Brian Mathiowetz with one of his model metal graders. Contributed photo

Collector inherited some of his construction models from his grandfather

When Brian Mathiowetz was a boy, he was not allowed to play with the model construction equipment his grandfather, Martin Mathiowetz, kept in a locked cabinet. Brian’s grandfather had begun the collection in the 1940s. It included a Terex scraper and a few bulldozers of no particular brand name. These models were prized as highly as the family’s china dishes.

“Grandma Mathiowetz had actual china dishes in the other half of the cabinet,” said Brian. “The model equipment had the same priceless value as the china. My grandfather did let me touch the models, to look at them and then to put them back in the glass case. After my grandfather died, my dad, Richard, got the models. There were four or five pieces, but that was the seed that started the rest of the collection. I still have all of those pieces, and have added some of the modern versions of them.”

A few pieces of Brian’s collection of 250 miniature models are displayed on his desk at his construction office in Leavenworth, which is a township of about 20 people, near Sleepy Eye, in Brown County. The desktop is the display area for a collection of model backhoes, dump trucks, scrapers, loaders, graders, a sheep’s foot and a semi-truck designed to haul construction equipment — all in their original packaging. The models represent names familiar on construction sites — Caterpillar, John Deere, Case, etc. The mostly highly prized item, though, did not come in commercial packaging. It’s a bulldozer carved from wood by a retired employee.

One of Brian’s metal bulldozers. He has
more than 250 items
in his construction
collection.
Contributed photos

Brian explained how a collection of construction equipment models can be started. He said, “Most dealerships have models available. The trick always has been that  when you bought the real deal, you tried to get the representative to throw in a miniature. Any heavy equipment dealership sales rep has a collection — four or five pieces on the desk. This also crosses over into the farm sector. Many farmers have miniature farm equipment collections — and it has to be the right color — red or green. In construction, almost all of the equipment is yellow, although a few are white or orange.”

Brian said he has gone retro, which means he has begun adding pre-1950s equipment models. He explained, “Some were toys sold for children, and there aren’t many around because they were played with to death. When I travel with my wife, Rhonda, I don’t shop in regular stores, but I go to antique stores, because dealers don’t do retro models. When I was in Indianapolis, I found some old toys from the 1950s, refurbished and repainted. The main four are a crane, a motor grader, a dozer and a 1950s range scraper (an earth mover). I’ve also bought some equipment on the internet.”

There’s a unique aspect to the collection, which Brian described  as “eight pieces of wood carved models.” He explained, “My father was involved in mission work in Guatemala, assisting with home building. There, they used a machete and a hoe for the work. He took a couple of models of construction equipment with him to show how it’s done here. The people kept those models and patiently carved wooden models.”

Small metal items in Brain’s collection.
Contributed photo

Like his father, Brian also has been involved in mission work in Guatemala, traveling to the country many times to plan for aspects such as consistent electricity for the medical facilities, and to oversee construction of homes, churches, community centers and stores. He displays the unique wooden pieces from Guatemala in a glass case in the company’s conference room. The ambience of the conference room is almost that of a comfortable museum. The entire conference room display includes about 200 scale models, and it’s where Brian keeps his grandparents’ china cabinet.

“I’m just a caretaker for these museums,” Brian said, “and it will go on to the next generation. It’s our legacy. We have nine grandchildren, and our grandson, Carwyn, is already crazy about construction equipment. His eyes light up, and he’s only three.” It sounds as if Carwyn is already following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Brian, and of the two preceding generations as well.