Contributed photo
Brody Bakken stands in front of the new Otter Claw that was unveiled at demo day.

The Otter Tail County Highway Department hosted the annual Minnesota Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Demo Day. 

Highlighted at the event was an in-house innovation, the Otter Claw, created by the highway maintenance team to clean out culverts. With a grant from the University of Minnesota Local Operational Research Assistance (OPERA) Program the team designed and built equipment that saves time and enhances worker safety.

The highway department culvert cleaning crew had a problem: cleaning beaver dams from clogged culverts took many hours, was very labor intensive and an ultimate dirty job once the beaver dam was broken up and the muddy water rushed through the culvert. The award-winning highway maintenance crew were experienced innovators and went to work to solve the problem.

“What once took over two hours of shoveling by hand now takes about 10 minutes with the Otter Claw. The claw and cleaner can extend to 15 feet, which allows for removing debris in less time and the operator can use the Otter Claw to clear large amounts of debris safely away from the culvert.”

Brody Bakken, Otter Tail County Highway Maintenance Worker

Brody Bakken and Dennis Bosek developed the Otter Claw. 

According to Bakken, the original design worked well but it could not turn 360 degrees. The team needed a hydraulic swivel head, so they submitted a grant to OPERA and received funding to purchase the hydraulic swivel.

“The OPERA program encourages boots on the ground maintenance employees to be involved in research and work with their ideas to make things better,” said Mindy Carlson, MN LTAP Program Director at the Center for Transportation, University of Minnesota. “When they want to build something to improve the process, we support them.” 

Carlson encourages interested people to watch the upcoming Otter Claw demonstration video to be produced by MN LTAP this summer.

The Otter Tail County Highway Department has won several state and national “Build a Better Mousetrap Competition” awards. Last year the ‘Sticky Stomp” earned a national honorable mention in the competition. The highway department plans to submit the Otter Claw this year.

“These employees have gone above and beyond to design the Otter Claw,” said Cristi Field, Maintenance Supervisor. “We are extremely proud of them. One idea sparks another-we support that innovation.”