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Attempt to Recreate History Not Easy

Following clues left generations ago not easy.

This story has a beginning, but no ending. There is no surprise finish, at least not that I know of. The people that could write to the end of the story have likely went on to their reward many years ago.

A farmer friend of mine near Edinburgh, Jim Facemire, was trying to determine if there were any tile lines in a certain part of a field. To his knowledge, and he's lived on this tenant farm 35 years, there wasn't tile in the 100-acre field. It's mostly somewhat poorly and poorly drained soils, tapering back to better drained soils in the back, on slopes, and nudging up against gravelly ground worth irrigating on the north side.

Digging a hole for soil judging practice last week, his son, Ryan, broke through an old clay tile about 30 inches deep. It was near the back of the field, in a spot that really didn't need drainage.

Jim and I began speculating. Where did it go? Surely it went up the hill, over the rise, and into the lower spots that led toward the front of the field and the buildings. Jim recalled seeing water pool up near where we found the tile, so he figured it was from a broken tile. However, the tile wasn't broken until Ryan broke it. It was half full of dirt, maybe more, but wasn't broken.

So was this tile put in by hand, or trenched? Ryan recalled that the person that lived there before his dad always talked about doing some excavating. Perhaps he had someone trench a line from the front wet areas to the back. One half full of dirt clay tile obviously wouldn't drain a very big area.

Then Jim remembered that the closest barn to the field was once used by the previous farmer to raise hogs, back when few worried about where the manure went. There were four tile outlets on the back of the building where manure once came out. No hogs have been raised there for more than 35 years.

So maybe, just maybe, the old farmer had run a tile up from the back to the corner of the barn, to help pick up the hog manure. That would make some sort of sense. But Ryan was busy, so he left with the backhoe. And it was so dry Jim's tile probe would literally only go four to six inches into the ground. And then it sounded like it hit tile, when it was just hitting hard dirt.

The next day Jim and Ryan used the backhoe to look for tile, first in one low spot, then another, covering 40 to 50 feet of width based on the angle of the old tile. Nothing!

When we returned to set up the hole for soil judging, we took a closer look at the tile. Jim determined that it was flat-bottom clay tile. Now that through a different light on it. Perhaps it was put in by hand much earlier than we thought. And since some soil likely washed down the hill, it may have been put in at a shallower depth at one time.

Then Jim also recalled that the old farmer told him that back areas of the field was once woods and had been cleared. That was decades ago as well.

So where does the tile go? Just up the hill? Our best guess is that perhaps whoever cleared the land uncovered a spring coming out of the side of the hill near this break between upland and gravel soils. Maybe they ran a tile to it. The best clue is that water boils up there occasionally.

Are we right? Who knows? But it was fun trying to play detective.

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