Content Tools

R. 1, Ghent, Minnesota 56239

Your very nice picture of the Austin Trenching Machine on the cover of your November-December 1976 Iron Man Album brings to mind the invention of the first(?) trenching machine.

The ditching machine was first made by Anton I. Hovland, along with the help of his brothers, of Island Lake Township, Lyon County Minn., before or during the year 1907. The application for patent was filed March 25, 1908 and the Patent was granted on March 28, 1909. (Patent#915,963)

A contract was entered into by Mr. Hovland with the St. Paul Ditcher and Carrier Company of Como Ave. and Marion Street St. Paul for the building and selling of these machines. This company also manufactured the Carpenter Wing Carrier used on many threshing machines years ago. This company was succeeded by the St. Paul Machinery Manufacturing Company.

On the lighter outfits, only the traction units had Caterpillar traction while the ditcher proper slid on skids.

The machine was guaranteed to dig a ditch from two to thirteen feet deep and follow the established grade, and lay from four to thirty inch tile on the established grade.

The length of Traction 22' width 10', length of Ditcher 26' width 10', size of main digging shaft 4 7/16', size of engine crank shaft 3 '.

Shipping weight of the 'Double-Wheel outfit with 60 H.P. 44,000 lbs.

These machines would work in stickiest kinds of gumbo, clay, sand, bog, marsh, slough, and water knee deep.

The 'Single-Wheel outfit sold for $2700.00

The 'Double-Wheel outfit sold for $4500.00

The help required to operate the machine was from four to six men, depending upon the size of tile being laid.

They were sold with double, triple, and four cylinder engines. One of the earlier machines had a seven H.P. Stickney engine. A 2 cylinder Westman was also used. The one pictured I believe was made by The Raspberry Island Boat & Engine Co. of St. Paul.

They were shown at the Iowa state fair in 1908 and they had one in operation in a slough across the street car tracks from the Minn. State Fair the same year.

The worst thing about this machine was its slow rate of speed (one mile an hr.) going from job to job. On one trip from Balton Minn, to the digging site six miles from the railhead, it took them over six hours and used 25 gallons of gasoline.

The Hovland Tile Ditchers were sold throughout the U.S. with most being sold in the upper midwest. They had a letter of inquiry from a Mr. H.W. Crenshaw of Crenshaw Miss, stating that he had 1,500,000 acres of land to drain.

(a short bit about the inventor) Anton I. Hovland was born Dec. 28, 1861 at New Sweden, Minn, one of ten children of I. C. Hovland and Mary Scheie. He married Paullina Anderson and moved to Ledyard, Iowa. Here he farmed and sold machinery for The Russell & Co. of Massillon Ohio. In 1898 we find him living at Buffalo, Iowa and still in the implement business. During most of these years he had his own steam outfit and did custom threshing.

He moved to a homestead in section 14 Island Lake Township sometime before 1905. On Friday, Feb. 28, 1908 he sold off his farm equipment and moved to St. Paul to manufacture his ditching machine. In later years he moved to Texas, bought a farm and died there.