Hague Native Performs on Four Instruments

Wald, Katie. "Hague Native Performs on Four Instruments." Emmons County Record, 2005.

Art Hieb was born
on the family farm
seven miles northeast
of Hague.

Arthur Hieb, born at Hague, N.D., spent the first 15 years of his life on a farm about seven miles northeast of Hague when the family moved to Idaho. Here, the Hieb family did farming until 13 years ago when Art started spending more of his time in the machine shop. Misfortune as a young lad led him to get the accordion out of the closet for therapy. Events gradually led to Hieb’s forming a one-man band, thus playing four instruments at a time - the accordion, drums, piano and harmonica.

Naturally neighbors of ours in the Hague area remember the Hieb family. Indeed, the Hieb family has not forgotten the Hague community and long-time friends. They returned for a reunion in the 1980s where Art played his squeeze box for old-time memories and a fun time. I had a wonderful visit via telephone recently and, yes, Art still spoke German fluently, even though he has been gone from his roots for so many years.

My sincere thanks to Darin Fenger and his parents, Wilbert and Mary Fenger of Gettysburg, S.D., for sharing this interesting story on the life of Arthur Hieb and the family.

The story is printed with the permission of the Yuma Sun.

By Darin Fenger Yuma Sun, Yuma, Arizona

Art Hieb loves it when folks get downright winded from simply watching him make music.

Call it sympathy exhaustion, all from seeing 77-year-old Hieb pound, pedal and puff his way through a performance of his four-instrument band all powered by him.

"This one guy, after he watched me was just heaving for breath," Hieb said, laughing. "He said, 'Watching you play all that just took my breath away.' I told him 'I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you to work.'" Hieb not only squeezes out great polka tunes on his accordion, he also plays the piano, drums and harmonica all at the same time. Hieb got the idea for his one-man musical ensemble after seeing accordion players at polka festivals add one or two more music makers to their gigs.

Well, Hieb figured he could do them one or two better. He plays the accordion normally and a special holder keeps the harmonica right at mouth level. He beats the drum via a pedal with his left foot, while the right foot works a series of four pedals attached to the piano.

That latter contraption is something that has made Hieb particularly proud. "I made it myself in the back yard," he said.

Each pedal is attached to long pieces of metal, which force artificial fingers down upon the piano keys. To vary the sound, each pedal runs different keys, each playing two low notes and three high notes. It just tickles him, too, when people’s faces light up as he plays. "Oh, it makes me feel good. But I just don’t think there’s anyone who can hear polka music and not tap their foot. There’s just something about the accordion that I love," he said.

Hieb probably wouldn’t be playing the accordion, either, if it wasn’t for that time he fell off the tractor. As a kid growing up in North Dakota, he had been working on a tall piece of machinery when the wrench slipped and he fell, seriously hurting his shoulder. Well, the doctor said he needed lots of therapy. Hieb got an idea when he met a woman at a polka festival who took up the accordion to heal herself after a stroke.

"I had had an accordion sitting in my closet for I don’t know how many years. Well, I went home, got it out and started playing. It wasn’t long before I could play for two or three hours."

It also didn’t hurt that accordion music is in the people’s blood back home.

"Yeah, I’m from the Dakotas. Everyone loves it back there," he said. In fact, out of the 11 kids in his family, five sisters and another brother all played the squeeze box.

Plus, there’s the fact Hieb’s boyhood farm was near Strasburg, N.D., home of none other than the famed musician and band leader Lawrence Welk.

The Hieb family moved to Idaho when he was just 15. Two years later he joined the Navy and was soon serving aboard an ammunition ship in the midst of World War II’s Pacific Theater. Hieb shared that war isn’t a scary experience even though it actually is simply because you can’t let the fear control your mind.

"When you’re in there you have to make up your mind that if something blows and you’re gone, then you’re just gone. You can’t stand there and be afraid that someone might come and shoot you. As a matter of fact, you get so immune to it all that everything just becomes an everyday chore to you," he said.

Hieb came close to being gone more than once, too. One of his biggest stories was how a Japanese suicide pilot slammed his plane right into an aircraft carrier anchored next to Hieb’s ship.

"I was just standing there, watching it happen. It killed more than 100 people that day," he said.

Hieb married at age 25 in 1951. He and his wife, Dorothy, went on to raise three sons. As a family, they loved to play together and work together.

"In summer when there was a lot of work to do, we were just glad to go home, eat supper and get to bed," he said.

After owning a machine shop for a while, Hieb retired from farming 13 years ago. After all that time constantly worrying about the gamble of weather and crop prices, Hieb said he was ready for the change. "It was a relief," he said.

He and his wife started coming down to Yuma right away. They built a house here, but still return to Idaho each summer.

"We built this house by ourselves, too. We put the structure up and then she would be up there putting on shingles and I would be doing something else. I built all the farm houses we lived in," he said. For fun these days, Hieb enjoys dancing, going for morning walks with his wife and putzing around with his welder. He’s made numerous yard decorations, as well as his home’s wrought-iron fencing. The couple has also enjoyed checking out polka festivals and competitions around the country.

Just shortly after retirement, he joined a sister and sister-in-law in putting a little band together. They played parties, dances and weddings. They even landed gigs ranging from Elko, Nev., to Wyoming. In Yuma Hieb hasn’t performed a whole lot, mostly because he doesn’t want to get tied down with a lot of commitments. Then there’s the fact that his instruments and sound equipment are pretty bulky for him and his wife to lug around.

"I came here to retire. And sometimes at this age, it’s just nice to relax," he said.

Hieb mostly loves to play whenever friends come over to the house or when his neighborhood in the Foothills puts a block party together. He just pulls his stuff out onto the sidewalk and plays away. Hieb has a great sense of humor, too, especially when his fans get to asking questions.

"One lady asked me once 'What goes through your head when you’re playing all those instruments? What are you thinking about?' I just told her Brooke Shields!"

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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