By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
CARL JUNCTION, Mo. —
Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the World’s Fair in Paris, the Eiffel Tower has become a global and cultural icon of France, and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
On Monday, it was put on display in downtown Carl Junction, along with the Statue of Liberty and India’s Taj Mahal.
And “Star Wars” icons Darth Maul and Yoda.
And the space shuttle Discovery.
They didn’t have to travel across oceans to get to town. They were merely brought in from the Carl Junction home of Lyle Mays, a retired computer science teacher turned Lego enthusiast who assembles complicated kits at his kitchen table.
Visitors can see them and other Lego creations in storefronts through the end of July, said Gary Stubblefield, Chamber of Commerce executive director. He worked with Mays to coordinate the unique “walking tour” as a means of getting foot traffic in the block-long business section of Carl Junction’s Main Street.
“The idea to do this has been talked about for a year,” Stubblefield said. “We just couldn’t figure out what the best place would be. We decided doing it in multiple locations would generate some traffic, and maybe the ones displayed in empty buildings that are for sale or rent would generate some interest.”
While the real Eiffel Tower stands 1,063 feet tall — making it the world’s tallest structure from 1889 until 1930 — the Lego model is 1:300 scale, making it just 3 feet tall. Mays said it is the tallest Lego set ever sold, but the scale is such that a person would be smaller than an ant. The model contains 3,428 pieces and can be seen in a former medical clinic at 104 S. Main St.
By comparison, Mays’ Statue of Liberty on display at Stubblefield’s store, Ozark Hearth and Home Candles at 108 S. Main St., contains more than 6,000 pieces. But it wasn’t sold by Lego that way.
“It was my first one to assemble, and I picked it because it was challenging,” Mays said. “But when I decided to create an original pedestal for it, that turned out to be an even bigger challenge. I looked at photos of the actual Statue of Liberty base, then had to get pieces from collectors in Canada and Germany. I wanted it to look authentic.”
He crafted the space shuttle, on display at Carl Junction Auction Service at 118 S. Main St., from Technics, Lego’s line of interconnecting plastic rods and parts that allow builders to create advance models with movable parts.
Inside Community Bank and Trust at 101 S. Main St., several smaller Lego creations of noted architectural wonders, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Seattle Space Needle and two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, are on display.
“It’s pretty cool stuff,” said Logan Yates, a Joplin seventh-grader who came to Carl Junction on Monday afternoon with his mother, Heather, to see the display.
“I think there’s a little bit of envy here,” his mother said with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘Mom, can we go to the store after this? I need more Legos.’ I told him, ‘This is a lifetime supply.’”
While the 55-year-old Lego franchise has a solid following among millions of youngsters thanks to licensed themes built on movie empires, Mays’ interest in Legos didn’t develop until well into his adult years.
As a computer science teacher at Missouri Southern State University, he began purchasing Lego Mindstorm kits, which allowed him to create programmable robots.
“It just kind of took off from there,” he said.
As for the length of time it would take the average builder to assemble the complicated sculptures on display downtown, Mays said that depends on a person’s patience.
“Whether you do it in two days or 10 is how dedicated you are to finishing, how quickly you want to get it done,” he said.
Mays has the full support of his wife, Vicki, who said she doesn’t mind that a corner of their bedroom is dedicated to his workbench and dozens of plastic totes in which Legos are stored by color, or that their kitchen table often is overflowing with the colorful bricks, which means eating in the living room.
“I know what to buy him for Christmas and birthdays,” she said with a laugh. “It makes it easy.”
But her husband does face one challenge: He is red and green colorblind.
“There are a few Lego sets that are green and brown that I have trouble with, like the Lego Christmas train village,” he said.
Next on his wish list: a 3,000-piece Sydney Opera House, which Lego plans to release in September to the tune of about $320.
When the Main Street display concludes on Aug. 9, most of Mays’ works will return to his home, where they will be tucked back into storage. Yoda, however, will be returned to the Freeman Health System office of his daughter-in-law, Katherine Mays.
“She used to have Darth Maul on display there, too,” he said. “But I think it creeped too many people out, and she put it away. She just brings it out for Halloween.”
ANOTHER LEGO-RELATED EVENT is slated for July 9 in Carl Junction. Footprints & Friends Preschool, 26230 Fir Road, will hold a ribbon-cutting at 5:45 p.m. and a Lego-themed open house from 6 to 7 p.m.