Viewing Patrick Goodwin’s die-cast car collection is like walking into a whole different world. Pictures of fire trucks, a fireman’s hat and jacket, and patches from various fire stations adorn the walls while the room overflows with miniature fire trucks, ambulances, school buses, tow trucks, and cars of all makes and models. He estimates that about 9,000 die-cast vehicles comprise his collection and explains why they are so much more than toys. Each piece has a meaning or a story and everything in his collection reminds him of home and the brotherhood of firefighters.
Patrick’s love of firefighting and fire trucks began in Worcester, Massachusetts where, on the eve of his eighth birthday, a fireman rescued him from his burning home. For the next eight years, he struggled with the foster system after which he started his own career as a property manager and fireman, first in Worcester and later in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Patrick recalls helping to fight the 1999 Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Company fire where six firefighters perished.
Due to health issues, Patrick had to retire from the fire department. Although his small, childhood collection of miniature cars had been destroyed in the home fire, his wife renewed his interest by giving him a starter group of fire trucks which he now proudly displays. The hobby helped him to focus and to deal with the chronic pain. In 2007, when they moved to Mauldin SC, his collection had grown so extensive that it required special packaging and insurance and occupied half of the 53-foot trailer.
At first, Patrick displayed his miniature vehicles on wooden shelves and in glass cabinets. As the collection grew, he also constructed elaborate settings to showcase them. His current displays include: a realistic campsite, a parking garage holding 140 vehicles, a drive-in theater using a cell phone as the movie screen, Dunkin’ Donut and Auto Zone stores, and many fire stations. Several factors distinguish his engaging displays. Roofs can be removed to easily view the interior. The presentations often include electric lights, operational doors, specially cut and painted wooden lettering, and surrounding scenery. Different display units can be clicked together because he has made them from similar materials. Most are constructed from plywood carefully glued with Gorilla wood glue for durability. Patrick pays close attention to texture. For example, he applies a special paint to wood, allowing it to bake in the sun for a few hours to achieve a stone-like appearance. He also makes the doorways large enough to easily move the vehicles in and out. The floors may be slightly slanted so that doors can be left open without the cars rolling out. Patrick emphasizes that he constructs displays but not models which are more detailed and often made from resin casts.
In addition to his unique displays, Patrick also customizes miniature fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances. He purchases “blank” vehicles and with his wife’s computer assistance, creates appropriately-sized decals which he applies to the vehicles.
The miniature vehicles vary in quality, size, and value. Patrick’s collection includes Matchbox®, AW, and Johnny Lightening pieces. Although AW models cost more, he prefers them because they have much better paint, detailed engines, and hoods that open. Currently, Matchbox® is using more plastic to make its cars which decreases their durability. The miniature vehicles are mostly scaled 1:64 or 1:32, with larger pieces weighing and costing more. His collection includes a minuscule Hallmark ‘n’ series fire truck as well as a 1:24 die-cast Matchbox® fire truck weighing 8 lbs. The latter piece cost $20 when purchased but would probably sell for $100 now. Another of his fire trucks, part of the Maxim S series, would probably cost $600 today because it is a rare 1965-66 model. He also possesses some trucks with Toys “R” Us detailing that will become more valuable since that company has gone out of business.
The 53-year-old father of six and grandfather of twelve has connected with other die-cast vehicle enthusiasts and firefighters everywhere by maintaining a closed Facebook group on these topics. One contact is the famed John Ackerman, whose uniquely crafted fire trucks and fire station models are displayed in the Los Angeles Fire Museum. One follower enjoyed the Facebook postings so much that he requested his wife send Patrick a special fire truck model upon his death. Of the forty-two fire station displays constructed to date, he has given over half of them to charities, children, auctions, and firefighters. He has also sold a few and shipped them all over the world so long as the recipient paid the postage. The Berea Fire Department currently displays one of his fire stations with a special pink fire truck parked inside. The miniature pink fire engine represents the department’s real-life pink fire truck involved in their “On Fire for a Cure” movement against cancer.
Patrick has plans to build many more displays for his collection. He also hopes for a permanent site in Mauldin, perhaps in the Cultural Center, where his die-cast vehicles and unique displays can be showcased and shared with the citizens of Mauldin.