- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

GLADBROOK, Iowa (AP) - Even on a resume packed with jaw-dropping projects notable for both size and detail, Patrick Acton’s latest effort - “Plane Loco” - stands out.

“It’s a monster,” JoAnn Ruopp says. “But it’s a cool monster that I hope people enjoy.”

Ruopp manages Matchstick Marvels, a home at any given moment to 15 or 16 of Acton’s models.

As the name suggests, Acton crafts each piece with matchsticks and glue - lots and lots of matchsticks and gallons of glue, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (http://bit.ly/1H1li6Z ) reported.

On three of Acton’s more recent works, he needed 282,000 little bits of wood to model the International Space Station, 468,000 for the New World Trade Center and 298,000 for Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

And then there’s “Plane Loco,” which required about the same amount of wood as those combined.

Here are the numbers:

More than 1 million matchsticks.

30 gallons of glue.

3,000 hours for construction.

21 feet long, 5 feet wide, 9 feet tall with a 13-foot wingspan.

Individual matchsticks, by the way, are 1/8-inch square and just 2 inches long. In his 35-year sculpting career Acton has used more than 5 million.

“This thing was almost unmanageable. I might make something as big some day, but never bigger. I know that,” Acton says.

Acton’s particular fantasy belongs to Ripley’s Believe It or Not and will only be in Gladbrook through the end of July. From there, “Plane Loco” will go to Ripley’s headquarters in Orlando, Florida, until the company decides where to display it.

“Once they leave, they’re gone. We don’t get them back,” Ruopp says.

Acton, 62, describes “Plane Loco” as a steampunk flying locomotive inspired by an antique engine from the early 1900s. He also incorporated elements of Leonardo da Vinci’s wing design, which is 400 years older.

Steampunk refers to a genre of science fiction - and a fashion and design movement - that mashes futuristic elements onto Victorian-era technology.

“That was actually requested by Ripley’s, that I do some kind of steampunk art. And they requested a steam locomotive. I had never heard of steampunk art,” Acton says.

“Plane Loco” is engine No. 22, a nod to the number of Acton’s models that Ripley’s now owns. The marvel includes other distinguishing features made, of course, with matchsticks.

Though not the first of Acton’s pieces to have movable parts, “Plane Loco” has the most of any of his creations. The locomotive has working gears, levers and a joystick Acton encourages visitors to handle. There also is a bell that rings, and doors open on the fire box revealing a red light and matchstick fuel.

Besides two sets of wings, “Plane Loco” offers more whimsy. One plaque says the engine is a “Flutter Twin-Steam, patent pending.” Another reads “Matchstick Marvels AirRail Mfg., Gladbrook, IA.”

Visitors are taking to “Plane Loco,” as they have to Acton’s other oversized miniatures.

“They are just amazed. When you have the word ‘model’ associated with something, you think little. But these aren’t little,” Ruopp says.

Acton’s USS Iowa battleship, for instance, measures 13 feet. His version of the U.S. Capitol is 5 1/2 feet tall and 12 feet wide. With “Plane Loco,” small children can climb into the engine’s cab and take a seat.

His basement work space limits the size of Acton’s models: They have to come in pieces able to fit through a typical door.

“Plane Loco,” though, tested the boundaries of Acton’s home.

“I built the pieces in the shop but assembled them in another room. It was kind of beyond the scope,” he says.

Acton has a contract with Ripley’s for one model each year. His next will be a two-headed dragon that can be suspended.

“That’s definitely going to present some design challenges that I’ve never had,” Acton says.

“I really enjoy the design aspect . to take some sticks and make them represent something,” he adds.

Clearly, Acton enjoys his unique craft and plans to keep going.

“I’ve always been a woodworker and builder. It’s taken me on a journey, and I’ve always got more ideas than I’ve got time,” he says.

Ruopp admits getting attached to Acton’s models, and she expects some separation anxiety after “Plane Loco” leaves. She fondly remembers another creation, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” which went to a museum in Majorca, Spain.

That sculpture, Acton’s second largest, required 602,000 matchsticks and 15 gallons of glue.

“I loved Hogwarts. I wish we could have kept Hogwarts. I wish we could keep this,” Ruopp says.

___

Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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