Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, 25: 239-247 (1884)

*An address delivered before the State and Delegate Boards of Agriculture at their annual meeting January 8,1884.


After there has been so much said, and well said, and so much written, and well written, on this subject, it may seem almost presumptuous in me to now read a paper before this body on tile drainage. But it is old truths oft repeated that make impressions or make reforms. Ministers of the gospel have been preaching old truths for more than eighteen centuries, and not half of the world believe them yet, and much less than one-half practice them, and it is from a knowledge of these facts that I now consent to read a paper before this Board on this, to many of you, a very familiar subject. My subject is


To properly get at the subject we must first consider the subject of drainage in general. The necessity of drainage being established or conceded, then the question as to the best kind of drainage will be in order.

The earth is the great receiver of the seed from which the farmer is to reap his future crop, and without it or with it alone he would fail.

There are certain other essential things without which the earth would be useless to the farmer. For seeds to germinate there must be moisture, heat and air, neither of which can possibly be dispensed with in the germination of seeds and the growth of plants—moisture and heat without air will not produce germination. Air and moisture in the absence of heat will not do. Otherwise seeds would germinate with the thermometer at zero. Then we find these three elements are essential for the growth of the crop, and that condition of the ground that furnishes these elements in due proportions is best adapted to the farmer's purposes.

As moisture is usually present, and frequently greatly in excess of the needs, we first consider the necessity of air.

The seed being placed in the ground, and having absorbed sufficient moisture in a proper temperature, the air furnishes the oxygen to unite with the carbon, (the greater bulk of the seed) which holds the germ, or life of the seed in check, and carries (the carbon) off in the form of carbonic acid gas, leaving an excess of oxygen, which furnishes food for the young plant; but this stage is reached only when there is a proper amount of air, heat and moisture. When the earth is saturated with water the air is to a great extent excluded from the soil, the water having taken its place. Then we have an excess of moisture and a deficiency of air—so also in reference to the heat. When we wish to boil a kettle of water we build the fire under and not over the kettle. It would require a lively fire to boil water below the fire, so it would require a very warm sun to warm the ground filled with water, for two reasons: First, water is a poor conductor of heat downwards; and, second, the evaporation of water from the ground carries off heat from the surface and leaves the soil cool. Therefore, to increase the temperature of the soil and supply it with air, the water must be let off. The air will follow the water as it percolates the soil, filling the interstices, carrying with it warmth instead of carrying it off in excessive evaporation from an over supply of water, and the soil being thus freed from water admits or conducts heat also from the sun. The necessity of drainage being admitted, it will be in order to speak of the different kinds and cost of drains.

Drains should be at least thirty inches deep, and deeper would be better when there can be sufficient outlet and where the soil is not of a compact clay nature.

To construct a thirty-inch open ditch with side slopes of one foot horizontal to one perpendicular, which is the utmost uniform rule with our best engineers operating under our State ditching laws, will, at twelve cents per cubic yard of excavation for eighty rods of ditch, cost the sum of $51.28. To construct the same ditch for tiling, at the same rate per cubic yard, will cost $14.65, leaving a balance of $36.63. This will pay for five-inch tile for the entire ditch at forty cents per rod, and have left the sum of $4.63, which will pay a hand for laying in the tile. The half acre of waste land along the open ditch the first year will pay for hauling the tile and filling in the ditch. We find from this calculation, which we hold to be a fair one, that a five-inch tile drain can be constructed at the same cost as the open ditch to the depth of thirty inches. If the ditch is to be deeper than thirty inches, or if the tile is to be less than five inches, in either case the difference will be in favor of the tile drain in cost.

Wood under-drains will answer the purpose for about twelve years, that being about the average life of a wooden ditch, but the excess of cost in cutting the ditch for timber, and the cost of good, sound timber to cover with, will exceed the cost of tile for ordinary drains. I have tile drains that have been in operation for twenty years that are doing as good service as twenty-inch wide timber drains did in former years through the same lands.

A very important drain where there is sufficient fall and depth obtainable, but too much water in a high time for tiling, is to construct an open ditch with eloping banks and about two feet deep, and in the bottom of this open ditch construct a tile drain of large tile and connect the laterals for the fields with it, leaving the large drain open for flooding rains. The pressure of the water from the latterals keeps the main tile open, and the labor of annually keeping the large drain in repair is saved, and a strip of grass or pasture may be raised over the drain where the same can not be cultivated in grain.

The difference between open drains and covered drains on the farm can better be illustrated by the following example:

In my county we have a man who has the reputation of being a farmer, who goes over about 150 acres. In each field he has one to three open ditches partially filled, all of which have a good outlet, and could be tiled with tiling five inches or less. At each ditch is a "turn-row," and a strip of tall rag-weeds and Spanish-needles point to the passer-by the line of his drains. We find at the county seat, of record, a mortgage of $5,000 on the farm with delinquent interest. In the same neighborhood lives another man who also has the reputation of being a farmer of about the same acres, but his fields are not decorated with open ditches and strips of rag-weeds and spanish-needles. The water flowing from his tile drains explains the difference in appearance of the farm, and instead of the $5,000 mortgage we find a balance in his favor at the bank of $1,000 or $1,500. This is a fair illustration of the difference in the two systems. The farmer with open ditches about over his farm, and plows leaning up in fence corners during winter, and the drill and mower, if he has them, stacked in the corner of the barn yard, is not a safe man to loan money to.


The construction of a tile drain doubtless seems so simple to many that to speak of it will be considered unnecessary, but since we have seen so many farmers take the hired hands and a line and old flat spade, and trace the line of the ditch, we conclude somebody ought to venture a suggestion on this branch of the subject.

It is a mathematical axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and it is equally true that the straighter the ditch from its source to its mouth, the greater the grade or fall in a given distance; consequently the more rapid the flow of water.

Stake off the line of the ditch, making as few elbows or crooks as possible; hitch the team to the plow so it will run where it was made to run—in the ground; then get between the horses' heads, taking each horse by the bridle near the mouth, and put a good hand at the plow handles; then walk directly to your stakes, taking care to not look back to the plowman, and thus trace your line of ditch, and one or two furrows will lay off the ditch and remove from six to eight inches of dirt. Then two spades with tiling spade will give a three-foot ditch. Trim nothing but the bottom, and make that a uniform grade. Put in the tile with close joints, and cover with bottom clay to the tile. Sink a hole, or well, at the upper end of the drain so as a ten or twelve inch tile shall stand on end and low enough to lay the last tile over the top of it. Fill this Urge tile with broken fragments of tile in small pieces, and cover the last tile which opens into this reservoir with pieces also, and cover up. This reservoir can be made in fifteen minutes, and will collect the water for rods around, which will start in at the upper end and keep the tile cleared of sediment, and also dry the ground at the upper extremity of the ditch as readily as at any other point. A ditch constructed in this way economizes at least one-third of the labor. Should the drain get out of repair it can be readily retraced, if made straight, by running down a small iron rod to the tile in a few places in a wet time. The practice of laying in tile so some of them will be half full of water while others near the mouth of the ditch are above water, is a very common error and a slander on the tile maker. A uniform grade is a sine qua non in tile drains.


As to the size of tile there is a diversity of opinion, owing in a great measure to the circumstances or standpoint from which the opinion is formed. In an address made by a learned professor of an adjoining State, and published in the Drainage and Farm Journal some years since, the rule is laid down as follows, (not, however, as infallible in all cases):

"For drains taking only the rainfall upon the land, the tile should be two inches for four acres, three inch for nine acres, four inch for sixteen acres, five inch for twenty-five acres, and so on."

This gives us eight-tenths of an inch in capacity per acre very nearly. The size of the tile is here found by extracting the square root of the number of acres to be drained, and, like many other theories, is very nice on paper, but won’t do in the ground. The rule ignores some important points to be considered in practical drainage. The capacities of different sized pipes, and the capacity of the same pipe with varied inclinations, are important features to be considered in this subject. The rule proceeds on the supposition that the capacities of pipes are in the ratios of the squares of their diameters, or as the cubic inches of caliber or sectional area, hut the ratio in cubic inches of a 2-inch and a 9-inch pipe is as 1 to 9, and the ratio of capacity of discharge of fluids as 1 to 15. While the ratio of a 2-inch and a 12-inch in cubic inches is as 1 to 36, the comparative discharging power is as 1 to 88. We thus sec the comparative discharging power of pipes or tile increases very much faster than the cubic content of caliber as we increase in size. A 3-inch pipe, with a discharging power of near three times a 2-inch pipe, with a fall of one inch to the 100 feet, discharges about 13 gallons per minute, or 47 barrels of 40 gallons each per day, but a 2-inch rain upon an acre of ground supplies it with about 1,100 barrels, which will require the 3-inch tile over two days to carry it off, provided we have no other means of escape. It is, therefore, very evident the rule is not a good one, and the size of the tile too small.

The discharging power of a pipe varies directly as the square root of the head or fall, or as the square root of the inclination. A drain with a fall of four inches to the 100 feet will discharge twice as much water as one with a fall of one inch to the 100 feet. The average fall per mile of ditches in the central and level portions of our State is probably somewhat less than four feet. Probably seven or eight-tenths of an inch per 100 feet, and a rule that will apply elsewhere, will not apply here for ordinary drains. Remembering that the capacity of a three inch tile is seven cubic inches, the capacity of other sixes may be found by the following simple method: Square the diameters of the tile and divide the larger square by the smaller, and multiply the quotient by seven for the capacity of the larger tile in cubic inches. Thus, 3x3=9 and 7x7=49. The larger contains the smaller 5 and 4-9 times which being multiplied by 7 (the cubic inches in the 3-inch tile) gives us 38 cubic inches for the capacity of the 7-inch tile, omitting decimals. It must, however, be borne in mind, that we here make no allowance for the friction of the water against the sides of the tile. Four 3-inch pipes have the same capacity in cubic inches as one 6-inch pipe, but the four have twice the surface exposed to the friction of the water, and therefore have not the capacity of discharge with a 6-inch. While the 6-inch has four times the capacity in cubic inches, it has about five and a half times the capacity of discharge of fluids, and while the velocities of discharge of pipes are as the square roots of the head or inclination the transporting power of currents to carry sediments vary as the sixth power of the velocities. Velocities in the ratios of 3 to 4 have a transporting power as 1 to 5. An increase of 1/3 in velocity of flow, and consequently discharge of fluids increases the transporting power five times. It is therefore necessary, in order to have a sufficient uniform transporting power, to prevent collection of sediments in the drain to have a sufficient uniform fall. Velocity of flow and discharge depend on fall and depth of drain. Tile with smooth inside will have a more rapid flow and discharge.

We sometimes hear of individuals putting in what is called stand-pipes at convenient intervals to admit air to the drain. These stand-pipes, or air feeders as they are termed, are probably no detriment to the drain, but a superfluous appendage. Tile run full with or without stand-pipes when there is water sufficient to fill them. To suppose a tile drain to be partially filled with air when there is sufficient water in the ground to fill the tile and stand from two to three feet above, is to ignore the principles governing both fluids. As well expect to find a rain-barrel half full of air at the bottom and half full of water on top as to find tile half full of air and the ground saturated with water two or three feet above. The interstices or cavities between the particles of soil furnish all the air feeders necessary to the underdrain and fill it with air as the water is drawn off. Air stands above the water table and follows it as it recedes.

So varied are the circumstances connected with tile drainage that it is impossible to give any rule that will universally apply. Difference of fall, condition of soil, nature of sub-soil, all have a factor in the tile drain, and nothing but observation and experience can safely determine the proper size and depth of drains. I have never found any place for a 2-inch tile, neither do I want a one-foot deep tile drain, for they are hardly admissible in any case. A few inches in depth in the bottom of an ordinary drain, when compared with the entire cost, is a very light expense. It is the bottom spade that does the work. An increase of head and consequent increase in discharge of water is not the only benefit to be derived from the depth of drain. A very important point gained in the deep drain is that the water is drawn off from the soil to the depth of the drain during the intervals between rains, and room made for a considerable portion of an ordinary rain below the surface.

In conclusion, it may be proper for the purpose of showing the increasing interest and importance of the business, to give some tile statistics, for which we are indebted to the Drainage Journal:

Manufactories in United States in 1883 1,934
Of this number Indiana has 34 per cent. (661)
Miles of tile laid in United States in 1882 52,674
Miles of tile laid in Indiana in 1882 14,000
Miles of tile laid in Illinois in 1882 20,000
Miles of tile laid in Ohio in 1882 13,000
Total miles for these three States 47,000
Miles laid by all other States 5,500

About 90 per cent. are laid in the States of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. There are employed in the manufacture of tile over 12,000 men, and over 10,000 are in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Value of product in 1882, $5,500,000.

Indiana in 1882 laid nearly as many miles of tile as in all former years.


Mr. Davidson. Has there been discovered any kind of auger that will bore a tile? Tile often become obstructed by vermin, such as minks, muskrats, rabbits, etc. The question is whether there is, to the knowledge of any member present, a bit that is sufficiently hard to bore so as to insert wires. I took a tile to one of the best hardware men in Crawfordsville, and asked him if he had a bit that would bore a tile. He bored a brick bat right through, but when he tried it on a tile he did not penetrate it 1-16 of an inch. If we had something to bore with we might insert wire and stop those vermin out.

Mr. Ratliff. Some of our tile makers make these holes before burning them.

Dr. Brown. I know of but one obstruction that can permanently obstruct a tile laid at proper depth, and that is the filling up with roots. Where the roots of trees penetrate and form a mass, the water is unable to remove it. But not so with any other obstruction to tile laid as it should be. I discard the idea of thirty inches. The fashionable depth was twenty-four inches; but I discarded that as far back as 1853. I produced the first paper read on drainage before this convention, in 1853, and have the silver cup to show for it. I am down now to four feet. If you have not got an outlet, make one. If you have a head of four feet, that head will remove any obstruction, except roots. A muskrat can not resist a head of four feet of water. One advantage in deep drainage is to clear the tile; another advantage is that it is much less liable to be obstructed by roots than if very shallow. Willows and some other kinds of trees will throw roots down twenty feet into wells and spoil the water. No man should suffer a willow to grow less than one hundred yards from a ditch laid with tile. The elm and cottonwood are also troublesome trees about tile drains. The common timber may be tolerated within one hundred feet of such drain. I have never known an apple or peach tree to obstruct a tile yet. I must inform this honorable board that I have become a farmer in the last quarter of a century, being the owner of one at this time. I have just made a contract with a man, as soon as the weather will admit, to take up all the tile on it, put down ten years ago thirty inches, and then I will lay off my ditch and put it down four feet deep. There are many places in Indiana you can make an outlet if you have no surface outlet. Here we have below our clay, and between it and the lower blue clay, a bed of sand everywhere. If you can not get an outlet otherwise, go down to that bed of sand, and wall it with brick. Fix it so you can cover it with a small stone and put the tiles of your field into that. Some of the heavy rains will fill it to the top, but it won't remain so long. The water in your wells, sometimes in a wet time, will raise ten or twelve feet, but will not remain long if you have a bed of sand.

Mr. Davidson. I have considerable trouble with the vermin stopping my tile during crop time. They will stop the drain forty rods from its mouth. The trouble is just above where the water sinks.

Dr. Brown. I made an experiment some years ago on a tile to ascertain how much it would take to obstruct one that was four feet in the ground. I took up one section of a three-inch tile and filled it with mud, tight, and put it in its place again, and filled it up, but never knew any obstruction. I watched the tile in the run, and found muddy water coming out. A tile is not easily obstructed with any kind of sediment with a pressure of four feet of water above.

Mr. Smith. We have a clay soil. When tiling is too deep, it does not seem to draw off so well. After you go down twenty inches it takes a long time for it to drain off. We differ from the Doctor in some respects on account of the soil. Where the soil is porous enough, four feet is best.

Dr. Brown. You must wait with tile for the full benefits. Should my tile lay twenty years, you will find the soil mellow. We must wait for results, however rapidly after the process starts out in the mellowing and the breaking down of the tenacious clay soil. Mr. Johnson knows the condition of my soil near Irvington. It is a tough soil. My tile has been in ten years, and the ground is mellow now. I am going down forty-eight inches and mellow the balance of it. I had some in two feet, but I took it up and put it down two feet more.

Mr. Mitchell. Judge Jones, of Ohio, while traveling in England a few years ago, noticed some of their drains. After returning to this country he said: After putting their tile in four feet the earth settled in so tight that they took it up and put it in a more shallow depth.

Dr. Brown. My position is not based on any theory particularly. In 1854 I lived in Crawfordsville, and had drainage on the brain at that time. There was a piece of ground back of the lot I lived on, an eye sore to me, one of those alder swamps, perhaps a half acre, grown up in bushes, belonging to a neighbor. He cut the bushes out and made a pond of it. I did not like it in the way of health, so I bought the half-acre and paid $25 for it, and went to work to put a drain through the middle of it. Twenty inches down I struck that hard blue clay, and put in the first main ditch through it. I took it out and put the pick in the blue clay and went down thirty inches, and put in more drain through the middle of the pond, and carried the water off. I produced a fine crop up to within ten feet of the drain. In 1857 I concluded to put in some latteral drains, and commenced digging with the same soil, and when I got to within a rod of my main drain all at once the ground broke loose, and from thereon it was nearly as loose as the top earth. If I got two inches below the main drain, I found the ground as hard as before. Now the question is what made that immediately on each side of the ditch loose, if not the effect of the air? Gentlemen, we should wait for results. We are too much in a hurry. If things don't prove in a few days, we can't wait. I have "learned to labor and to wait."

W. B. Seward. The bits for boring tile can be found now. They are made with diamond point, but not such diamond as is worn. They will bore anything—glass, if desired.