John Hiniker remembers his old farm days fondly. ‘I milked cows by hand, and did quite a bit of work with horses before I got old enough to drive a tractor,’ he recalled.
Planting in spring, and cutting, bundling, stacking and threshing grain at harvest time filled his days.
‘We were used to doing that kind of work all the time, so we were toughened,’ he said. ‘We didn’t think it was hard work. It didn’t seem hard then, but it would now.’
As a teen-ager, John went on the road with his father, Joe. They cut railroad ties into firewood for income, using a converted 1910 Buick as a saw rig.
‘Those cars had an open, flat flywheel,’ John said, ‘so Dad put the belt on the flywheel and around the corner on the saw, and provided the cutting power. The engine had a governor on it.’
The car frame was lengthened with a mandrel, and the saw blade was mounted on the rear. A fold-up elevator piled up the cut ties.
The car, which John still has, also pulled a bunkhouse, because John and his dad would be gone from home for up to three weeks at a time, May to October.
In those days, John explained, many railroad men took ties home for firewood. His dad knew where the men lived and would go to their homes to saw the ties into stove lengths. The territory he regularly covered ranged from St. Paul southwest to Worthington, Minn., which is on the Iowa border.
‘That was his main business for a number of years,’ John recalled. ‘It was hard work. I didn’t get to do it long because my father got rid of it when I was 17 or 18.’
He added there were 12 children in the family – six boys and six girls – so it was quite a chore to keep everyone fed.
John’s passion for the old days extends beyond the old Buick to vintage tractors, too. ‘I grew up during the transition from horses to tractors,’ he said. ‘When I was just a kid, my dad had a McCormick-Deering 10-20, and in 1933 he traded it in for a 15-30 because he had a sawmill and needed more power.’
It’s no surprise then that the first tractors John restored were a 10-20 and his father’s original 15-30. ‘I spent many days on the seat of that thing in the 1930s,’ he recalled.
Since those first two projects, John has completed a dozen more, including a Rock Island, a couple of International Titan 10-20s, several McCormick-Deerings, a T-20 IHC crawler and a Minneapolis 35-70.
‘Most of them didn’t need anything in the way of parts, but just needed to be cleaned up,’ he said.
‘Sometimes the pistons were rusted tight so I had to press them out and clean them up. I did practically all the restoration stuff myself. I had a sandblasting outfit, so they were all sandblasted down to the bare metal and then given two or three coats of paint.’
The Minneapolis tractor had signs, rather than decals, that needed to be repainted. ‘That machine is still at the LeSeuer County (Minn.) Pioneer Power Showgrounds, and we run it every year,’ John said. ‘It’s my favorite because it’s the biggest one, and it’s always drawn the most attention.’
Also stored at the LeSeuer County Pioneer Power Showgrounds is a 1950 power shovel that John counts among dozens of other sorts of machines that he’s brought back to life over time. He bought the shovel in 1965 to use at his Hiniker Sand and Gravel Co.
‘It holds a half yard of gravel,’ he said. ‘I washed sand and gravel for concrete and plastering and brick layers. I sold a lot of material for manufacture of concrete blocks.’