Exin Castillos castle kits were produced from the 1960s to the early ’90s in Spain.
Exin Castillos castle kits were produced from the 1960s to the early ’90s in Spain.
SWEET HOME — When Leo Fernandez attended a yard sale here four years ago, he was looking for a bargain or two. He never dreamed his prize find would be a set of building blocks often used by children to build castles.

“There was a kid who had 350 pieces for $5,” Fernandez said. “I had never seen anything like this before, so I bought them.” The pieces — about 1-by-2 inches — snap together.

Fernandez is a member of St. Helen Parish and the Knights of Columbus. The model castles made by the Spanish company Exin evoke Catholic Europe at its height. Some of the kits would create a miniature cathedral.

Fernandez, 69 and retired, has accumulated some 15,000 pieces, scouring for them from other collectors from coast to coast.

He has been corresponding with collectors in Spain, where there is a large Exin Castillos following and even community-wide contests.

“Some of the displays are huge, we’re talking 40-feet long,” Fernandez said. “They work in teams to put them together.”

Fernandez said that one castle display recently featured 225,000 pieces and it took 10 men to assemble.

Exin Castillos were produced from 1968 until 1991. “They were very popular for a time and then kids got into playing video games,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez has filled the shelves of his man cave with the plastic medieval-themed blocks, which are colored to look like castle or cathedral stonework.

Fernandez displayed a 3-by-5-foot castle at the Oregon State Fair and earned a blue ribbon in the diorama category. He spent two hours per day for a month on the model.

“I wanted to do something different when I retired,” Fernandez said. “I plan to build an even bigger castle next year.”

Fernandez and his wife, Sue, have lived in Sweet Home since 1973. He retired in 2016 after a long career with the Georgia-Pacific paper plant at Halsey.

“It takes quite a bit of thinking to put a castle together,” Fernandez said. “Fortunately, I have a good friend who is a retired carpenter and he gave me a lot of good information about how walls need to be hooked together to create stability.”

Fernandez also learned to be creative. To simulate water, he used blue paper covered with crinkled clear plastic.

For the bridge over the castle’s moat, he mixed kitty litter with plaster of Paris and then covered it with small rocks.

The new hobby has sparked a new goal.

“I want to go to Spain,” he said, “and spend at least one night in a castle.”

This story was used with permission of the writer.