My attention has always been piqued by anything showing a connection to workings of the everyday world. As a result, I find that after 60 years of various engineering careers, I’m brimming with miscellaneous info, admittedly sometimes outdated or useless. Still…much of it can be fascinating to ponder. 

This column is a place where anyone can ask about any and all topics possibly pertaining to things of a mechanical nature. What’s on your mind? Your curiosity might range from the highly technical to the whimsical. I’ll do my best to provide insight. 

Here are a few hypothetical questions which you might ask me: What is a “bar ditch”? Where did the term “switchback” originate? What is one horsepower and how was it decided? How many threads are needed on a bolt to hold full strength? Is glass a solid or a liquid? Why is paint not allowed within bolted structure joints? What is a “Jaw Harp” and how does it work? My Prius gets 50mpg: why should I bother to get an electric vehicle (EV) as my next ride? What were the requirements to get a Boy Scout archery merit badge back in 1911? 

To get this rolling, let’s answer “What is a ‘bar ditch?’” The term “bar ditch” seems to have evolved from the construction of roadways subject to standing water. The practical way of creating a dry roadbed is to elevate the actual roadway to above the surrounding ground level so the road properly drains. The term ‘bar’ is most likely short for the word borrow. In flatlands the only readily available material to raise a roadbed to above standing water was the material located on each side of the intended roadway. That material wasn’t imported for the job, it was “borrowed” from resulting ditches on the sides. 

Borrow ditches also served to allow water to drain parallel to the roadway to lower locations where “cutout” trenches were made off to the sides, directing water away from the roadway. The term ‘borrow ditch’ easily morphed into ‘bar ditch.’

Send me your questions and I will do my best to give informative direction and insight.

Questions and comments may be submitted directly to me via email at: 

Responses will be given in subsequent issues of the PRT.