The treasure of Vining, Minn.

There’s nothing quite so enjoyable as wandering the scenic route in Minnesota and stumbling on treasure.

On the way back from Battle Lake on Friday, I took the road to Henning because I heard Cathy Wurzer’s interview about the pep squad and basketball team that’s in the state tournament, and I wanted to see what Henning looked like. There’s not much to see in Henning.

But if I hadn’t looked, I would’ve missed Vining, Minn. (pop. 78).

You would think the most famous person in the Otter Tail County town would be Karen Nyberg, who had two missions aboard the International Space Station.


It’s Ken Nyberg, her father, who built an 11-foot human foot over two years. His wife didn’t even know, according to Roadside America.

He didn’t stop there, which is why people don’t just drive past the convenience store in Vining, which hosts Vining Park and its treasures.

You don’t drive past stuff like this.

The elephant is made out of old lawnmower blades.

A dancing knife and spoon? Why not?

A cockroach in a pair of pliers? They don’t have that in Henning

There’s a bit of a mystery here because there’s supposed to be a sculpture of an astronaut.  It’s missing.

Says Roadside America:

We suspect that Ken really is proud of his work, but the Scandinavian in him keeps him from admitting it. Some of his sculptures, such as a life-size elephant made of lawn mower blades, took Ken hundreds of hours to hammer and weld.

Ken said that once he’s completed an artwork he moves on to his next without giving it much thought. “It’s whatever hits me that day,” he said. “I just do it.” He insists that there’s no deep or hidden meaning in any of his sculptures, other than his desire to never to do the same thing twice. “I wouldn’t be very good on an assembly line.”

Inside Big Foot Gas and Grocery is a guest book filled with the signatures of thousands of people who’ve stopped to visit Nyberg Park. Store manager Glen McDowell told us that Ken likes to look at the book when he comes in for coffee, which he does at least once a day. Ken told us that one of the good things about being retired (he was born in 1938) is that he can stop sculpting and get coffee whenever he wants.

“I’m not really meant to be stuck out in public,” he said.

  • BReynolds33

    So wait… the astronaut sculpture just up and disappeared?

    • Probably taken in for the winter

    • Andrew Nyberg

      The astronaut is getting a fresh coat of paint over the winter. It will be back on display this spring. 😉 Along with some other new pieces.

  • Jack

    That is so cool! Thanks for sharing your trip with us Bob. 🙂

  • AmyO

    Wow! So cool. Thanks for sharing, Bob. I love the part about Ken reading the guest book! Did you sign it and leave him a message?

  • Credit Warrior

    The midwest has many small towns with hidden treasures. Two that come to mind are Leader, MN and Lucas, Kansas. Leader with a population under 50 has pig races and many summer festivals. Vining reminds me of Lucas as it has many outdoor natural art works. Enjoyed this article very much.

  • Rob

    Wow! Lots of good stuff to pass along to cartoonist Bill Griffith, for consideration in his Zippy The Pinhead carton strip, wherein Zippy interacts with roadside attractions. The cockroach in the pliers and the dancing spoons look particularly promising.

  • Jim G

    I go to Big Foot Gas and Grocery for refreshments and supplies during deer hunting as our hunting property is five miles down the road. Vining is a huge small town. Thanks for noting its special quality.

  • chlost

    Reminds me of the Claes Oldenburg sculptures, but with a more homespun touch. Too bad Mr. Nyberg isn’t getting as much attention as Mr. Oldenburg. Love these. We may have to meander up to Vining this summer to take a look. Maybe the astronaut will be on display, too.

  • Andrew Nyberg

    You should have gone into the gas station asked for directions to his shop so you could have seen even more larger-than-life sculptures and what he is currently working on; a life-sized hippo with mouth wide open made of lawn mower blades.

    • Where does a person get discarded lawnmower blades?

      This is very cool.

      • Andrew Nyberg

        He started by collecting them over long periods of time from junk bins and scrap yards. The elephant was the first. The blades are actually bent into shape using a hydraulic press. After trial and error he realized that heating them up to remove their temper is probably a better option. So he has a wood burning furnace he puts blades into every morning to heat up and remove any heat treatment they may have.

        After the elephant he made a life-sized Rhino that sits at his shop. During that time people began donating lawnmower blades. Just a few dozen at first. Then it because consistent.

        Toro Lawnmower company heard about his sculptures and commissioned him to make them a bull for their corporate offices in Minneapolis. They supplied him with as many brand new lawnmower blades he needed.