MARYTOWN — For the longest time, Willie Matznick didn’t know hog oilers existed.
“We had a few pigs on our farm when I was a boy, but we didn’t have any of those things (oilers),” he said. “So I was kind of surprised when I first saw some of them.”
Matznick, 84, stumbled upon his first hog oilers about three decades ago while attending a tractor show in a neighboring county.
“A guy had a hay rack wagon with maybe 10 of them bolted down on it,” Matznick said. “I kind of looked at them like, ‘Hmm, what are those things?’ One said ‘hog oiler’ on it and I thought, ‘Oh geez, those look cute.’”
So cute, in fact, that Matznick immediately developed an interest in wanting to collect hog oilers. A few weeks later, he struck up a friendship with a person at another nearby event, and that man ended up selling Matznick five hog oilers.
Three decades later, one of Matznick’s garages here in rural Fond du Lac County has become a showplace of sorts for his collection of 135 hog oilers. They provided hogs with skin protection and relief from insects, among other things.
Matznick buys hog oilers “that I just think look nice.” So far, the collection includes pieces from Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota. The most expensive, he said, is a Swine-Ezer that cost $5,000. It was made by Lisle Manufacturing Co. of Clarinda, Iowa.
“It cost a lot, but once it caught my eye I knew I had to have it,” said Matznick, noting he believes it’s one of only eight in existence.
Matznick collects other agriculture- and rural life-related items, including, but not limited to, tractors, horn weights, kerosene lanterns, pottery, toys and plumb bobs. He also owns a complete collection of the toy tractors/vehicles produced each year for the Wisconsin Farm Technology Days event.
“I was brought up on a farm, so these are all things I enjoy,” Matznick said. “I’m not too particular. If I see something that interests me and I just have to have, I’ll buy it.”
Matznick was born in 1934 on a 120-acre dairy farm near Wilke Lake in Manitowoc County, about seven miles northeast of Kiel. His parents, Ralph and Eldora Matznick, milked about 20 cows and also raised a few pigs, which were used to help feed their family. Matznick is the fourth oldest and last surviving sibling of the family’s eight children.
“I liked working on the farm,” he said. “I was born with club feet, so driving tractors was easier on me than being on my feet a lot. I wore braces on my legs until I was out of grade school. But I started driving tractor back when I was 5 or 6 years old. Dad strapped me in the seat and away I went.”
The family farm featured an Oliver Hart-Parr Row Crop 70, Minneapolis-Moline U and Ferguson TE20 tractors. “I mostly drove the Ferguson,” he said.
After eighth grade, Matznick stopped attending school to help full time on the dairy farm. But he said a law was passed requiring students to attend school until age 16. So after a year working on the farm he returned to Kiel High School for three semesters until he turned 16 — and then promptly resumed full time duties on the farm.
Club feet prevented Matznick from serving in the military, so at the age of 18 he joined Arps Corp. (now Amerequip) in New Holstein, where he spent his entire 45-year career. For many years after marrying his wife, Tharcilla, in 1955, he also spent many hours continuing to help on his parents’ farm.
“We milked cows by hand for a long time,” he said. “And after I was at Arps for a while then I bought a milking machine for the farm.”
The farm was sold about 50 years ago.
Matznick has four children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Tharcilla passed away last April.
Matznick devotes time these days to maintaining the hundreds of items in his collections. He handles much of the restoration work himself.
The 25 tractors in his collection are stored in barns and sheds here in the community of Marytown. He owns a variety of tractor brands, including Oliver, Case, International, Allis-Chalmers, John Deere, Fordson, Minneapolis-Moline and Ford.
He started the tractor collection with a pre-1920 Fordson he bought about 35 years ago. His most recent purchase was a Ferguson five years ago.
“I’m still looking for that Oliver 70 my dad used to have,” he said. “So if you ever see it, let me know.”