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How Does a Ditch Witch Work

Terry Smith
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Ditch Witch is a generic brand of commercial underground construction equipment built by The Charles Machine Works, Inc., headquartered in Perry, Oklahoma. However, the term is commonly used to describe the company’s original product, a power trencher which was itself called the “Ditch Witch.

Ditch Witch Origins

” The original Ditch Witch was the first mechanized, compact service-line trencher developed for digging long trenches for the purpose of laying underground water lines. Up to that time (1949), digging trenches was tedious and arduous manual labor performed with a pick and shovel.

Ditch Witch Concept

The Ditch Witch power trencher uses a vertical bucket line to dig a trench in the ground. It implements on a small scale the continuous conveyor chain previously used on large ditch-digging machines. A typical Witch has about a 12-foot conveyor chain with 2 dozen small two-piece digging buckets with sharp knife-like blades attached to the vertical chain to dig out chunks of dirt. The buckets are attached sequentially onto the conveyor chain, which is looped to pull them down a ladder-type mechanism to gouge out chunks of soil and carry off the dirt dug from the hole upward to dump it in neat piles on the ground. The endless cycle continues as they move back downward into the hole to bring up more dirt. The result is a 4-inch wide trench with a digging depth of thirty inches.

Ditch Witch Operation

The apparatus is powered by a small (7 horsepower) internal combustion engine that transfers power through a belt drive much the way a lawn tractor is driven. The operator sits on top of the machine and controls it using simple hand controls that control the angle of attack and the depth of the hole. Its light weight and four tires give it mobility and enable it to dig trenches in confined spaces.

Uses for the Ditch Witch

The Ditch Witch was designed to dig small trenches. There have been machines such as steam shovels and wheel trenchers available for more than a century to dig big trenches, but such machines are unsuitable for small trenches such as the ones used to carry water, power and telephone lines. The Ditch Witch is perfect for such a job. They are so useful for small jobs, in fact, that they are widely used for such applications as commercial and even residential landscaping--for example, if a homeowner wants to install an lawn sprinkler system.

Charles Machine Works

The Ditch Witch has proven such a hit with the construction industry that Charles Machine Works has grown its product line to include many other digging machines such as drills, vacuum excavators, and the “Zahn,” a small machine that combines the functionality of a Ditch Witch, backhoe and excavator all into one package. With this new line of innovative products, CMW seems well-positioned to continue to manufacture the Ditch Witch line of products for the foreseeable future.