King of his Lego Castle
Plastic bricks inspire Junction teacher's medieval construction
When customers enter eBricks Outlet they automatically gravitate toward the large medieval castle made entirely out of Lego bricks and on display at the front of the store.
Kids press their foreheads against the Plexiglas protecting the project, pointing out the details of the creation to their parents who stand in awe of its complexity.
“I think the engineering is pretty cool, and the imaginativeness, and just how many cool things there are in this,” remarks 12-year-old Owen Bangert while shopping with his mother and younger brother, Logan.
Logan giggles while looking at the sharks attacking Lego men in the lagoon. Small transparent one-stud red bricks are sprinkled among hundreds of bright blue bricks to create a mock bloody scene.
The boys move to the other side of the 4-foot by 8-foot castle. Panels on the towers are removed to provide a dollhouse-like reveal of the King’s bedroom and the banquet hall complete with a tiny bowl of Lego fruit and bread on the table.
They comment on the baby grand piano inside the music room and the tiny construction workers building another store in the village.
They look at the Lego person catching butterflies among the plastic grapevines and the stacks of wine barrels outside the village’s winery.
“I think that’s really cool because it would take a long time to build it,” Logan says as he walks away.
It has taken a long time to build it.
Matt Garhart, 43, an anatomy and physiology teacher at Grand Junction High School and adjunct professor at Colorado Mesa University, started building the castle during Thanksgiving break in 2014.
He’s not sure what inspired him. Perhaps it was boredom or the desire to fulfill a creative need or a way to relieve stress. Most likely it was a combination of those things that led him into his spare bedroom to dig out a big box of Lego bricks from his childhood.
He found pieces from his favorite set, the second-generation King’s Castle released by The Lego Group in 1984.
It was incomplete and some of the white pieces were yellowed by the cigarette smoke that wafted inside his childhood home, he said.
“My kid brother and I would have Lego battles,” Garhart recalled. “I was always the red and yellow flags and he was always the green and white. As a kid, it was the number one toy. We loved Legos.”
With memories in his head that November day three years ago, Garhart started building and didn’t stop until late into the night, he said.
He picked out gray and yellowed-white bricks and stacked, clicked and built the towers of a castle, his castle.
His initial idea was to build something small on a card table for a display in the guest bedroom.
His teenage daughter, Kamri, wanted to help. She suggested designing the castle like a dollhouse so Lego royalty could live inside.
“He didn’t really start anywhere specific. He just started it and it escalated from there, but it’s pretty cool,” Kamri said.
“When I had time, it was just a neat way to be creative and kind of relax,” Garhart said.
He wanted to build a castle that would look real but it kept getting harder and harder to find gray pieces in his collection.
Eventually, Garhart ran out of building materials and had to make his first trip to eBricks Outlet, which was then located on First Street.
“When I discovered the store, that’s when I really got into thinking about it,” Garhart said.
Garhart sold the rest of the pieces in his personal collection to eBricks owner, Kenneth Riskey. Then Garhart started to dig, sometimes for hours at a time, through the bricks in the store’s “Creation Station” bins looking for gray bricks, no matter the shape or size.
It was curious, to say the least, to see a grown man digging for pieces at store, Riskey said. “He was in here all the time.”
Garhart was friendly. He shared pictures and his ideas for the castle with Riskey and the store’s staff.
Soon, everyone was busily digging through inventory, mostly looking for damaged pieces, for the castle.
Riskey often would help Garhart work through engineering problems. They spent more than an hour building a baby grand piano for the music room. “We had to find just the right hinge piece so the top would open,” Riskey said.
At home, Garhart spent hundreds of hours building the castle.
If his hands were too large to fit inside, he used his large dissecting forceps to place the tiny pieces.
He decided not to use glue so he would be able to tear-down and rebuild sections if needed.
He loved the problem-solving aspect of building with various-sized bricks and the satisfaction of watching the castle grow, he said.
In 2015, the weight and size of his creation forced him to construct a new display table in the garage.
While moving the castle out of the spare bedroom, the card table collapsed and the castle crashed to the floor.
“I was really upset. It was a school night, and I stayed up until 3 a.m. trying to pick it up and rebuild the pillars,” Garhart said.
Despite the setback, Garhart continued. He bought bulk pieces on eBay and other websites.
“Usually Kenneth’s prices were better though,” he said, so he continued to spend hours at eBricks searching for pieces.
As the castle grew, so did the friendship between Garhart, Riskey and the store’s staff.
Garhart often would help sort pieces behind the counter or jump in if a customer in the store needed help.
In late 2015, Riskey decided it was time to check out the castle firsthand. He closed the store early one day and took the staff on a mandatory field trip to Garhart’s garage.
What they found was the largest Lego “Make Own Creation” or MOC-build that Riskey had ever seen outside those created for Disneyland and other official Lego retailers.
Riskey guessed it already had 100,000 pieces.
“I started thinking how cool it would be to display it in our new store,” Riskey said. Garhart agreed.
When Riskey designed the remodel for the new location of the store at 124 N. Seventh St., he added large garage doors in the back of the store and reserved floor space at the front of the store for Garhart’s castle.
“I’d call him and ask if it could fit through the door,” Riskey laughed.
In March, Garhart and Riskey used the eBricks’ box truck to carefully move the castle to eBricks.
Riskey gave Garhart a key to the store so he could continue to build on his castle well past midnight if he wished.
“He’s in here all the time, and now he’s just one of the family,” Riskey said.
If Riskey had to guess, he’d say the castle as it stands today could be auctioned to another store or Lego collector for more than $8,000.
“His value in damaged parts is minimal. They’re valuable because of what Matt has done with them,” he said.
Garhart doesn’t brag or showboat about his creation, Riskey said. Garhart prefers to remain behind-the-scenes as customers ooh-and-aww over his work.
“He’s obviously not in it for the money, either,” Riskey said.
“Nope, I’m in it for the awesomeness,” Garhart said with a smile.