Street Commissioner Paul Wilson said the workers were surprised to uncover a series of large cedar timbers, buried in a straight row parallel to the highway between U.S. 231 and Cemetery Road.
The timbers, measuring 15 feet long and 12 inches by 12 inches wide, were much too heavy for the highway workers to move by hand, Wilson said, and it was even a struggle for the backhoe to handle.
"They're heavy and they're dangerous to move," Wilson said.
The ties slowed work on the installation of a 12-inch diameter drainage pipe on the north of the highway just west of U.S. 231. The 800-foot segment of pipe will eliminate the need for a ditch in that area.
Wilson said the ditch, in its current state, has poor drainage and is dangerous for street department workers mowing the grass on the slopes.
"It's all about improving the area along that highway," Wilson said.
As of Wednesday, workers had uncovered eight or 10 of the timbers, but they were expecting to find more as they continued digging the trench westward.
Wilson said he plans to store the timbers at the city garage for now until he decides what to do with them. But the question of how the timbers got there remains.
Wilson speculated they may have been associated with the Penn-Central railroad that once existed where the highway is now. But given the fact that the standard railroad tie is much smaller, he continued to question their use.
"I grew up along a railroad track, but I have never seen anything like that before," he said. "I don't know if they were placed there to stabilize the ditch or what."
Workers were also surprised to find the timbers, which are believed to be western red cedar, in remarkably good condition when they cut through one of them Monday afternoon. Although intrigued by the timbers, Wilson hopes he's seen the end of them for this project.
"We're hopefully not going to see those again," he said. "Those things are terrible."