John P. Hiniker Story


| July/August 1998



Sand plant

John Hiniker's new Sand plant, 1942. Jim Gamble standing on top.

Rt. 1, Box 139 Le Center, Minnesota 56057

I often wonder why my ancestors settled in southern Minnesota with its harsh winters and sometimes very hot, humid summers. But they say that our ancestors came to America to find a place just like back home. During the 1850s many German immigrants heard of southern Minnesota with its vast hardwood forests and fertile black soil, very similar to much of Germany. John Peter Hiniker from Bavaria (part of Germany) had heard of this area and decided this was where he would stake his claim. He more than likely came down the Minnesota River from St. Paul, Minnesota, to the bustling young town of Mankato, Minnesota. John Peter farmed northeast of Mankato on 80 acres in Lime Township, located within Blue Earth County. There he and his wife, Mary, raised eight children.

In 1881, Joe Hiniker was born to John Peter and Mary. Then in 1903, Joe and Barbara Wagner were united in marriage and moved to an 80-acre farm in Belle grade Township just north of Mankato. Joe was a hard-working and industrious man in all ways. He got down to the business at hand by starting a family. Eventually, the number of siblings would number 12: six boys and six girls. On April 20, 1916 John P. Hiniker was born to Joe and Barbara. John would grow up to inherit his father's work ethic and mechanical abilities.

Joe was raising a large family and was always on the lookout for ways he could earn more money to feed all those hungry mouths. In the early 1920s Joe began a mobile custom sawing business, sawing discarded railroad ties into suitable lengths to be used for firewood. He converted a 1910 Buick touring car into a railroad tie cutting sawing. The car frame was lengthened with a mandrel and saw blade mounted on the rear. It featured a power feed and fold-up elevator for piling up the sawed chunks. Joe traveled from St. Paul to Worthington, Minnesota, a distance of approximately 150 miles, each summer from May to October. He would be gone for up to three weeks at a time. During this time, he would eat and sleep in a bunk house that he pulled behind the car. This was very hard and rigorous work. Joe didn't like being gone from his family, so in 1930 he quit the tie sawing operation. (John still has the 1910 Buick car engine and saw rig.) Joe and his son Harold then decided to go into the turkey raising business. Each year the turkeys would be fattened for market and then shipped by truck to Chicago; this operation lasted until 1936.

In 1936 Joe bought 160 acres of river-bottom land on the north side of the Minnesota River in what is now North Mankato. At first Joe farmed the land, but after plowing the land, Joe noticed that he was turning up gravel. After investigating, Joe decided to start a gravel pit. During this time the boys were helping out wherever help was needed. John was running the farm while his dad Joe was working the sand and gravel pit. In 1940 John decided he wanted to get into the gravel business with his father. It soon became clear this was going to be no ordinary gravel pit. Being on the low riverbottom land, the water table was quite high, within a few feet of the top. As the men dug gravel out of the hole, the remaining void began to fill with water, so now what to do?

A method was derived for retrieving gravel from the watery depth. It was called the slack line cable way method. It consisted of a cable anchored at the far side of the pond and then attached atop a 70 foot mast on the opposite side of the pond. The dredge bucket was attached to the main cable by means of a trolley. A second cable was attached to the front of the bucket and ran up to the top of the mast also, and then both cables ran down to the ground to a stationary power unit and double winch. Both cables were controlled by the winch. When the cables were left to go slack, the bucket would drop into the water to the bottom of the pond and the second cable would pull it forward along the bottom, filling it with gravel. It then would be lifted out of the water and brought ashore to be dumped onto the stockpile.