It's not hard to imagine the 21-year-old immigrant Matthias Toebben, who built a multi-million dollar business with his hands.

Still brawny more than 50 years later, he retains just a touch of a German accent and his clothing is that of a prosperous working man: a burgundy V-neck sweater over an open-necked, button-down plaid shirt; gray pants with a crease; and polished slip-on shoes. He excuses himself midway through an interview to visit the barber, returning a few minutes later, his thick fringe of white hair looking much as it did when he left. It's a small mark of success, never looking as if he needs a haircut or as if he has just had one.

He relishes his story. He landed in New York harbor with $10 and a homemade plywood suitcase. There was a glitch in the connection that was to shepherd him on the next leg of his journey, so after watching New Yorkers stick their hands in the air to hail a taxi, he squared his shoulders and did the same.

He spoke no English. Not a word. The taxi driver demanded payment using the universal sign "” rubbing his thumb over his first and second fingers "” and young Toebben's $10 disappeared. He was deposited at the train station. His connection appeared in time to put him on the wrong train "” to California instead of northern Kentucky, where a job awaited. He watched as food was delivered to his fellow passengers. Finally, he saw the porter heading down the aisle again with a Coke and a sandwich.

"I just took it. I stood up and bit right through the paper into the sandwich," he says.

The porter came back with the conductor in tow. "That conductor gave me a talking-to," Toebben says. "And I sat there like a scared puppy. I knew I had done something wrong, but I was so hungry." And then, the porter came back again, this time bearing a tray with grapes, apples, another Coke and a thick sandwich. "He figured out I was not a bad guy, that I was in need. That stuck with me. The generosity of the American people."

Then "” and he will not appreciate the telling "” the chairman of the board of Toebben Companies takes out a well-laundered white handkerchief edged in navy blue and mops his eyes. Replacing his gold-rimmed eyeglasses, he says, "When I think of that, it still gets to me."

A priest on the train helped the young man get turned around toward his new home, where he began making handcrafted doors, cabinets and windows for a Ft. Wright homebuilder. After nine hours on the job, "I'd eat three Big Boys at the Ft. Mitchell Frisch's and go right back to work," moonlighting, picking up more carpentry work, learning enough English to negotiate as he went along.

After 18 months, he'd saved enough to start building houses on his own. His bride, LaVerne, kept the books. In 1958, he bought 180 acres in Crescent Springs. "Land for a goat," he says, his big hand swooping up and down. "Hilly."

He bought a bulldozer and ran it himself at night after his customary nine hours of carpentry. The classy residential community became Country Squire Estates.

His workdays are not so long now. His sons run the business, which includes residential, commercial and industrial real estate as well as an energy-trading firm and a 1,200-acre tree farm where Toebben likes to hunt and fish. But for a real hobby, he returned to what he knew as a boy growing up on a 40-acre farm in Lorop, Germany, where he, his parents and 10 siblings lived in a tiny thatched house. His twin lives there now, and once Toebben bought a heifer for his brother's herd.

The first year, that cow had a bull calf. "Someone bought that calf for exactly what we'd paid for the cow," he said. The lesson did not go unnoticed. Toebben went to an Angus sale 12 years ago. The first cow sold for $29,000, the second for $18,000 and the third for $23,000. He bought the next 13 on the block, and then purchased land in Union, Ky., now site of Triple T Angus, a herd of 300.

Toebben is not a dabbler. A half-mile gravel lane winds through the 400-acre tract, past three houses and several barns. Even to the untrained eye, the blocky black cattle gathering around hayracks look special, and they are. As impressively pedigreed breeding stock, they'll never be anybody's hamburger.

During the farm's heifer sale last October, buyers from 25 states paid an average of $8,000 per animal, with the top cow bringing $33,000. At the bull sale in February customers checked the careful 365-day weights and ultrasound charts, clues to marbling and rib-eye size that the bulls will pass along to offspring. Toebben Triple T retains a third semen interest in each bull. Farm manager Kevin Gallagher studied beef production and management at Ohio State, and the thoroughly modern operation does a brisk business in egg harvesting and embryo transplants, as well as shipping semen all over the country. "One female might be responsible for as many as 100 calves over her lifetime," Gallagher explains, through her eggs and natural means.

Toebben says he always remembered the cow from his brother's herd. "A quality cow can return your money," he says. On another trip back to his homeland, he watched cars line up for fuel along the Autobahn and came home to buy land around planned interchanges in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana during the 1960s. No lesson is wasted on Toebben (friends know him as "Matth"). Not the rigorous carpentry apprenticeship that began when he was 14. Not the porter on the train. "I try to give back," he says shortly. He has made a $650,000 donation to Gateway Community and Technical College for a carpentry program and given $100,000 to Springer School, where his grandson studied.

Cows. Houses. Toebben says as long as you're going to do something, you might as well do the best job you can.

"This country has always been blessed," Toebben says, "by people who come here from all over the world, leave home and family for a better day ahead. Only a certain kind of person will do this. A person with a drive to succeed."