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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Gary McIntire, a designer for LEGOS, puts the building blocks together.

When last we talked, Gary McIntire, who lived in Highland, was a finalist in the contest of his dreams.

An extreme AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGOS), the Highland resident was one of 24 finalists in the National Model Builder Search sponsored by LEGOLAND, and was going off to participate in the finals, hoping to win the job of master builder on the LEGO design team.

He did not win the contest. But fate has a way of taking care of those who combine passion, skill and dreams to the extent that McIntire always has.

"I was visiting my Mom in California for Thanksgiving, and I saw some people I knew from LEGOLAND, and they said, 'You should go see what's going on. We're really busy right now."'

It turned out that LEGOLAND had just opened up a new position; they were looking for a model designer. It turned out that McIntire was their guy.

"It's a dream come true," says the man who has been building with LEGOS since he was 4 years old.

This is how his days go: They start with a walk through the park before it opens; through Miniland USA; past Washington, D.C.; past Las Vegas and New York City; past San Francisco and New Orleans.

"This is the heart of LEGOLAND, and I just make sure everything is the way it should be, that lampposts are straightened, that every car is parked where it should be. Sometimes kids reach over the fence and move things. Or, sometimes birds and rabbits come in at night and disturb things. I do a park check to make sure every model is looking good and is safe. If any repair work needs to be done, I do it."

After the park opens at 10 a.m., McIntire heads over to his office. "Then I get to work on whatever project is on my desk."

It might be designing a new model. It might be working on designs from the monthly junior model search. It might be spending time with some of those winners.

"That is such a fun thing," McIntire says. "They are kids who share my passion. They come in all wide-eyed. They make me feel like a superstar."

When McIntire comes up with a design, he gives it to gluers, who put it together. "Sometimes I'll do half of it, and they do the mirror image." Then he'll check it to make sure it works. Maybe he will change colors.

Sometimes those are models for the park; sometimes they are for other occasions. "I recently did a big flower arrangement for a hotel lobby. That was pretty cool."

But one of his biggest projects recently has been work on the Land of Adventure, a new section of LEGOLAND that opened last month. That installation included a 16-foot high pharoah, all made of LEGOS, of course, that guards the entrance to the park's first "dark ride," which is park-speak for an indoor ride. "The ride's a lot of fun. You go through an ancient temple and have a laser gun that you shoot at targets, so it's interactive."

The pharaoh took 13 hours to install. "It was actually built in the Czech Republic and shipped here in three sections. It's the biggest piece ever, with some 300,000 blocks. Helping to put it all together was pretty wild. I wouldn't trade this job for anything," he says.

He still has family in Utah and comes back for visits occasionally. But more often, "they all come visit me. After all, I'm the one living in a tourist destination. They can hang out at the beach and go to the park."

While he was in Utah, he had a chance to visit with ULUG (Utah LEGO User Group), an organization he helped found just before he left for his job. "There are LUGS all over the country," he explains — groups where adults who are into LEGOS get together, hold shows, share designs and just have fun.

"We had had only three or four meetings before I left. I was very excited to find out that the membership has now more than doubled. It was great to see all my friends and meet new ones." More than anyone else, he says, they know what it means to be a "master model builder," so they were all very impressed with McIntire's job. "It was kind of strange, kind of surreal to have that kind of celebrity."

But he also credits them for some of his success. "I know they made me a better builder. It always helps to be around other builders. Everyone helps each other out; you get a lot of good ideas." (For more information about the group, visit www.utahlug.org).

It's interesting how something that started out as a children's toy — and still is very successful as a children's toy — captures the interest and attention of so many adults, but it's just another way to express creativity," says McIntire. "I think of myself as an artist, although I have no artistic ability outside of LEGOS. I don't paint or sculpt. But there's something very challenging about taking square pieces and making them work in round objects. Working with a very small palette, you can create something that no one else ever thought of before."

LEGOS have been around a long time. They were first developed as wooded blocks by a Danish carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen. He coined the name from the Danish phrase "leg godt," which means play well. Plastics began to be used for the bricks following World War II.

The modern LEGO brick, however, was patented on Jan. 28, 1958, so it is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And what is cool, says McIntire, is that those early bricks are still compatible with those that are made today. That may be part of the reason that interest in LEGOS continues from generation to generation.

McIntire has been working with them ever since his dad brought home a bucket of them way back when. And now they are his life's work.

When kids ask him how they can get to where he is, "I tell them to keep on building. To keep on having fun. To use their imaginations and try to be creative."

Even then, there's an element of luck. McIntire realizes how lucky he is. Not everyone gets to have their dream job. "But you could say that I've been training for this job for a long, long time."

E-mail: [email protected]