Wooden flumes still working hard for Bitterroot irrigators

There aren't many old wooden flumes that carry water across our ravines to supply water to irrigators anymore. But Daly Ditch Irrigation in Hamilton maintains two that are 80-plus years old. Old #13 and her sister #15 are still working hard. The majestic structures have been called works of art.

Today, free-standing bridges and siphons transport most of the water across ravines to irrigate the Bitterroot Valley.

But in this week's 'Montana Moment' NBC Montana found there are still a few old wooden flumes left.

The old #13 wooden flume transports water across a ravine for irrigators on the Daly Ditch Irrigation system east of Hamilton.

"Number 13 is our longest flume," said Daly Ditches manager Tim Meuchel. " It's about 800 feet long."

She stands 60 feet in the air.

Just below #13 is her sister #15.

She's only 204 feet long.

"But it's a lot taller flume," said Meuchel.

The flumes are both 80-plus years old.

"These flumes were both put in place by hand," said Meuchel.

"Boy that had to be quite the feat with horses and pulleys," said ditch rider Pat Dickerson.

Dickerson inspects these flumes constantly.

Number 13 was rebuilt in 1935.

She was originally constructed across the draw a ways in 1870.

You can still see old rotting timbers from the original flume that were left behind.

Pointing across the ravine, Meuchel said " it was a lot steeper."

He said the 1870 model was probably 80-feet-tall compared to the 1935 flume which is about 60 feet tall.

Meuchel said old timers called these wooden flumes "hog troughs on stilts."

They're made of old growth Douglas fir.

"They were prime timbers with tight knots," said Meuchel. "It's hard to even get timber like that today."

The flumes provide water for farms, ranches, scores of lawns and the Hamilton Golf Course too.

The Daly Ditch system has nine ditches.

"There's the Highline, the Hughes, the Ward and the Stud Barn," said Meuchel. " There's the Hedge, the Republican, the Reeser, the Gird Highline and the Thompson."

Pat Dickerson rides for the Highline.

He said crews will put a new liner in old #15 to plug a leak this fall.

They've already done major repairs on #13.

They put in walkways and harnassed themselves in for safety and spanned the ravine.

" With pulleys and rope," said Dickerson," and had to hoist up the beams."

Maintaining the flumes takes a lot of vigilance and hard work.

"They are 83-years-old," said Dickerson.

He said the work can be a challenge when a storm hits at night especially.

"With spotlights and changing cable and pulling trees out of the ditch," he said. "You're up in the air 60 or 70 feet,"he said. "You don't want to trip."

But Dickerson said he has "the best job in the valley."

"You're outdoors,"he said. "You see bears and cats and big bucks."

And he gets to work on the historic old flumes too.

Tim Meuchel's dad Vince, rode for the Daly on horseback 60-some years ago.

Meuchel marvels at the old flumes that have been around for so long.

They are, he said, "a work of art."

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