• 2/19/2019
  • By Mike Slusark

Raymond Hixson started running a dragline crane at his family’s sand and gravel quarry when he was 17 years old. He's now 75.

Raymond Hixson started running a dragline crane at his family’s sand and gravel quarry when he was 17 years old.

He's now 75.

As the next generation took over at Hixson Sand and Gravel in Garrett, Indiana, it faced a common dilemma for rural dragline crane owners: How do you find and hire an experienced dragline crane operator?

"It's a skill to run a dragline crane, and those gentlemen are becoming far and few between anymore," says Robin Hixson, Raymond's daughter, and the company's office manager.

Their recent answer was to replace the aging dragline crane with a new, super-long-reach hydraulic excavator. Logan Hixson, Robin's nephew who represents the eighth generation of Hixson's and the third generation to run the business, operates the equipment for the company.

Quarrying with a long-reach excavator

Sitting in the comfort of the enclosed cab of a Doosan DX530LC-5 SLR crawler excavator, Logan parks next to the water. Combined, the excavator’s arm and boom stretch almost 72 ft.

If you parked the excavator on the 20-yd. line of a football field and stretched its arm out to the maximum length, its bucket would be across the goal line. According to Doosan, the DX530LC-5 SLR is currently the largest crawler excavator it sells in the United States and Canada.

Using two excavator joysticks, Logan extends the excavator’s arm beneath the surface of the water and into a vein of sand. He fills the bucket, carefully lifts out of the water and then piles material nearby, where someone will later load the material into trucks with a wheel loader.

In addition to the DX530LC-5 SLR excavator, the Hixson's recently purchased one 345-hp Doosan DL450-5 and one 380-hp Doosan DL550-5 wheel loader from Paul Gick at B&W Equipment Co. in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Operators use the wheel loaders with buckets to transport the extracted material to the washing plant, where it is processed to get different stones and sand out of it.

Logan performs the daily maintenance on the machines, and Gick drives parts out to him if Logan needs them. Paul treats the Hixsons like family, Robin says.

Robin Hixson knows about family, as it has sustained Hixson Sand & Gravel for generations.

Running & building a business

Family owned and operated, Forrest Hixson, Robin’s great-grandfather, originally leased the property to several other people. When his son, James Hixson (Robin’s grandfather), returned home after serving in the Navy, he worked on the railroad.

James had three sons: Larry, Raymond, and Carl. When James needed something for his sons to do other than farming, he started the gravel pit for his sons to run.

All nine of today’s Hixson Sand & Gravel employees are related. They include Raymond and his sons Jim and Bobby Hixson; daughters Robin and Beth Klink; and two grandsons, Logan and Brock Klink.

Raymond’s two nephews – Scot Brumbaugh and Troy Hixson – drive the tri-axles for the pit. Raymond’s two brothers and part-owners, Larry and Carl Hixson, are both retired.

The business sits on roughly 120 acres about 20 miles north of Fort Wayne in northeastern Indiana, just off State Road 205. That highway is the reason the family is in the sand and gravel business.

The Hixson's moved to Indiana in 1855 as farmers. In 1910, the creek was dredged. The state of Indiana came along in the 1940s and built State Road 205 beside the Hixsons’ land. The highway needed gravel for construction. The Hixson's seized the opportunity and started a small gravel quarry on their land in the mid-1950s.

That initial quarry turned into a diversified, multi-generational business. It is open year-round, six days a week.

In addition to sand and gravel, Hixson Sand & Gravel generates a number of additional revenue streams by carrying complementary products. Limestone is trucked in from Fort Wayne (the quarry has buried limestone, but Robin says it isn’t yet worth the expense to mine) and offers drainage culverts, pipes, and other related products, along with topsoil and other landscaping goods.

The business also offers agricultural drainage products for the thousands of farms it neighbors.

“When the gravel end is slow, [the] tile end is up, and when the tile is down, gravel is up,” Robin says. “It balances itself out. My youngest brother Bobby does a great job in the tile end of the business. We got into the culvert pipes; catch basins; water line; and schedule 35, 40 pipes; dual-wall pipe and single-wall pipe. We have a wide variety of options here at the aggregate tile end.”

The variety of goods and the family touch has helped the Hixsons build a positive reputation in this part of Indiana among both commercial contractors and private homeowners.

“Just word of mouth I think is the biggest advertisement you could ever ask for,” Robin says. “They say, ‘Hey, do you know where we can go get topsoil?’ Or, ‘Do you know where we can go get tile?’ And they say, ‘I know exactly where you can go; you can head to Hixson’s, and they’ll take care of you.’”

That kind of word of mouth takes generations to build and maintain. It’s what has kept Hixson Sand & Gravel in business for almost 90 years, and it’s what Robin believes will keep the business going well into the future.

“We just keep plugging and chugging every day and do our jobs,” Robin says. “We just keep going and continue the tradition of what our ancestors started, and we want to keep it going for the next generation that’s coming up.”

  • Pit and Quarry Magazine
    Launched in 1916, Pit & Quarry magazine covers the multi-billion-dollar aggregate mining industry. It serves as the leading equipment and technology media source for the crushed stone and sand-and-gravel industries, offering readers relevant information about the latest industry news.
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  • Safety matters
    Safety is a top priority at Hixson Sand & Gravel. According to office manager Robin Hixson, the company does an annual safety training routine to ensure employees are aware of requirements. Read the full article on Pit and Quarry's website.
    Read more