Abramson, county create culvert cleaning tool

Contributed photo
Fergus Falls sophomore Micaiah Abramson spent 45 hours creating the Culvert Grapple Hook, used to clear out different sizes of clogged culverts.

The Otter Tail County Highway Department’s Ditch and Drainage Inspector, Colby Palmersheim, joined forces with the Fergus Falls Kennedy High School (KHS) welding class. Together, they launched Otter Tail County’s Culvert Grapple Hook innovation, a winch-powered tool to clean out culverts. 

With a grant from the University of Minnesota Local Operational Research Assistance (OPERA) Program, the county was able to purchase a winch to power the hook. This collaborative effort has resulted in an innovative solution that saves time, enhances worker safety, and highlights the talent of local youth.

Palmersheim’s idea addressed the challenge of clearing clogged culverts, particularly those located beyond the reach of conventional equipment. The challenge of welding inspired a partnership with Dennis Wutzke, the welding teacher at KHS, who enlisted the talents of Micaiah Abramson, a sophomore student, to bring the concept to life. Abramson accepted the challenge and began working on the mockup.

Abramson reviewed Palmersheim’s handwritten mock-up and used scrap pieces of metal from the KHS welding shop to weld the prototype. Once he was satisfied with the mockup, he began to create. Using advanced welding techniques, Abramson dedicated over forty-five hours to meticulously crafting the Culvert Grapple Hook. 

The final product features a heavy-duty post with retractable fins that can be connected to a winch-powered mechanism used to clear culverts of various sizes.

“I had finished my project, and Mr. Wutzke asked if I would like to make a culvert cleaner tool for the county,” said Abramson. “I had to make a few adjustments, add to the post, and weld two hooks at the top of the design that weren’t included in the original design. It was a fun project.”

Palmersheim and Abramson recently tested the hook in a mock demonstration. Branches were stuffed into two different-sized culverts, and the hook was connected to the winch on a pickup truck. The hook pulled all the tightly packed branches out of the larger culvert. 

Before it is used this spring, a few minor adjustments will be made for smaller culverts. Overall, the Culvert Grapple Hook was a success.

“Working with the high school shows the talent that will be in the workforce soon, shows students what types of positions are offered in county employment, and what types of problems county workers solve every day,” said Palmersheim. “This project highlights our ability to tackle challenges, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of our local talent.”

Students and employers are encouraged to use the K12 Navigator to make connections and partner on engaging career exploration experiences. 

Additional information is available at www.k12navigator.org. Otter Tail County also offers summer employment opportunities.