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'Toothpick King' Picks Eiffel Tower

June 19, 1988|BEVERLY BEYETTE

Joe King, 39, a professor of electrical engineering at University of the Pacific in Stockton, intends to glue the last of 110,000 toothpicks in place on his scale model of the Eiffel Tower in time for the Paris landmark's May, 1989, centennial "whether anybody cares or not."

King--"People tend to call me the toothpick king"--is hoping, of course, that someone will. When it's finished, "I suppose I'll send off a letter to Johnny Carson" and maybe contact the French consulate in San Francisco on the off chance "they'd like to make it sort of a poster child" for the 100th anniversary celebration.

For him, toothpick construction is a hobby that has become something of an obsession. A toothpick space station fills every inch of air space above his living room; beneath it sits a chair built of 5,000 toothpicks and capable of supporting a ton.

"My wife," he says, "has got to be the world's most patient woman. (There are) toothpicks all over the carpet. She stepped on one this morning and got a bloody foot." For two weeks, one section of the Eiffel Tower filled the Kings' den. "Everyone had to watch TV through it," he says.

King, who saw the real tower in 1975, works from posters and photographs and swears his model is "quite authentic." On a scale of one toothpick equals 10 feet, the completed model will be 23 feet tall, weigh 40 to 50 pounds and represent about 1,100 hours of gluing. (For the record, they are Diamond brand picks, "very strong and very consistent in length.")

And for an encore? Well, King says, "I had intended to build a scale model of my motorcycle. But I sold it last Friday."

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