Building Customized Caterpillar Toys

For customizer Jon Stiles, big results come from tiny details in his caterpillar tractor toy hobby.

| December 2007

  • JonStiles.jpg
    Toy customizer Jon Stiles converted a 1/25-scale gray Conrad Model Toy Co. Caterpillar Sixty into a logging cruiser, typical of those used in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. He added a lot of detail, like a convertible top, which was rare in the real world because they were often quickly torn off when working in the forest.
  • CaterpillarD8.jpg
     In this conversion of an NZG RD8 into a Caterpillar D8 logging crawler, Jon added a cable winch, a covered overhead canopy, sweeps to protect the engine area from damage, and other small details.
  • NZGRD8model.jpg
    Jon added a canopy and winch with log boom to make this Caterpillar D82U logging crawler. It was originally an NZG RD8 model.
  • CaterpillarD7.jpg
    A Caterpillar D8 cable dozer with a LeTourneau dozer blade, overhead cable system and LeTourneau rear control unit. Those parts all came from an NZG World War II-era Caterpillar D7.
  • CaterpillarD8-1.jpg
    An RD8 was converted to a Caterpillar D8, with a hard nose, partial engine covers and supports, and a large cab.
  • CaterpillarSixtydiesel.jpg
    Front view of the converted Caterpillar Sixty diesel.
  • Crawler.jpg
    Various details show on a customized Caterpillar Sixty diesel crawler. Jon says he has far more ideas for customizing construction toys than he’ll ever have time to finish. “They come at me from a million directions,” he says. “Ideas are just everywhere.”
  • ConradModelToyCo.jpg
    The Caterpillar Sixty diesel shown here was converted from a gray Conrad Model Toy Co. Sixty. Added details include a starting motor, cab with sliding doors, windows and muffler.
  • ErtlD8H.jpg
    An AMT/Ertl 1/25-scale Ertl D8H plastic kit with custom-built pipe layer boom and weight system added.
  • Jonshows.jpg
    Jon shows off some of the customized Caterpillar models he’s made. The table display also includes pieces he’s bought from others.

  • JonStiles.jpg
  • CaterpillarD8.jpg
  • NZGRD8model.jpg
  • CaterpillarD7.jpg
  • CaterpillarD8-1.jpg
  • CaterpillarSixtydiesel.jpg
  • Crawler.jpg
  • ConradModelToyCo.jpg
  • ErtlD8H.jpg
  • Jonshows.jpg

Not everyone would drive 200 miles out of his way just to take a photo of a vintage brush plow. But Jon Stiles, Deer Creek, Minn., brings unusual passion to his hobby of customizing Caterpillar tractor toys.

On a recent drive in rural Minnesota, Jon spotted a large, single-bottom brush (or ditch) plow. "I didn't have a camera with me, but the plow impressed me enough that I actually drove back a couple hundred miles to get a picture of it so I could put it on my wish list," he says. "I should stop doing things like that, because I have more projects backed up in my brain, and on pictures, than I'll ever have time to do."

That kind of dogged determination and attention to detail, is what makes Jon's customized Caterpillar toys striking and unusual.

More than kid stuff

Jon has been customizing toys all his life. "When we were kids, we didn't have money for things like toys," he says, "but one time I got paid for threshing for a neighbor and bought a couple of John Deere tractor toys for $1.25 and $1.75."



Both had narrow fronts, so Jon began a process that still serves him well today: examining his world to see what pieces or parts or methods would work for customizing. "I knocked the coating off a welding rod, cut off the front wheels of one of the toys, inserted the welding rod as a front axle, replaced the wheels and I had a wide-front tractor, which wasn't made yet in those days."

It was crude. The entire front end turned off-center, but he didn't mind: He had a wide-front tractor. "I've always looked at things and tried to figure out how to do them differently," he says.