfaction with the Buckeye traction ditcher from Schoenecker & Giesen, New Prague, Minn., Jan. 30, 1911.
Talk to Clarence 'Zip' Mettenburg about fancy new hybrid seed and state-of-the-art farm equipment, and he'll listen with interest. But then he's likely to mention an equally critical component in crop production in the upper Midwest.
'Even with hybrid seed corn and modern machines,' he says, 'if you don't have drainage, you won't maximize your yields.'
Zip hopes to preserve the history of underground agricultural drainage systems by restoring a 70-year-old Buckeye traction ditcher. His goal is to have a Buckeye Model 1 - perhaps even powered by the correct gas engine - in running condition at this year's Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (Sept. 2-6).
Zip is in the unique position of owning two similar Buckeyes, one of which he's shown at previous reunions in Mt. Pleasant. Since then, however, in Comer, Ontario, he found a single-cylinder, hit-and-miss 12-hp Garwood gas engine built specifically for use on Buckeye traction ditchers. His goal is to get the Garwood running and install it on one of his two Buckeyes. Then he'll make the unit fully functional with original equipment and put it to work.
'I don't know which one that will be yet,' Zip says. 'There are problems with both of them. But we'll have that engine running by this fall. It may not be able to dig, but we'll be able to demonstrate the motion and movement of the digging wheel.'
The Buckeye traction ditcher and tile layer is a unique attraction at the Old Threshers Reunion. In fact, Zip says, it would be unique at any show. 'It's a heritage item,' he explains. 'I don't know of another show that has a fully operating machine like this. It's a rare feature in an agricultural exhibit, and yet the ditcher was so important to crop yields.'
It's also important to Zip on a more personal level. During the Great Depression, Zip's father, Joe Mettenburg, supplemented farm income by running a tiling business using his own Buckeye Model 1 traction ditcher.
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