Watch Fob Frenzy

Minnesota man treasures construction, farm-related watch fobs.

| March 2006

  • Gene Manfred is an enthusiastic collector of toys and watch fobs
    Gene Manfred is an enthusiastic collector of toys and watch fobs. He's shown here with a Caterpillar toy he's had since he was a boy, backed up by rows of pieces he's collected since.
  • The International Watch Fob Association commemorated the Allis-Chalmers B tractor in varying sizes of fobs in 1998.
    The International Watch Fob Association commemorated the Allis-Chalmers B tractor in varying sizes of fobs in 1998.
  • A fob for the McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor.
    A fob for the McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor.
  • A rare group of fobs
    A rare group of fobs (left to right): Holt No. 1, Caterpillar 75, Caterpillar combine, Holt 10-ton and Caterpillar/Peterson Tractor Co.
  • A fob featuring an IHC crawler.
    A fob featuring an IHC crawler.
  • Some fobs contain interesting information on the back.
    Some fobs contain interesting information on the back. "You can't beat the value of Caterpillar machines," reads this one.
  • This Hart-Parr watch fob was produced in 2001 for International Watch Fob Association members.
    This Hart-Parr watch fob was produced in 2001 for International Watch Fob Association members.
  • A rare and hard-to-find pair of Caterpillar enamel watch fobs.
    A rare and hard-to-find pair of Caterpillar enamel watch fobs.
  • This fob, produced for a 1998 Allis-Chalmers show, commemorates the Allis-Chalmers B tractor.
    This fob, produced for a 1998 Allis-Chalmers show, commemorates the Allis-Chalmers B tractor.
  • A steam engine was featured on the 2000 Midwest Watch Fob Collectors commemorative fob.
    A steam engine was featured on the 2000 Midwest Watch Fob Collectors commemorative fob.
  • A pair of distinctive IHC watch fobs: Right, a gas engine is featured, and below, the IHC logo.
    A pair of distinctive IHC watch fobs: Right, a gas engine is featured, and below, the IHC logo.
  • An IHC dozer is shown on this colorful fob
    An IHC dozer is shown on this colorful fob. Fobs are made of many different materials, and often feature a variety of colors.
  • A portion of Gene Manfred's watch fob collection.
    A portion of Gene Manfred's watch fob collection.
  • A group of Caterpillar fobs
    A group of Caterpillar fobs. Top row, from left: A Caterpillar dozer pushing a loaded wheel scraper, Caterpillar crawler-loader, Caterpillar wheel-loader loading a rock truck, old Caterpillar logo, Caterpillar dozer. Bottom row, from left: Caterpillar grader, Caterpillar 2-ton, Caterpillar push-Cat with a narrow blade, and Caterpillar D9G crawler.
  • This manikin, clad in bib overalls, shows how the watch fob is used.
    This manikin, clad in bib overalls, shows how the watch fob is used.

  • Gene Manfred is an enthusiastic collector of toys and watch fobs
  • The International Watch Fob Association commemorated the Allis-Chalmers B tractor in varying sizes of fobs in 1998.
  • A fob for the McCormick-Deering 10-20 tractor.
  • A rare group of fobs
  • A fob featuring an IHC crawler.
  • Some fobs contain interesting information on the back.
  • This Hart-Parr watch fob was produced in 2001 for International Watch Fob Association members.
  • A rare and hard-to-find pair of Caterpillar enamel watch fobs.
  • This fob, produced for a 1998 Allis-Chalmers show, commemorates the Allis-Chalmers B tractor.
  • A steam engine was featured on the 2000 Midwest Watch Fob Collectors commemorative fob.
  • A pair of distinctive IHC watch fobs: Right, a gas engine is featured, and below, the IHC logo.
  • An IHC dozer is shown on this colorful fob
  • A portion of Gene Manfred's watch fob collection.
  • A group of Caterpillar fobs
  • This manikin, clad in bib overalls, shows how the watch fob is used.

When Gene Manfred received his first watch fob in 1965, he really wasn't that interested in it. "It was an Austin-Western fob from Arring Equipment of Eau Claire, Wis.," the Red Wing, Minn., man recalls.

That supplier sold a grader to a township in Ellsworth, Wis., and gave Gene the watch fob. "I had that one fob and used it like a key chain on my ring of keys," Gene says. "I had no idea that there were even other fobs out there, to be honest with you."

That changed in 1993 when a heart procedure forced Gene to sit back and relax for a while. He needed a hobby, and started chasing after construction toys, and then fobs. "I started seeing fobs at shows, and because they had the names of distributors on them, like Ziegler Caterpillar in Minneapolis, Gibbs-Cook Caterpillar in Iowa and Butler-Cat in the Dakotas, they really tripped my trigger," he says with a laugh.

Construction fobs

Gene's first love in fobs are those related to construction equipment, and he has hundreds of them. "Probably the first ones made were the Holt Manufacturing Co. (dating to the 1920s) and I've got a lot of those old ones," he says. "They're pretty good pieces of property." According to The Watch Fob Guide Book by Allan Hoover, the most valuable fobs are the earliest ones produced by Caterpillar.



Fobs often depict specific products, like one in Gene's collection showing an Allis-Chalmers dozer with a loader loading a truck, and a scraper. "It's not a valuable fob, but one I like, and was probably made for a fob show where they featured that," Gene says. "There's nothing on the back of this one to indicate where or why it was made." The piece dates to 1998.

Gene's favorite fobs are the ones that are hardest to find, like some from Caterpillar and Cedar Rapids Rock Crusher. "You very seldom see a fob dealer with one of the Cedar Rapids fobs," he says. Although he has six in his own collection, he says he hasn't seen one at a show for four or five years.



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