Harshbarger, 41, a longtime Auburn resident, is currently working on a model of Samford Hall, a commission piece for a customer in Birmingham.
His fascination with Legos began at a young age but subsided during his teen and college years. After a few years of working for Sun Microsystems in California, he returned to Auburn with a renewed interest in his childhood hobby.
He grinned as he talked about his first large-scale project.
“For some reason, I got it in my head to make a full-scale R2-D2 robot from Star Wars out of Lego bricks,” Harshbarger said. “Of course, I had this memory in my head of how many pieces I had as a kid and thought ‘Oh, I’ll just get all the pieces that my parents still have.’”
Those pieces, stored in his parents’ attic since middle school, weren’t even close to the amount he needed.
“I started to build, you know, and it was nothing,” Harshbarger said. “I couldn’t build anything close to the full size (version), so I started buying pieces and by the end of that summer had finally gotten enough pieces to build a full size R2-D2 robot, which I still have.”
After posting a web page detailing his R2-D2 project, Harshbarger began to gain attention as one of the first people outside of the Lego company to build large scale models.
“Within a few years, it became an income, and within three or four years, it became my full-time income,” Harshbarger said.
Although his primary building material is Lego blocks, Harshbarger has never worked for the Lego corporation.
He said it was difficult at the beginning of his career as an independent builder. Purchasing blocks from toy stores was tedious and time consuming, however the problem was remedied when the Lego corporation started to sell bulk quantities.
The Samford Hall model he is working on now is his third small-scale model of the Auburn landmark.
The first one he built is now part of his personal collection and was once displayed in the window of J & M Bookstore.
Each model requires over 5,000 bricks and is 19 inches tall and sits on two 48-stud baseplates.
For the past six years, Harshbarger hasn’t produced near as many models and sculptures as he did during the first half of his career. He has been focusing on puzzle and game design.
“I’ve always enjoyed puzzles and games of all sorts, and I’ve started focusing my attention on those,” Harshbarger said. “About four or five years ago now, I actually sold all of my loose Lego pieces.”
Since selling his large collection, he has been working on a customer-to-customer basis, ordering the parts he needs from the Netherlands and various other suppliers.
No matter what Harshbarger is doing, he said he knows he has support from his family.
Linda Hashbarger, Harshbarger’s mother, said that she is proud of her son and his ability to make a career doing what he loves.
“We’re tickled that he’s doing what he loves to do,” Linda said. “He never really wanted to have a structured nine to five job. He’s following his passion. He loves to make puzzles and build things, and we’re just happy as a clam.”
Linda first took notice of her son’s talent with Legos after he completed his R2-D2 model. She says he’s been unstoppable ever since.
“He was able to do this and make good money.” Linda said.
The Samford Hall model should be completed in about two weeks, according to Harshbarger. It will sell for around $1,000.
Harshbarger doesn’t know what his next project will be. It might be a puzzle or game; it might be a Lego model or mosaic.
Whatever he does, he said he will be satisfied knowing that he is one of the fortunate who has made a living doing what makes him happy.