Building Customized Caterpillar Toys

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

| December 2007

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.