Whenever I hear about Matchstick Marvels in rural Gladbrook, I get that song from “Fiddler on the Roof” stuck in my head: Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match. Find me a find, catch me a catch… And I have no doubt that you should catch this one-of-a-kind attraction, dedicated to showcasing creations made of matchsticks and glue.
What started as Pat Acton’s late-night hobby while his wife was at work, has become a collection of amazing matchstick creations numerous enough to fill the museum and a spur a contract to build more for Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Pat, the man behind the matchsticks, has been designing, gluing, sanding and varnishing his works of art for 40 years and shows no signs of slowing down. His current project for Ripley’s is a “Star Wars” nerd’s dream: A replica of the Millennium Falcon is set for completion in 2017.
All Pat’s models are designed from his own hand-drawn sketches. I jokingly asked him if he has any stock in the popular adhesive, Elmer’s Glue®. Pat chuckled and explained that he no longer uses that brand because its formula changed. He currently uses a brand called Titebond®. Can you imagine gluing together over four million matchsticks? Pat can, because he has! Luckily, Pat can purchase matchsticks made without the sulfur tip, saving him hours of time cutting them off.
It can take months of full-time work to design a piece like the Millennium Falcon, especially if Pat animates it with lights or moving parts. His favorite part of the entire process is designing the pieces and determining how to make them work. His least favorite part, and I can’t blame him, is sanding and varnishing the finished product.
Pat displays a handful of his masterpieces at Matchstick Marvels. Ripley’s also acquires his work, or it is given to friends and family. Novice matchstick creators can purchase a starter kit during a visit to Matchstick Marvels. It is open from April through November.