Draining for Profit, and Draining for Health
by George E. Waring
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Grading is the removal of 2 or 3 inches in depth, and about 4 inches in width, of the soil at the bottom of the ditch. It is chiefly done with the finishing scoop, which, (being made of two thin plates, one of iron and one of steel, welded together, the iron wearing away and leaving the sharp steel edge always prominent,) will work in a very hard clay without the aid of the pick. Three men,—the one in the ditch being a skillful workman, and the others helping him when not sighting the rods,—will grade about 100 rods per day, making the cost about 6 cents per rod. Until they acquire the skill to work thus rapidly, they should not be urged beyond what they can readily do in the best manner, as this operation, (which is the preparing of the foundation for the tiles,) is probably the most important of the whole work of draining.

Tiles and Tile-Laying.—After allowing for breakage, it will take about 16 tiles and 16 collars to lay a rod in length of drain. The cost of these will, of course, be very much affected by the considerations of the nearness of the tile-kiln and the cost of transportation. They should, in no ordinary case, cost, delivered on the ground, more than $8 per thousand for 1-1/4-inch tiles, and $4 per thousand for the collars, making a total of $12 for both, equal to about 19 cents per rod. The laying of the tiles, may be set down at 2 cents per rod,—based on a skilled man laying 100 rods daily, and receiving $2 per day.

Covering and filling will probably cost 10 cents per rod, (if the scraper, Fig. 39, can be successfully used for the rough filling, the cost will be reduced considerably below this.)

The four items of the cost of making one rod of lateral drain are as follows:

Digging the ditches - - - .43 Grading - - - .06 Tiles and laying - - - .21 Covering and filling - - - .10 - - -.80 cts.

If the drains are placed at intervals of 40 feet, there are required 64 rods to the acre,—this at 80 cents per rod will make the cost per acre,—for the above items,—$51.20.

How much should be allowed for main drains, outlets, and silt-basins, it is impossible to say, as, on irregular ground, no two fields will require the same amount of this sort of work. On very even land, where the whole surface, for hundreds of acres, slopes gradually in one or two directions, the outlay for mains need not be more than two per cent. of the cost of the laterals. This would allow laterals of a uniform length of 800 feet to discharge into the main line, at intervals of 40 feet, if we do not consider the trifling extra cost of the larger tiles. On less regular ground, the cost of mains will often be considerably more than two per cent. of the cost of the laterals; but in some instances the increase of main lines will be fully compensated for by the reduction in the length of the laterals, which, owing to rocks, hills too steep to need drains at regular intervals, and porous, (gravelly,) streaks in the land, cannot be profitably made to occupy the whole area so thoroughly.(22)

Probably 7-1/2 per cent. of the cost of the laterals for mains, outlets, and silt-basins will be a fair average allowance.

This will bring the total cost of the work to about $60 per acre, made up as follows:

Cost of the finished drains per acre - - - $51.20

7-1/2 per cent. added for mains, etc. - - - 3.83

Engineering and Superintendence - - - 5.00

Of course this is an arbitrary calculation, an estimate without a single ascertained fact to go upon,—but it is as close as it can be made to what would probably be the cost of the best work, on average ground, at the present high prices of labor and material. Five years ago the same work could have been done for from $40 to $45 per acre, and it will be again cheaper when wages fall, and when a greater demand for draining tiles shall have caused more competition in their manufacture. With a large general demand, such as has existed in England for the last 20 years, they would now be sold for one-half of their present price here, and the manufacture would be more profitable.

There are many light lands on retentive subsoils, which could be drained, at present prices, for $50 or less per acre, and there are others, which are very hard to dig, on which thorough-draining could not now be done for $60.

The cost and the promise of the operation in each instance, must guide the land owner in deciding whether or not to undertake the improvement.

In doubtful cases, there is one compromise which may be safely made,—that is, to omit each alternate drain, and defer its construction until labor is cheaper.

This is doing half the work,—a very different thing from half-doing the work. In such cases, the lines should be laid out as though they were to be all done at once, and, finally, when the omitted drains are made, it should be in pursuance of the original plan. Probably the drains which are laid will produce more than one-half of the benefit that would result if they were all laid, but they will rarely be satisfactory, except as a temporary expedient, and the saving will be less than would at first seem likely, for when the second drains are laid; the cultivation of the land must be again interrupted; the draining force must be again brought together; the levels of the new lines must be taken, and connected with those of the old ones; and great care must be taken, selecting the dryest weather for the work,—to admit very little, if any, muddy water into the old mains.

This practice of draining by installments is not recommended; it is only suggested as an allowable expedient, when the cost of the complete work could not be borne with out inconvenience.

If any staid and economical farmer is disposed to be alarmed at the cost of draining, he is respectfully reminded of the miles of expensive stone walls and other fences, in New England and many other parts of the country, which often are a real detriment to the farms, occupying, with their accompanying bramble bushes and head lands, acres of valuable land, and causing great waste of time in turning at the ends of short furrows in plowing;—while they produce no benefit at all adequate to their cost and annoyance.

It should also be considered that, just as the cost of fences is scarcely felt by the farmer, being made when his teams and hands could not be profitably employed in ordinary farming operations, so the cost of draining will be reduced in proportion to the amount of the work which he can "do within himself,"—without hiring men expressly for it. The estimate herein given is based on the supposition that men are hired for the work, at wages equal to $1.50 per day,—while draining would often furnish a great advantage to the farmer in giving employment to farm hands who are paid and subsisted by the year.


Starting with the basis of $60, as the cost of draining an acre of ordinary farm land;—what is the prospect that the work will prove remunerative?

In all of the older States, farmers are glad to lend their surplus funds, on bond and mortgage on their neighbors' farms, with interest at the rate of 7, and often 6 per cent.

In view of the fact that a little attention must be given each year to the outlets, and, to the silt-basins, as well, for the first few years, it will be just to charge for the use of the capital 8-1/3 per cent.

This will make a yearly charge on the land, for the benefits resulting from such a system of draining as has been described, OF FIVE DOLLARS PER ACRE.

Will it Pay?—Will the benefits accruing, year after year,—in wet seasons and in dry,—with root crops and with grain,—with hay and with fruit,—in rotations of crops and in pasture,—be worth $5 an acre?

On this question depends the value of tile-draining as a practical improvement, for if there is a self-evident proposition in agriculture, it is that what is not profitable, one year with another, is not practical.

To counterbalance the charge of $5, as the yearly cost of the draining, each acre must produce, in addition to what it would have yielded without the improvement:

10 bushels of Corn at .50 per bushel.

3 bushels of Wheat at $1.66 per bushel.

5 bushels of Rye at 1.00 per bushel.

12-1/2 bushels of Oats at .40 per bushel.

10 bushels of Potatoes at .50 per bushel.

6-2/3 bushels of Barley at .75 per bushel.

1,000 pounds of Hay at 10.00 per ton.

50 pounds of Cotton at .10 per pound.

20 pounds of Tobacco at .25 per pound.

Surely this is not a large increase,—not in a single case,—and the prices are generally less than may be expected for years to come.

The United States Census Report places the average crop of Indian Corn, in Indiana and Illinois, at 33 bushels per acre. In New York it was but 27 bushels, and in Pennsylvania but 20 bushels. It would certainly be accounted extremely liberal to fix the average yield of such soils as need draining, at 30 bushels per acre. It is extremely unlikely that they would yield this, in the average of seasons, with the constantly recurring injury from backward springs, summer droughts, and early autumn frosts.

Heavy, retentive soils, which are cold and late in the spring, subject to hard baking in midsummer, and to become cold and wet in the early fall, are the very ones which are best suited, when drained, to the growth of Indian Corn. They are "strong" and fertile,—and should be able to absorb, and to prepare for the use of plants, the manure which is applied to them, and the fertilizing matters which are brought to them by each storm;—but they cannot properly exercise the functions of fertile soils, for the reason that they are strangled with water, chilled by evaporation, or baked to almost brick-like hardness, during nearly the whole period of the growth and ripening of the crop. The manure which has been added to them, as well as their own chemical constituents, are prevented from undergoing those changes which are necessary to prepare them for the uses of vegetation. The water of rains, finding the spaces in the soil already occupied by the water of previous rains, cannot enter to deposit the gases which it contains,—or, if the soil has been dried by evaporation under the influence of sun and wind, the surface is almost hermetically sealed, and the water is only slowly soaked up, much of it running off over the surface, or lying to be removed by the slow and chilling process of evaporation. In wet times and in dry, the air, with its heat, its oxygen, and its carbonic acid, (its universal solvent,) is forbidden to enter and do its beneficent work. The benefit resulting from cultivating the surface of the ground is counteracted by the first unfavorable change of the weather; a single heavy rain, by saturating the soil, returning it to nearly its original condition of clammy compactness. In favorable seasons, these difficulties are lessened, but man has no control over the seasons, and to-morrow may be as foul as to-day has been fair. A crop of corn on undrained, retentive ground, is subject to injury from disastrous changes of the weather, from planting until harvest. Even supposing that, in the most favorable seasons, it would yield as largely as though the ground were drained, it would lose enough in unfavorable seasons to reduce the average more than ten (10) bushels per acre.

The average crop, on such land, has been assumed to be 30 bushels per acre; it would be an estimate as moderate as this one is generous, to say that, with the same cultivation and the same manure, the average crop, after draining, would be 50 bushels, or an increase equal to twice as much as is needed to pay the draining charge. If the method of cultivation is improved, by deep plowing, ample manuring, and thorough working,—all of which may be more profitably applied to drained than to undrained land,—the average crop,—of a series of years,—will not be less than 60 bushels.

The cost of extra harvesting will be more than repaid by the value of the extra fodder, and the increased cultivation and manuring are lasting benefits, which can be charged, only in small part, to the current crop. Therefore, if it will pay to plow, plant, hoe and harvest for 30 bushels of corn, it will surely pay much better to double the crop at a yearly extra cost of $5, and, practically, it amounts to this;—the extra crop is nearly all clear gain.

The quantity of Wheat required to repay the annual charge for drainage is so small, that no argument is needed to show that any process which will simply prevent "throwing out" in winter, and the failure of the plant in the wetter parts of the field, will increase the product more than that amount,—to say nothing of the general importance to this crop of having the land in the most perfect condition, (in winter as well as in summer.)

It is stated that, since the general introduction of drainage in England, (within the past 25 years,) the wheat crop of that country has been more than doubled. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that the amount per acre has been doubled, large areas which were originally unfit for the growth of this crop, having been, by draining, excellently fitted for its cultivation;—but there can be no doubt that its yield has been greatly increased on all drained lands, nor that large areas, which, before being drained, were able to produce fair crops only in the best seasons, are now made very nearly independent of the weather.

It is not susceptible of demonstration, but it is undoubtedly true, that those clay or other heavy soils, which are devoted to the growth of wheat in this country, would, if they were thoroughly under-drained, produce, on the average of years, at least double their present crop.

Mr. John Johnston, a venerable Scotch farmer, who has long been a successful cultivator in the Wheat region of Western New York,—and who was almost the pioneer of tile-draining in America,—has laid over 50 miles of drains within the last 30 years. His practice is described in Klippart's Land Drainage, from which work we quote the following:

"Mr. Johnston says he never saw 100 acres in any one farm, but a portion of it would pay for draining. Mr. Johnston is no rich man who has carried a favorite hobby without regard to cost or profit. He is a hardworking Scotch farmer, who commenced a poor man, borrowed money to drain his land, has gradually extended his operations, and is now reaping the benefits, in having crops of 40 bushels of wheat to the acre. He is a gray-haired Nestor, who, after accumulating the experience of a long life, is now, at 68 years of age, written to by strangers in every State of the Union for information, not only in drainage matters, but all cognate branches of farming. He sits in his homestead, a veritable Humboldt in his way, dispensing information cheerfully through our agricultural papers and to private correspondents, of whom he has recorded 164 who applied to him last year. His opinions are, therefore, worth more than those of a host of theoretical men, who write without practice." * * * * *

"Although his farm is mainly devoted to wheat, yet a considerable area of meadow and some pasture has been retained. He now owns about 300 acres of land. The yield of wheat has been 40 bushels this year, and in former seasons, when his neighbors were reaping 8, 10, or 15 bushels, he has had 30 and 40." * * * * *

"Mr. Johnston says tile-draining pays for itself in two seasons, sometimes in one. Thus, in 1847, he bought a piece of 10 acres to get an outlet for his drains. It was a perfect quagmire, covered with coarse aquatic grasses, and so unfruitful that it would not give back the seed sown upon it. In 1848 a crop of corn was taken from it, which was measured and found to be eighty bushels per acre, and as, because of the Irish famine, corn was worth $1 per bushel that year, this crop paid not only all the expense of drainage, but the first cost of the land as well.

"Another piece of 20 acres, adjoining the farm of the late John Delafield, was wet, and would never bring more than 10 bushels of corn per acre. This was drained at a great cost, nearly $30 per acre. The first crop after this was 83 bushels and some odd pounds per acre. It was weighed and measured by Mr. Delafield, and the County Society awarded a premium to Mr. Johnston. Eight acres and some rods of this land, at one side, averaged 94 bushels, or the trifling increase of 84 bushels per acre over what it would bear before those insignificant clay tiles were buried in the ground. But this increase of crop is not the only profit of drainage; for Mr. Johnston says that, on drained land, one half the usual quantity of manure suffices to give maximum crops. It is not difficult to find a reason for this. When the soil is sodden with water, air can not enter to any extent, and hence oxygen can not eat off the surfaces of soil-particles and prepare food for plants; thus the plant must in great measure depend on the manure for sustenance, and, of course, the more this is the case, the more manure must be applied to get good crops. This is one reason, but there are others which we might adduce if one good one were not sufficient.

"Mr. Johnston says he never made money until he drained, and so convinced is he of the benefits accruing from the practice, that he would not hesitate,—as he did not when the result was much more uncertain than at present,—to borrow money to drain. Drains well laid, endure, but unless a farmer intends doing the job well, he had best leave it alone and grow poor, and move out West, and all that sort of thing. Occupiers of apparently dry land are not safe in concluding that they need not go to the expense of draining, for if they will but dig a three-foot ditch in even the driest soil, water will be found in the bottom at the end of eight hours, and if it does come, then draining will pay for itself speedily."

Some years ago, the Rural New Yorker published a letter from one of its correspondents from which the following is extracted:—

"I recollect calling upon a gentleman in the harvest field, when something like the following conversation occurred:

'Your wheat, sir, looks very fine; how many acres have you in this field?'

'In the neighborhood of eight, I judge.'

'Did you sow upon fallow?'

'No sir. We turned over green sward—sowed immediately upon the sod, and dragged it thoroughly—and you see the yield will probably be 25 bushels to the acre, where it is not too wet.'

'Yes sir, it is mostly very fine. I observed a thin strip through it, but did not notice that it was wet.'

'Well, it is not very wet. Sometimes after a rain, the water runs across it, and in spring and fall it is just wet enough to heave the wheat and kill it.'

I inquired whether a couple of good drains across the lot would not render it dry.

'Perhaps so—but there is not over an acre that is killed out.'

'Have you made an estimate of the loss you annually sustain from this wet place?'

'No, I had not thought much about it.'

'Would $30 be too high?'

'O yes, double.'

'Well, let's see; it cost you $3 to turn over the sward? Two bushels of seed, $2; harrowing in, 75 cents; interest, taxes, and fences, $5.25; 25 bushels of wheat lost, $25.'

'Deduct for harvesting——'

'No; the straw would pay for that.'

'Very well, all footed $36.'

'What will the wheat and straw on this acre be worth this year?'

'Nothing, as I shall not cut the ground over.'

'Then it appears that you have lost, in what you have actually expended, and the wheat you would have harvested, had the ground been dry, $36, a pretty large sum for one acre.'

'Yes I see,' said the farmer."

While Rye may be grown, with tolerable advantage, on lands which are less perfectly drained than is necessary for Wheat, there can be no doubt that an increase of more than the six and two-thirds bushels needed to make up the drainage charge will be the result of the improvement.

While Oats will thrive in soils which are too wet for many other crops, the ability to plant early, which is secured by an early removal from the soil of its surplus water, will ensure, one year with another, more than twelve and a half bushels of increased product.

In the case of Potatoes, also, the early planting will be a great advantage; and, while the cause of the potato-rot is not yet clearly discovered, it is generally conceded that, even if it does not result directly from too great wetness of the soil, its development is favored by this condition, either from a direct action on the tubers, or from the effect in the air immediately about the plants, of the exhalations of a humid soil.

An increase of from five to ten per cent. on a very ordinary crop of potatoes, will cover the drainage charge, and with facilities for marketing, the higher price of the earlier yield is of much greater consequence.

Barley will not thrive in wet soil, and there is no question that drainage would give it much more than the increased yield prescribed above.

As to hay, there are many wet, rich soils which produce very large crops of grass, and it is possible that drainage might not always cause them to yield a thousand pounds more of hay to the acre, but the quality of the hay from the drained soil, would, of itself, more than compensate for the drainage charge. The great benefit of the improvement, with reference to this crop, however, lies in the fact that, although wet, grass lands,—and by "wet" is meant the condition of undrained, retentive clays, and heavy loams, or other soils requiring drainage,—in a very few years "run out," or become occupied by semi-aquatic and other objectionable plants, to the exclusion of the proper grasses; the same lands, thoroughly drained, may be kept in full yield of the finest hay plants, as long as the ground is properly managed. It must, of course, be manured, from time to time, and care should be taken to prevent the puddling of its surface, by men or animals, while it is too wet from recent rain. With proper attention to these points, it need not be broken up in a lifetime, and it may be relied on to produce uniformly good crops, always equal to the best obtained before drainage.

So far as Cotton and Tobacco are concerned, there are not many instances recorded of the systematic drainage of lands appropriated to their cultivation, but there is every reason to suppose that they will both be benefitted by any operation which will have the effect of placing the soil in a better condition for the uses of all cultivated plants. The average crop of tobacco is about 700 lbs., and that of cotton probably 250 lbs. An addition of one-fifth to the cotton crop, and of only one thirty-fifth to the tobacco crop, would make the required increase.

The failure of the cotton crop, during the past season, (1866,) might have been entirely prevented, in many districts, by the thorough draining of the land.

The advantages claimed for drainage with reference to the above-named staple crops, will apply with equal, if not greater force, to all garden and orchard culture. In fact, with the exception of osier willows, and cranberries, there is scarcely a cultivated plant which will not yield larger and better crops on drained than on undrained land,—enough better, and enough larger, to pay much more than the interest on the cost of the improvement.

Yet, this advantage of draining, is, by no means, the only one which is worthy of consideration. Since the object of cultivation is to produce remunerative crops, of course, the larger and better the crops, the more completely is the object attained;—and to this extent the greatest benefit resulting from draining, lies in the increased yield. But there is another advantage,—a material and moral advantage,—which is equally to be considered.

Instances of the profit resulting from under-draining, (coupled, as it almost always is, with improved cultivation,) are frequently published, and it would be easy to fortify this chapter with hundreds of well authenticated cases. It is, however, deemed sufficient to quote the following, from an old number of one of the New York dailies:—

"Some years ago, the son of an English farmer came to the United States, and let himself as a farm laborer, in New York State, on the following conditions: Commencing work at the first of September, he was to work ten hours a day for three years, and to receive in payment a deed of a field containing twelve acres—securing himself by an agreement, by which his employer was put under bonds of $2,000 to fulfill his part of the contract; also, during these three years, he was to have the control of the field; to work it at his own expense, and to give his employer one-half the proceeds. The field lay under the south side of a hill, was of dark, heavy clay resting on a bluish-colored, solid clay subsoil, and for many years previous, had not been known to yield anything but a yellowish, hard, stunted vegetation.

"The farmer thought the young man was a simpleton, and that he, himself, was most wise and fortunate; but the former, nothing daunted by this opinion, which he was not unconscious that the latter entertained of him, immediately hired a set of laborers, and set them to work in the field trenching, as earnestly as it was well possible for men to labor. In the morning and evening, before and after having worked his ten hours, as per agreement, he worked with them, and continued to work in this way until, about the middle of the following November, he had finished the laying of nearly 5,000 yards of good tile under-drains. He then had the field plowed deep and thoroughly, and the earth thrown up as much as possible into ridges, and thus let it remain during the winter. Next spring he had the field again plowed as before, then cross-plowed and thoroughly pulverized with a heavy harrow, then sowed it with oats and clover. The yield was excellent—nothing to be compared to it had ever before been seen upon that field. Next year it gave two crops of clover, of a rich dark green, and enormously heavy and luxuriant; and the year following, after being manured at an expense of some $7 an acre, nine acres of the field yielded 936 bushels of corn, and 25 wagon loads of pumpkins; while from the remaining three acres were taken 100 bushels of potatoes—the return of this crop being upwards of $1,200. The time had now come for the field to fall into the young man's possession, and the farmer unhesitatingly offered him $1,500 to relinquish his title to it; and when this was unhesitatingly refused, he offered $2,000, which was accepted.

"The young man's account stood thus

Half proceeds of oats $165 00 and straw, first year Half value of sheep 25 00 pasturage, first year Half of first crops of 112 50 clover, first year Half of second crops of 135 00 clover, including seed, second year Half of sheep 15 00 pasturage, second year Half of crops of corn, 690 00 pumpkins and potatoes, third year Received from farmer, 2,000 00 for relinquishment of title ——— Account Dr. $3,142 50 To under-draining, $325 00 labor and tiles To labor and manure, 475 00 three seasons To labor given to 576 00—1,376 00 farmer, $16 per month, 36 months ——— Balance in his favor $1,766 50

Draining makes the farmer, to a great extent, the master of his vocation. With a sloppy, drenched, cold, uncongenial soil, which is saturated with every rain, and takes days, and even weeks, to become sufficiently dry to work upon, his efforts are constantly baffled by unfavorable weather, at those times when it is most important that his work proceed without interruption. Weeks are lost, at a season when they are all too short for the work to be done. The ground must be hurriedly, and imperfectly prepared, and the seed is put in too late, often to rot in the over-soaked soil, requiring the field to be planted again at a time which makes it extremely doubtful whether the crop will ripen before the frost destroys it.

The necessary summer cultivation, between the rows, has to be done as the weather permits; and much more of it is required because of the baking of the ground. The whole life of the farmer, in fact, becomes a constant struggle with nature, and he fights always at a disadvantage. What he does by the work of days, is mainly undone by a single night's storm. Weeds grow apace, and the land is too wet to admit of their being exterminated. By the time that it is dry enough, other pressing work occupies the time; and if, finally, a day comes when they may be attacked, they offer ten times the resistance that they would have done a week earlier. The operations of the farm are carried on more expensively than if the ability to work constantly allowed a smaller force to be employed. The crops which give such doubtful promise, require the same cultivation as though they were certain to be remunerative, and the work can be done only with increased labor, because of the bad condition of the soil.

From force of tradition and of habit, the farmer accepts his fate and plods through his hard life, piously ascribing to the especial interference of an inscrutable Providence, the trials which come of his own neglect to use the means of relief which Providence has placed within his reach.

Trouble enough he must have, at any rate, but not necessarily all that he now has. It is not within the scope of the best laid drains to control storm or sunshine,—but it is within their power to remove the water of the storm, rapidly and sufficiently, and to allow the heat of the sunshine to penetrate the soil and do its hidden work. No human improvement can change any of the so-called "phenomena" of nature, or prevent the action of the least of her laws; but their effects upon the soil and its crops may be greatly modified, and that which, under certain circumstances, would have caused inconvenience or loss, may, by a change of circumstances, be made positively beneficial.

In the practice of agriculture, which is pre-eminently an economic art, draining will be prosecuted because of the pecuniary profit which it promises, and,—very properly,—it will not be pursued, to any considerable extent, where the money, which it costs, will not bring money in return. Yet, in a larger view of the case, its collateral advantages are of even greater moment than its mere profits. It is the foundation and the commencement of the most intelligent farming. It opens the way for other improvements, which, without it, would produce only doubtful or temporary benefits; and it enables the farmer so to extend and enlarge his operations, with fair promise of success, as to raise his occupation from a mere waiting upon the uncertain favors of nature, to an intelligent handling of her forces, for the attainment of almost certain results.

The rude work of an unthinking farmer, who scratches the surface soil with his plow, plants his seed, and trusts to the chances of a greater or less return, is unmitigated drudgery,—unworthy of an intelligent man; but he who investigates all of the causes of success and failure in farming, and adapts every operation to the requirements of the circumstances under which he works; doing everything in his power that may tend to the production of the results which he desires, and, so far as possible, avoiding everything that may interfere with his success,—leaving nothing to chance that can be secured, and securing all that chance may offer,—is engaged in the most ennobling, the most intelligent and the most progressive of all industrial avocations.

In the cultivation of retentive soils, drainage is the key to all improvement, and its advantage is to be measured not simply by the effect which it directly produces in increasing production, but, in still greater degree, by the extent to which it prepares the way for the successful application of improved processes, makes the farmer independent of weather and season, and offers freer scope to intelligence in the direction of his affairs.


Draining tiles are made of burnt clay, like bricks and earthen-ware.

In general terms, the process is as follows:—The clay is mixed with sand, or other substances which give it the proper consistency, and is so wetted as to form a plastic mass, to which may be given any desired form, and which is sufficiently stiff to retain its shape. Properly prepared clay is forced through the aperture of a die of the shape of the outside of the tile, while a plug,—held by a support in the rear of the die,—projects through the aperture, and gives the form to the bore of the tile. The shape of the material of the tile, as it comes from the die, corresponds to the open space, between the plug and the edge of the aperture. The clay is forced out in a continuous pipe, which is cut to the desired length by a wire, which is so thin as to pass through the mass without altering the shape of the pipe. The short lengths of pipe are dried in the air as thoroughly as they can be, and are then burned in a kiln, similar to that used for pottery.

*Materials.*—The range of earths which may be used in the manufacture of tiles is considerable, though clay is the basis of all of them. The best is, probably, the clay which is almost invariably found at the bottom of muck beds, as this is finer and more compact than that which is dug from dry land, and requires but little preparation. There is, also, a peculiar clay, found in some localities, which is almost like quick-sand in its nature, and which is excellent for tile-making,—requiring no freezing, or washing to prepare it for the machine. As a general rule, any clay which will make good bricks will make tiles. When first taken from the ground, these clays are not usually adhesive, but become so on being moistened and kneaded.

It is especially important that no limestone pebbles be mixed with the clay, as the burning would change these to quicklime, which, in slaking, would destroy the tiles. The presence of a limey earth, however, mixed through the mass, is a positive advantage, as in this intimate admixture, the lime forms, under the heat of the kiln, a chemical combination with the other ingredients; and, as it melts more readily than some of them, it hastens the burning and makes it more complete. What is known as plastic clay, (one of the purest of the native clays,) is too strong for tile-making, and must be "tempered," by having other substances mixed with it, to give it a stiffer quality.

The clay which is best for brick-making, contains Silica, and Alumina in about the following proportions:

Silica ... 55 to 75 per cent.

Alumina ... 35 to 25 per cent.

Variable quantities of other materials are usually found in connection with the clay, in its native condition. The most common of these are the following:—

Magnesia 1 to 5 per cent.—sometimes 20 to 30 per cent.

Lime 0 to 19 per cent.

Potash 0 to 5 per cent.

Oxyd of iron 0 to 19 per cent.

"These necessary elements give fusibility to earthenware, and, therefore, allow its constituent substances to combine in such a manner as to form a resisting body; and thus is performed with a temperature lower in proportion as the necessary elements are more abundant."(23)

When the earth of the locality where tiles are to be made is not sufficiently strong for the purpose, and plastic clay can be cheaply obtained from a distance, a small quantity of this may be used to give strength and tenacity to the native material.

The compound must always contain a proper proportion of clay and sand. If too little clay is used, the mass will not be sufficiently tough to retain its compactness as it passes through the die of the tile machine; if too little sand, the moulded tiles will not be strong enough to bear handling, and they will crack and warp in drying and burning. Within the proper limits, the richer earths may be moulded much thinner, and tiles made from them may, consequently, be made lighter for transportation, without being too weak. The best materials for tempering stiff clays are sand, pounded brick or tile, or scoria, from smelting furnaces.

*Preparation Of Earths.*—The clay from which tiles are to be made, should be thrown out in the fall, (the upper and lower parts of the beds being well mixed in the operation,) and made into heaps on the surface, not more than about 3 feet square and 3 feet high. In this form, it is left exposed to the freezing and thawing of winter, which will aid very much in modifying its character,—making it less lumpy and more easily workable. Any stones which may appear in the digging, should, of course, be removed, and most earths will be improved by being passed through a pair of heavy iron rollers, before they are piled up for the winter. The rollers should be made of cast iron, about 15 inches in diameter, and 30 inches long, and set as close together as they can be, and still be revolved by the power of two horses. The grinding, by means of these rollers, may add 50 cents per thousand to the cost of the tiles, but it will greatly improve their quality.

In the spring, the clay should be prepared for tempering, by the removal of such pebbles as it may still contain. The best way to do this is by "washing," though, if there be only a few coarse pebbles, they may be removed by building the clay into a solid cone 2 or 3 feet high, and then paring it off into thin slices with a long knife having a handle at each end. This paring will discover any pebbles larger than a pea that may have remained in the clay.

Washing is the process of mixing the clay with a considerable quantity of water, so as to form a thin paste, in which all stones and gravel will sink to the bottom; the liquid portion is then drawn off into shallow pits or vats, and allowed to settle, the clear water being finally removed by pumping or by evaporation, according to the need for haste. For washing small quantities of clay, a common mortar bed, such as is used by masons, will answer, if it be supplied with a gate for draining off the muddy water after the gravel has settled; but, if the work is at all extensive, a washing mill will be required. It may be made in the form of a circular trough, with scrapers for mixing the clay and water attached to a circular horse-sweep.

"Another convenient mixing machine may be constructed in the following manner: Take a large hollow log, of suitable length, say five or six feet; hew out the inequalities with an adz, and close up the ends with pieces of strong plank, into which bearing have been cut to support a revolving shaft. This shaft should be sufficiently thick to permit being transfixed with wooden pins long enough to reach within an inch or two of the sides of the log or trough, and they should be so beveled as to form in their aggregate shape an interrupted screw, having a direction toward that end of the box where the mixed clay is designed to pass out. In order to effect the mixing more thoroughly, these pins may be placed sufficiently far apart to permit the interior of the box to be armed with other pins extending toward the center, between which they can easily move. The whole is placed either horizontally or vertically, and supplied with clay and water in proper quantities, while the shaft is made to revolve by means of a sweep, with horse power, running water or steam, as the case may be. The clay is put into the end farthest from the outlet, and is carried forward to it and mixed by the motion, and mutual action and re-action of the pins in the shaft and in the sides of the box. Iron pins may, of course, be substituted for the wooden ones, and have the advantage of greater durability and of greater strength in proportion to their size, and the number may therefore be greater in a machine of any given length. The fluid mass of clay and water may be permitted to fall upon a sieve or riddle, of heavy wire, and afterward be received in a settling vat, of suitable size and construction, to drain off the water and let the clay dry out sufficiently by subsequent evaporation. A machine of this construction may be made of such a size that it may be put in motion by hand, by means of a crank, and yet be capable of mixing, if properly supplied, clay enough to mold 800 or 1000 pieces of drain pipe per day."(24)

Mr. Parkes, in a report to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, in 1843, says:

"It is requisite that the clay be well washed and sieved before pugging, for the manufacture of these tiles, or the operation of drawing them would be greatly impeded, by having to remove stones from the small space surrounding the die, which determines the thickness of the pipe. But it results from this necessary washing, that the substance of the pipe is uniformly and extremely dense, which, consequently, gives it immense strength, and ensures a durability which cannot belong to a more porous, though thicker, tile.

"The clay is brought from the pug-mill so dry that, when squeezed through the machine, not a drop of water exudes,—moisture is, indeed, scarcely apparent on the surface of the raw pipe. Hence, the tiles undergo little or no change of figure while drying, which takes place very rapidly, because of their firm and slight substance."

Fig. 42 - PUG-MILL.

Tempering.—After the fine clay is relieved of the water with which it was washed, and has become tolerably dry, it should be mixed with the sand, or other tempering material, and passed through the Pug-Mill, (Fig. 42,) which will thoroughly mix its various ingredients, and work the whole into a homogeneous mass, ready for the tile machine. The pug-mill is similar to that used in brick-yards, only, as the clay is worked much stiffer for tiles than for bricks, iron knives must be substituted for the wooden pins. These knives are so arranged as to cut the clay in every part, and, by being set at an angle, they force it downward toward the outlet gate at the bottom. The clay should be kept at the proper degree of moisture from the time of tempering, and after passing through the pug-mill it should be thoroughly beaten to drive out the air, and the beaten mass should be kept covered with wet cloths to prevent drying.

*Moulding the Tiles.*—Machines for moulding tiles are of various styles, with much variation in the details of their construction, but they all act on the same general principle;—that of forcing the clay through a ring-shaped aperture in an iron plate, forming a continuous pipe, which is carried off on an endless apron, or on rollers, and cut by wires into the desired lengths. The plates with the ring-shaped apertures are called dies; the openings are of any desired form, corresponding to the external shape of the tiles; and the size and shape of the bore, is determined by the core or plug, which is held in the centers of the apertures. The construction of the die plates, and the manner of fastening the plugs, which determine the bore of the tiles, is shown in Fig. 43. The view taken is of the inside of the plate.

Fig. 43 - PLATE OF DIES.

The machine consists usually of a strong iron chest, with a hinged cover, into which the clay is placed, having a piston moving in it, connected by a rod or bar, having cog-teeth, with a cog-wheel, which is moved by horse or hand power, and drives the piston forward with steadiness, forcing the clay through the openings in the die-plate. The clay issues in continuous lines of pipe. The machines most in use in this country are connected directly with the pug-mill, and as the clay is pugged, it at once passes into the box, and is pressed out as tiles. These machines are usually run by horse-power.

Mr. Barral, in his voluminous work on drainage,(25) describes, as follows, a cheap hand machine which can be made by any country wheelwright, and which has a capacity of 3,000 tiles per day (Fig. 44):

"Imagine a simple, wooden box, divided into two compartments. In the rear compartment there stands a vertical post, fastened with two iron bolts, having heads at one end, and nuts and screws at the other. The box is thus fixed to its support. We simply place this support on the ground and bind its upper part with a rope to a tree, a stake, or a post. The front compartment is the reservoir for the clay, presenting at its front an orifice, in which we fix the desired die with a simple bolt. A wooden piston, of which the rod is jointed with a lever, which works in a bolt at the top of the supporting post, gives the necessary pressure. When the chest is full of clay, we bear down on the end of the lever, and the moulded tiles run out on a table supplied with rollers. Raising the piston, it comes out of the box, which is again packed with clay. The piston is replaced in the box; pressure is again applied to the lever, and so on. When the line of tiles reaches the end of the table, we lower a frame on which brass wires are stretched, and cut it into the usual lengths."



The workmen must attend well to the degree of moisture of the clay which is put into the machine. It should be dry enough to show no undue moisture on its surface as it comes out of the die-plate, and sufficiently moist not to be crumbled in passing the edge of the mould. The clay for small (thin) tiles must, necessarily, be more moist than that which is to pass through a wider aperture; and for the latter there may, with advantage, be more sand in the paste than would be practicable with the former.

After the tiles are cut into lengths, they are removed by a set of mandrils, small enough to pass easily into them, such as are shown in Fig. 45, (the number of fingers corresponding with the number of rows of tiles made by the machine,) and are placed on shelves made of narrow strips sawn from one-inch boards, laid with spaces between them to allow a free circulation of air.



*Drying and Rolling.*—Care must be taken that freshly made tiles be not dried too rapidly. They should be sheltered from the sun and from strong winds. Too rapid drying has the effect of warping them out of shape, and, sometimes, of cracking the clay. To provide against this injury, the drying is done under sheds or other covering, and the side which is exposed to the prevailing winds is sometimes boarded up.

For the first drying, the tiles are placed in single layers on the shelves. When about half dried,—at which time they are usually warped more or less from their true shape,—it is well to roll them. This is done by passing through them a smooth, round stick, (sufficiently smaller than the bore to enter it easily, and long enough to project five or six inches beyond each end of the tile,) and,—holding one end of the stick in each hand,—rolling them carefully on a table. This operation should be performed when the tiles are still moist enough not to be broken by the slight bending required to make them straight. After rolling, the tiles may be piled up in close layers, some four or five feet high, (which will secure them against further warping,) and left until they are dry enough for burning,—that is, as dry as they can be made by exposure to the air.

*Burning.*—Tiles are burned in kilns in which, by the effect of flame acting directly upon them, they are raised to a heat sufficient to melt some of their more easily fusible ingredients, and give to them a stone-like hardness.

Kilns are of various construction and of various sizes. As this book is not intended for the instruction of those who are engaged in the general manufacture of tiles, only for those who may find it necessary to establish local works, it will be sufficient to describe a temporary earthen kiln which may be cheaply built, and which will answer an excellent purpose, where only 100,000 or 200,000 tiles per season will be required.

Directions for its construction are set forth in a letter from Mr. T. Law Hodges, of England, to the late Earl Spencer, published in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society for the year 1843, as follows:

"The form of the clay-kiln is circular, 11 feet in diameter, and 7 feet high. It is wholly built of damp, clayey earth, rammed firmly together, and plastered, inside and out, with loam (clay?). The earth to form the walls is dug out around the base, leaving a circular trench about four feet wide and as many deep, into which the fire-holes of the kiln open. If wood be the fuel used, three fire-holes will be sufficient; if coal, four will be needed. About 1,200 common brick will be wanted to build these fire-holes and flues; if coal is used, rather fewer bricks will be wanted, but, then, some iron bars are necessary,—six bars to each fire-hole.

"The earthen walls are four feet thick at the floor of the kiln, seven feet high, and tapering to a thickness of two feet at the top; this will determine the slope of the exterior face of the kiln. The inside of the wall is carried up perpendicularly, and the loam plastering inside becomes, after the first burning, like a brick wall. The kiln may be safely erected in March, or whenever the danger of injury from frost is over. After the summer use of it, it must be protected, by faggots or litter, against the wet and frost of winter. A kiln of these dimensions will contain 32,500 1-1/4-inch tiles, * * * or 12,000 2-1/4-inch tiles. * * *

"In good weather, this kiln can be filled, burnt, and discharged once in every fortnight, and fifteen kilns may be obtained in a good season, producing 487,500 1-1/4-inch tiles, and in proportion for the other sizes.

"It requires 2 tons 5 cwt. of good coals to burn the above kiln, full of tiles."

[Fig. 46 - CLAY-KILN.]

Fig. 46 - CLAY-KILN.

A sectional view of this kiln is shown in Fig. 46, in which C, C represent sections of the outer trench; A, one of the three fire-holes; and B, B, sections of a circular passage inside of the wall, connected with the fire-holes, and serving as a flue for the flames, which, at suitable intervals, pass through openings into the floor of the kiln. The whole structure should be covered with a roof of rough boards, placed high enough to be out of the reach of the fire. A door in the side of the kiln serves for putting in and removing the tiles, and is built up, temporarily, with bricks or clay, during the burning. Mr. Hodges estimates the cost of this kiln, all complete, at less than $25. Concerning its value, he wrote another letter in 1848, from which the following is extracted:

"The experience of four years that have elapsed since my letter to the late Earl Spencer, published in the 5th volume of the proceedings of the Royal Agricultural Society, page 57, has thoroughly tested the merits of the temporary clay-kilns for the burning of draining-pipes described in that letter.

"I am well aware that there were persons, even among those who came to see it, who pronounced at once upon the construction and duration of the kiln as unworthy of attention. How far their expectations have been realized, and what value belongs to their judgment, the following short statement will exhibit:

"The kiln, in question, was constructed, in 1844, at a cost of L5.

"It was used four times in that year, burning each time between 18,000 and 19,000 draining pipes, of 1-3/4 inches in diameter.

"In 1845, it was used nine times, or about once a fortnight, burning each time the same quantity of nearly 19,000 pipes.

"In 1846, the same result.

"In 1847, it has been used twelve times, always burning the same quantity. In the course of the last year a trifling repair in the bottom of the kiln, costing rather less than 10 shillings, was necessary, and this is the only cost for repair since its erection. It is now as good as ever, and might be worked at least once a fortnight through the ensuing season.

"The result of this experiment of four years shows not only the practical value of this cheap kiln, but Mr. Hatcher, who superintends the brick and tile-yard at Benenden, where this kiln stands, expresses himself strongly in favor of this kiln, as always producing better and more evenly burned pipes than either of his larger and better built brick-kilns can do."

The floor of the kiln is first covered with bricks, placed on end, at a little distance from each other, so as to allow the fire to pass between them, and the tiles are placed on end on these. This position will afford the best draft for the flames. After the kiln is packed full, the door-way is built up, and a slow fire is started,—only enough at first to complete the drying of the tiles, and to do this so slowly as not to warp them out of shape. They will be thoroughly dry when the smoke from the top of the kiln loses its dark color and becomes transparent. When the fires are well started, the mouths of the fire-holes may be built up so as to leave only sufficient room to put in fresh fuel, and if the wind is high, the fire-holes, on the side against which it blows, should be sheltered by some sort of screen which will counteract its influence, and keep up an even heat on all sides.

The time required for burning will be from two days and a night to four days and four nights, according to the dryness of the tiles, the state of the weather, and the character of the fuel. The fires should be drawn when the tiles in the hottest part of the kiln are burned to a "ringing" hardness. By leaving two or three holes in the door-way, which can be stopped with loose brick, a rod may be run in, from time to time, to take out specimen tiles from the hottest part of the kiln, which shall have been so placed as to be easily removed. The best plan, however,—the only prudent plan, in fact,—will be to employ an intelligent man who is thoroughly experienced in the burning of brick and pottery, and whose judgment in the management of the fires, and in the cooling off of the kiln, will save much of the waste that would result from inexperienced management. After the burning is completed, from 40 to 60 hours must be allowed for the cooling of the kiln before it is opened. If the cold air is admitted while it is still very hot, the unequal contraction of the material will cause the tiles to crack, and a large portion of them may be destroyed.

If any of the tiles are too much burned, they will be melted, and may stick together, or, at least, have their shape destroyed. Those which are not sufficiently burned would not withstand the action of the water in the soil, and should not be used. For the first of these accidents there is no remedy; for the latter, reburning will be necessary, and under-done tiles may be left, (or replaced,) in the kiln in the position which they occupied at the first burning, and the second heat will probably prove sufficient. There is less danger of unequal burning in circular than in square kilns. Soft wood is better than hard, as making a better flame. It should be split fine, and well seasoned.

*Arrangement of the Tilery.*—Such a tilery as is described above should have a drying shed from 60 to 80 feet long, and from 12 to 18 feet wide. This shed may be built in the cheapest and roughest manner, the roof being covered with felting, thatch, or hemlock boards, as economy may suggest. It should have a tier of drying shelves, (made of slats rather than of boards,) running the whole length of each side. A narrow, wooden tram-way, down the middle, to carry a car, by which the green tiles may be taken from the machine to the shelves, and the dry ones from the shelves to the kiln, will greatly lessen the cost of handling.

The pug-mill and tile-machine, as well as the clay pit and the washing-mill, should be at one end of the shed, and the kiln at the other, so that, even in rainy weather, the work may proceed without interruption. A shed of the size named will be sufficient to dry as many tiles of assorted sizes as can be burned in the clay-kiln described above.

*The Cost of Tiles.*—It would be impossible, at any time, to say what should be the precise cost of tiles in a given locality, without knowing the prices of labor and fuel; and in the present unsettled condition of the currency, any estimate would necessarily be of little value. Mr. Parker's estimated the cost of inch pipes in England at 6s., (about $1.50,) per thousand, when made on the estate where they were to be used, by a process similar to that described herein. Probably they could at no time have been made for less than twice that cost in the United States,—and they would now cost much more; though if the clay is dug out in the fall, when the regularly employed farm hands are short of work, and if the same men can cut and haul the wood during the winter, the hands hired especially for the tile making, during the summer season, (two men and two or three boys,) cannot, even at present rates of wages, bring the cost of the tiles to nearly the market prices. If there be only temporary use for the machinery, it may be sold, when no longer needed, for a good percentage of its original cost, as, from the slow movement to which it is subjected, it is not much worn by its work.

There is no reason why tiles should cost more to make than bricks. A common brick contains clay enough to make four or five 1-1/4-inch tiles, and it will require about the same amount of fuel to burn this clay in one form as in the other. This advantage in favor of tiles is in a measure offset by the greater cost of handling them, and the greater liability to breakage.

The foregoing description of the different processes of the manufacture of draining tiles has been given, in order that those who find it necessary, or desirable, to establish works to supply the needs of their immediate localities may commence their operations understandingly, and form an approximate opinion of the promise of success in the undertaking.

Probably the most positive effect of the foregoing description, on the mind of any man who contemplates establishing a tilery, will be to cause him to visit some successful manufactory, during the busy season, and examine for himself the mode of operation. Certainly it would be unwise, when such a personal examination of the process is practicable, to rely entirely upon the aid of written descriptions; for, in any work like tile-making, where the selection, combination and preparation of the materials, the means of drying, and the economy and success of the burning must depend on a variety of conditions and circumstances, which change with every change of locality, it is impossible that written directions, however minute, should be a sufficient guide. Still, in the light of such directions, one can form a much better idea of the bearing of the different operations which he may witness, than he could possibly do if the whole process were new to him.

If a personal examination of a successful tilery is impracticable, it will be necessary to employ a practical brick-maker, or potter, to direct the construction and operation of the works, and in any case, this course is advisable.

In any neighborhood where two or three hundred acres of land are to be drained, if suitable earths can be readily obtained, it will be cheaper to establish a tile-yard, than to haul the necessary tiles, in wagons, a distance of ten or twenty miles. Then again, the prices demanded by the few manufacturers, who now have almost a monopoly of the business, are exorbitantly high,—at least twice what it will cost to make the tiles at home, with the cheap works described above, so that if the cost of transportation on the quantity desired would be equal to the cost of establishing the works, there will be a decided profit in the home manufacture. Probably, also, a tile-yard, in a neighborhood where the general character of the soil is such as to require drainage, will be of value after the object for which it was made has been accomplished.

While setting forth the advantage to the farmer of everything which may protect him against monopolies, whether in the matter of draining-tile, or of any other needful accessory of his business, or which will enable him to procure supplies without a ruinous outlay for transportation, it is by no means intended that every man shall become his own tile-maker.

In this branch of manufacture, as in every other, organized industry will accomplish results to which individual labor can never attain. A hundred years ago, when our mill-made cloths came from England, and cost more than farmers could afford to pay, they wore home-spun, which was neither so handsome nor so good as the imported article; but, since that time, the growing population and the greater demand have caused cloth mills to be built here, greater commercial facilities have placed foreign goods within easy reach, and the house loom has fallen into general disuse.

At present, the manufacture of draining tiles is confined to a few, widely separated localities, and each manufacturer has, thus far, been able to fix his own scale of charges. These, and the cost of transportation to distant points, make it difficult, if not impossible, for many farmers to procure tiles at a cost low enough to justify their use. In such cases, small works, to supply local demand, may enable many persons to drain with tiles, who, otherwise, would find it impossible to procure them cheaply enough for economical use; and the extension of under-draining, causing a more general acquaintance with its advantages, would create a sufficient demand to induce an increase of the manufacture of tiles, and a consequent reduction of price.


"Adjoining to it is Middle Moor, containing about 2,500 acres, spoken of by Arthur Young as 'a watery desert,' growing sedge and rushes, and inhabited by frogs and bitterns;—it is now fertile, well cultivated, and profitable land."

The foregoing extract, from an account of the Drainage of the Fens on the eastern coast of England, is a text from which might be preached a sermon worthy of the attention of all who are interested in the vast areas of salt marsh which form so large a part of our Atlantic coast, from Maine to Florida.

Hundreds of thousands of acres that might be cheaply reclaimed, and made our most valuable and most salubrious lands, are abandoned to the inroads of the sea;—fruitful only in malaria and musquitoes,—always a dreary waste, and often a grave annoyance.

A single tract, over 20,000 acres in extent, the center of which is not seven miles from the heart of New York City, skirts the Hackensack River, in New Jersey, serving as a barrier to intercourse between the town and the country which lies beyond it, adding miles to the daily travel of the thousands whose business and pleasure require them to cross it, and constituting a nuisance and an eyesore to all who see it, or come near it. How long it will continue in this condition it is impossible to say, but the experience of other countries has proved that, for an expense of not more than fifty dollars per acre, this tract might be made better, for all purposes of cultivation, than the lands adjoining it, (many of which are worth, for market gardening, over one thousand dollars per acre,) and that it might afford profitable employment, and give homes, to all of the industrious poor of the city. The work of reclaiming it would be child's play, compared with the draining of the Harlaem Lake in Holland, where over 40,000 acres, submerged to an average depth of thirteen feet, have been pumped dry, and made to do their part toward the support of a dense population.

The Hackensack meadows are only a conspicuous example of what exists over a great extent of our whole seaboard;—virgin lands, replete with every element of fertility, capable of producing enough food for the support of millions of human beings, better located, for residence and for convenience to markets, than the prairies of the Western States,—all allowed to remain worse than useless; while the poorer uplands near them are, in many places, teeming with a population whose lives are endangered, and whose comfort is sadly interfered with by the insects and the miasma which the marsh produces.

The inherent wealth of the land is locked up, and all of its bad effects are produced, by the water with which it is constantly soaked or overflowed. Let the waters of the sea be excluded, and a proper outlet for the rain-fall and the upland wash be provided,—both of which objects may, in a great majority of cases, be economically accomplished,—and this land may become the garden of the continent. Its fertility will attract a population, (especially in the vicinity of large towns,) which could no where else live so well nor so easily.

The manner in which these salt marshes were formed may be understood from the following account of the "Great Level of the Fens" of the eastern coast of England, which is copied, (as is the paragraph at the head of this chapter,) from the Prize Essay of Mr. John Algernon Clarke, written for the Royal Agricultural Society in 1846.

The process is not, of course, always the same, nor are the exact influences, which made the English Fens, generally, operating in precisely the same manner here, but the main principle is the same, and the lesson taught by the improvement of the Fens is perfectly applicable in our case.

"This great level extends itself into the six counties of Cambridge, Lincoln, Huntington, Northampton, Suffolk and Norfolk, being bounded by the highlands of each. It is about seventy miles in length, and varies from twenty to forty miles in breadth, having an area of more than 680,000 acres. Through this vast extent of flat country, there flow six large rivers, with their tributary streams; namely, the Ouse, the Cam, the Nene, the Welland, the Glen, and the Witham.

"These were, originally, natural channels for conveying the upland waters to the sea, and whenever a heavier downfall of rain than usual occurred, and the swollen springs and rivulets caused the rivers to overflow, they must necessarily have overflowed the land to a great extent.

"This, however, was not the principal cause of the inundation of the Fens: these rivers were not allowed a free passage to the ocean, being thus made incapable of carrying off even the ordinary amount of upland water which, consequently, flowed over the land. The obstruction was two-fold; first, the outfalls became blocked up by the deposits of silt from the sea waters, which accumulated to an amazing thickness. The well known instances of boats found in 1635 eight feet below the Wisbeck River, and the smith's forge and tools found at Skirbeck Shoals, near Boston, buried with silt sixteen feet deep, show what an astonishing quantity of sediment formerly choked up the mouths of these great rivers. But the chief hindrance caused by the ocean, arose from the tide rushing twice every day for a very great distance up these channels, driving back the fresh waters, and overflowing with them, so that the whole level became deluged with deep water, and was, in fact, one great bay.

"In considering the state of this region as it first attracted the enterprise of man to its improvement, we are to conceive a vast, wild morass, with only small, detached portions of cultivated soil, or islands, raised above the general inundation; a most desolate picture when contrasted with its present state of matchless fertility."

Salt marshes are formed of the silty deposits of rivers and of the sea. The former bring down vegetable mould and fine earth from the uplands, and the latter contribute sea weeds and grasses, sand and shells, and millions of animalculae which, born for life in salt water only, die, and are deposited with the other matters, at those points where, from admixture with the fresh flow of the rivers, the water ceases to be suitable for their support. It is estimated that these animalculae alone are the chief cause of the obstructions at the mouths of the rivers of Holland, which retard their flow, and cause them to spread over the flat country adjoining their banks. It is less important, however, for the purposes of this chapter, to consider the manner in which salt marshes are formed, than to discuss the means by which they may be reclaimed and made available for the uses of agriculture. The improvement may be conveniently considered under three heads:—

First—The exclusion of the sea water.

Second—The removal of the causes of inundation from the upland.

Third—The removal of the rain-fall and water of filtration.

*The Exclusion of the Sea* is of the first importance, because not only does it saturate the land with water,—but this water, being salt, renders it unfertile for the plants of ordinary cultivation, and causes it to produce others which are of little, or no value.

The only means by which the sea may be kept out is, by building such dykes or embankments as shut out the highest tides, and, on shores which are exposed to the action of the waves, will resist their force. Ordinarily, the best, because the cheapest, material of which these embankments can be made, is the soil of the marsh itself. This is rarely,—almost never,—a pure peat, such as is found in upland swamps; it contains a large proportion of sand, blue clay, muscle mud, or other earthy deposits, which give it great weight and tenacity, and render it excellent for forming the body of the dyke. On lands which are overflowed to a considerable extent at each high tide, (twice a day,) it will be necessary to adopt more expensive, and more effective measures, but on ordinary salt meadows, which are deeply covered only at the spring tides, (occurring every month,) the following plan will be found practical and economical.

Locating the line of the embankment far enough back from the edge of the meadow to leave an ample flat outside of it to break the force of the waves, if on the open coast, or to resist the inroads of the current if on the bank of an estuary or a river,—say from ten to one hundred yards, according to the danger of encroachment,—set a row of stakes parallel to the general direction of the shore, to mark the outside line of the base of the dyke. Stake out the inside line at such distance as will give a pitch or inclination to the slopes of one and a half to one on the outside, and of one to one on the inside, and will allow the necessary width at the top, which should be at least two feet higher than the level of the highest tide that is known ever to have occurred at that place. The width of the top should never be less than four feet, and in exposed localities it should be more. If a road will be needed around the land, it is best, if a heavy dyke is required, to make it wide enough to answer this purpose, with still wider places, at intervals, to allow vehicles to turn or to pass each other. Ordinarily, however, especially if there be a good stretch of flat meadow in front, the top of the dyke need not be more than four feet wide. Supposing such a dyke to be contemplated where the water has been known to rise two feet above the level of the meadows, requiring an embankment four feet high, it will be necessary to allow for the base a width of fourteen feet;—four feet for the width of the top, six feet for the reach of the front slope, (1-1/2 to 1,) and four feet for the reach of the back slope, (1 to 1.)

Having staked out two parallel lines, fourteen feet apart, and erected, at intervals of twenty or thirty feet, frames made of rough strips of board of the exact shape of the section of the proposed embankment, the workmen may remove the sod to a depth of six inches, laying it all on the outside of the position of the proposed embankment. The sod from the line of the ditch, from which the earth for the embankment is to be taken, should also be removed and placed with the other. This ditch should be always inside of the dyke, where it will never be exposed to the action of the sea. It should be, at the surface, broader than the base of the dyke, and five feet deep in the center, but its sides may slope from the surface of the ground directly to the center line of the bottom. This is the best form to give it, because, while it should be five feet deep, for future uses as a drain, its bottom need have no width. The great width at the surface will give such a pitch to the banks as to ensure their stability, and will yield a large amount of sod for the facing of the dyke. The edge of this ditch should be some feet away from the inner line of the embankment, leaving it a firm support or shoulder at the original level of the ground, the sod not being removed from the interval. The next step in the work should be to throw, or wheel, the material from the ditch on to the place which has been stripped for the dyke, building it up so as to conform exactly to the profile frames, these remaining in their places, to indicate the filling necessary to make up for the settling of the material, as the water drains out of it.

[Fig. 47 - DYKE AND DITCH.]


As fast as a permanent shape can be given to the outer face of the dyke, it should be finished by having the sod placed against it, being laid flatwise, one on top of another, (like stone work,) in the most solid manner possible. This should be continued to the top of the slope, and the flat top of the dyke should also be sodded,—the sods on the top, and on the slope, being firmly beaten to their places with the back of the spade or other suitable implement. This will sufficiently protect the exposed parts of the work against the action of any waves that may be formed on the flat between the dyke and the deep water, while the inner slope and the banks of the ditch, not being exposed to masses of moving water, will retain their shape and will soon be covered with a new growth.(26) A sectional view of the above described dyke and ditch is shown in the accompanying diagram, (Fig. 47.)

In all work of this character, it is important to regulate the amount of work laid out to be done between the spring tides, to the laboring force employed, so that no unfinished work will remain to be submerged and injured. When the flood comes, it should find everything finished up and protected against its ravages, so that no part of it need be done over again.

If the land is crossed by creeks, the dyke should be finished off and sodded, a little back from each bank, and when the time comes for closing the channel, sufficient force should be employed to complete the dam at a single tide, so that the returning flow shall not enter to wash away the material which has been thrown in.

If, as is often the case, these creeks are not merely tidal estuaries, but receive brooks or rivers from the upland, provision must be made, as will be hereafter directed, for either diverting the upland flow, or for allowing it to pass out at low water, through valve gates or sluices. When the dam has been made, the water behind it should never be allowed to rise to nearly the level of the full tide, and, as soon as possible, grass and willows should be grown on the bank, to add to its strength by the binding effect of their roots.

When the dyke is completed across the front of the whole flat,—from the high land on one side to the high land on the other, the creeks should be closed, one after the other, commencing with the smallest, so that the experience gained in their treatment may enable the force to work more advantageously on those which carry more water.

If the flow of water in the creek is considerable, a row of strong stakes, or piles, should be firmly driven into the bottom mud, across the whole width of the channel, at intervals of not more than one or two feet, and fascines,—bundles of brush bound together,—should be made ready on the banks, in sufficient quantity to close the spaces between the piles. These will serve to prevent the washing away of the filling during construction. The pile driving, and the preparation of the fascines may be done before the closing of the channel with earth is commenced, and if upland clay or gravel, to be mixed with the local material, can be economically brought to the place by boats or wagons, it will be an advantage. Everything being in readiness, a sufficient force of laborers to finish the dam in six hours should commence the work a little before dead low-water, and, (with the aid of wheelbarrows, if necessary,) throw the earth in rapidly behind the row of stakes and fascines, giving the dam sufficient width to resist the pressure of the water from without, and keeping the work always in advance of the rising of the tide, so that, during the whole operation, none of the filling shall be washed away by water flowing over its top.

If the creek has a sloping bottom, the work may be commenced earlier,—as soon as the tide commences to recede,—and pushed out to the center of the channel by the time the tide is out. When the dam is built, it will be best to heavily sod, or otherwise protect its surface against the action of heavy rains, which would tend to wash it away and weaken it; and the bed of the creek should be filled in back of the dam for a distance of at least fifty yards, to a height greater than that at which water will stand in the interior drains,—say to within three feet of the surface,—so that there shall never be a body of water standing within that distance of the dam.

This is a necessary precaution against the attacks of muskrats, which are the principal cause of the insecurity of all salt marsh embankments. It should be a cardinal rule with all who are engaged in the construction of such works, never to allow two bodies of water, one on each side of the bank to be nearer than twenty-five yards of each other, and fifty yards would be better. Muskrats do not bore through a bank, as is often supposed, to make a passage from one body of water to another, (they would find an easier road over the top); but they delight in any elevated mound in which they can make their homes above the water level and have its entrance beneath the surface, so that their land enemies cannot invade them. When they enter for this purpose, only from one side of the dyke, they will do no harm, but if another colony is, at the same time, boring in from the other side, there is great danger that their burrows will connect, and thus form a channel for the admission of water, and destroy the work. A disregard of this requirement has caused thousands of acres of salt marsh that had been enclosed by dykes having a ditch on each side, (much the cheapest way to make them,) to be abandoned, and it has induced the invention of various costly devices for the protection of embankments against these attacks.(27)

When the creek or estuary to be cut off is very wide, the embankment may be carried out, at leisure, from each side, until the channel is only wide enough to allow the passage of the tide without too great a rush of water against the unfinished ends of the work; but, even in these cases, there will be economy in the use of fascines and piles from the first, or of stones if these can be readily procured. In wide streams, partial obstructions of the water course will sometimes induce the deposit of silt in such quantities as will greatly assist the work. No written description of a single process will suffice for the direction of those having charge of this most delicate of all drainage operations. Much must be left to the ingenuity of the director of the work, who will have to avail himself of the assistance of such favorable circumstances as may, in the case in hand, offer themselves.

If the barrier to be built will require a considerable outlay, it should be placed in the hands of a competent engineer, and it will generally demand the full measure of his skill and experience.

The work cannot be successful, unless the whole line of the water-front is protected by a continuous bank, sufficiently high and strong in all of its parts to resist the action of the highest tides and the strongest waves to which it will be subjected. As it is always open to inspection, at each ebb tide, and can always be approached for repair, it will be easy to keep it in good condition; and, if properly attended to, it will become more solid and effective with age.

*The removal of the causes of inundation from the upland* is often of almost equal importance with the shutting out of the sea, since the amount of water brought down by rivers, brooks, and hill-side wash, is often more than can be removed by any practicable means, by sluice gates, or pumps.

It will be quite enough for the capacity of these means of drainage, to remove the rain-water which falls on the flat land, and that which reaches it by under-ground springs and by infiltration,—its proper drainage-water in short,—without adding that which, coming from a higher level, may be made to flow off by its own fall.

Catch-water drains, near the foot of the upland, may be so arranged as to receive the surface water of the hills and carry it off, always on a level above that of the top of the embankment, and these drains may often be, with advantage, enlarged to a sufficient capacity to carry the streams as well. If the marsh is divided by an actual river, it may be best to embank it in two separate tracts; losing the margins, that have been recommended, outside of the dykes, and building the necessary additional length of these, rather than to contend with a large body of water. But, frequently, a very large marsh is traversed by a tortuous stream which occupies a large area, and which, although the tidal water which it contains gives it the appearance of a river, is only the outlet of an insignificant stream, which might be carried along the edge of the upland in an ordinary mill-race. In such case it is better to divert the stream and reclaim the whole area.

When a stream is enclosed between dykes, its winding course should be made straight in order that its water may be carried off as rapidly as possible, and the land which it occupies by its deviations, made available for cultivation. In the loose, silty soil of a salt marsh, the stream may be made to do most of the work of making its new bed, by constructing temporary "jetties," or other obstructions to its accustomed flow, which shall cause its current to deposit silt in its old channel, and to cut a new one out of the opposite bank. In some instances it may be well to make an elevated canal, straight across the tract, by constructing banks high enough to confine the stream and deliver it over the top of the dyke; in others it may be more expedient to carry the stream over, or through, the hill which bounds the marsh, and cause it to discharge through an adjoining valley. Improvements of this magnitude, which often affect the interest of many owners, or of persons interested in the navigation of the old channel, or in mill privileges below the point at which the water course is to be diverted, will generally require legislative interference. But they not seldom promise immense advantages for a comparatively small outlay.

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