MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Shakopee man has never been to the Space Needle or the Eiffel Tower, but he’s helped build them both, in much smaller form.

It was a way for Jerry Hackett to pass the time in retirement, but it turned into much more. Hackett has built some of the world’s most recognizable structures, one toothpick at a time.

Most people use toothpicks to get food out of their teeth or to stab appetizers at dinner parties. Not him.

“I’ll wake up at night and I’ll run it through my head how to do something,” he said. “I like to do it to scale as near as possible.”

Hackett sees each tiny stick of wood as a puzzle piece for something bigger and better.

“It’s kind of always on my mind. It’s almost like it’s too much on my mind,” he said.

For decades, it was gardening that captured Hackett’s attention. But when he and his wife downsized, they moved to a place where gardening was no longer an option. That’s when the idea for a new hobby, hopped into his head.

“Years ago when the kids were in school, they had projects with toothpicks and I’d help them with them,” Hackett said.

He began with bridges. Before retirement he worked for High Five Erectors, a company that built steel structures, so bridges were a natural start. But as a perfectionist, Hackett was all about exact measurements and dimensions. He even went so far as to call the city of Duluth to get drawings for the Duluth Lift Bridge.

(credit: CBS)

It wasn’t long before he graduated to world famous landmarks. From Ferris wheels with chairs that swing, to Seattle’s famous Space Needle, and then France’s renowned Eiffel Tower. Hackett has never seen them up close, but yet he knows them like the back of his hand. He figures if he’s never going to visit these destinations, he can create them.

Some of his projects take a month or more to make, built with toothpicks, glue, and a whole lot of geometry.

“It’s just mind-boggling how he can even do this,” his wife Pat Hackett said. “I go down the hall and watch him a little bit and I just shake my head. ‘Wow, how can you even do this?'”

His architecture is so impressive that it’s been put on display at the library. Now, Jerry Hackett is taking on his biggest challenge yet — St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Shakopee has become his Sistine Chapel.

“It was built in the 1800s and it isn’t just a box. There are a lot of pilasters and reinforced walls and stuff,” he said.

He’s already done his research and created a game plan. The project could take well over 10,000 toothpicks before it’s all said and done. But there’s no shortage of patience and determination. If he has learned anything, it’s that it’s okay to be picky when working towards perfection.

“I’ll end up having to do another one. I’m hooked,” he said.

Someday, he’d like to make the Golden Gate Bridge. The only problem is he isn’t entirely sure it would fit inside his house.