Watch Fob Frenzy

Minnesota man treasures construction, farm-related watch fobs.

| March 2006

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.