Cleaning Culverts


Anyone who has ever dealt with a plumbing problem knows that the key is to do whatever is necessary to get the water flowing again. The principle applies whether it’s a clogged sink, a broken water pipe or a culvert full of muskrat mud. Muskrats consider culverts a nice place to stash their extra mud. Of course, this does nothing for the drainage capabilities of said culvert. Since the rainy season is upon us, hubby decided that we’d better clean out the big pond culvert tout suite. We collected a nice long pine pole, chained it to the backhoe bucket, strapped some pruning shears on the 4-wheeler and headed out. This was hubby’s first major hands-on project since his multiple back surgeries this summer – he loves to play in the dirt with heavy equipment, so he had a grin a mile wide. As I may have mentioned previously, our big pond is edged with a wall of blackberries. A 12-foot high wall of blackberries. We started with this:

There really is a dam under the thicket!

Hubby parked the backhoe tail-end toward the dam and started swinging the bucket back and forth along the blackberry wall. I realized I had forgotten the camera, so I hollered at him to hold on, jumped on the 4-wheeler and trundled back out through the pasture and up to the house. Upon my return I snapped a few pictures of him decimating the blackberry vines. When he was finished, we discovered that half the culvert was slightly plugged and the other was completely plugged. Enter the pine pole. Hubby was still grinning, however.

An experienced backhoe operator like my guy can make it do just about anything but talk.

The small end of the pine pole was placed in the plugged culvert. Using the backhoe bucket, hubby began to force it into the culvert. This is a tricky maneuver, because the pipe is plastic. You don’t want the pole to snag or puncture a hole.

Culvert reamer-outer. Not quite your usual plumber’s snake, but effective.

Partway through, he realized we might need to whack off a protruding branch snag on the pole, but we didn’t have an axe. Faithful gofer yours truly leaped back on the 4-wheeler and made another run to the house, bringing in addition the flashlight, so we could look into the pipe.

Ranch workhorse.

Surveying the scene.

The snag was duly removed and a few swear words blued the air as he discovered the pipe was plugged so badly he couldn’t shove the pine pole all the way through. More muttering and shoving with the backhoe, and a slight trickle of muddy water appeared. Hubby continued to grin.


Continued shoving of the pole in and out of the pipe, accompanied by various imprecations. Increased stream of muddy water. I slipped and went down on my rear end in the mud, adding my own set of cuss words. Hubby crawled around on the dam to see if we had broken through the other end. Pole was too short. More working the pole back and forth with the backhoe. Water began to flow in increasing quantities – muddy water – which was a good sign.

Almost there.

Hubby pulled out the pole by chaining it to the backhoe bucket and tucking the bucket neatly against the hoe. Pole hung up on the pieces of the old concrete culvert that had been replaced by the blocked pipe. In shoving them out of the way, hubby stepped in a thigh-deep waterhole, which meant water ran in the top of his irrigation boot. More swearing, but the grin was still in place.

Yanking out our plumber’s snake.

Finally, the water in both culverts ran clear. We trundled back to the house for clean dry clothes and dinner. He was still smiling, even though he said his back was pretty sore. Guess that’s a success.


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2 Responses to Cleaning Culverts

  1. Jenny says:

    Regarding your husband’s mastery of the backhoe (or whatever that thing is):
    I work at a cemetery and our maintenance men are artists with that machine. They have to dig straight lines in highly specific places, all the while avoiding irrigation pipes.
    It’s a pleasure to watch an expert at work. No wonder your husband was smiling!

    • Bee says:

      Thanks, Jenny. I don’t know about you, I’ve never understood why some people look down their noses at those who are skilled with tools such as heavy machinery, chainsaws, a welder or a crescent wrench (all of which he is) as opposed to a computer spreadsheet. He once even plucked a range cow out of the mudhole she was stuck in using a backhoe bucket — no chains, sling or anything else, just the bucket. Now that’s skill!

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