Homemade castle

John Greiner stands in front of his home, a castle he built in rural Milam County.

John Greiner built a castle entirely by himself, even though it took 30 years to complete it.

But even though it’s complete, the castle and Greiner are still works in progress.

In this case, it is certainly true that a man’s home is his castle.

Eagle Crest, the House of Greiner, began as a cardboard model Greiner made one weekend when he was bored. After finishing it he wondered if he could build it. And he did.

Thirty years ago Greiner purchased 34 acres in Milam County’s countryside and hand-dug a well that has successfully provided his water. However, he recently finished a rainwater collection system that will provide at least three to four months of water should his well develop problems or if rainfall is shy of the requirements to keep the castle going.

A small workshop Greiner built was finished out as home for him and his family when he started the castle’s construction, but personal circumstances led to him to moving into the small corner of the castle while he worked on it.

Greiner dug out the foundation, laid each of the 140 tons of rock, mixed and poured the cement and climbed a ladder countless times to do the work. He worked out ingenious ways of accomplishing difficult tasks, exhibiting an engineering mind even though he majored in geology in college. It took him 9 years just to finish the rock, he said.

Although the roof appears to be authentic slate, it is actually a lighter substance colored like slate, Greiner said.

Although the castle itself is square, Greiner wanted something round. He added two round front towers topped with heavy, thick copper.

A patio is now under construction, and after that Greiner will complete the moat, he said.

Greiner’s favorite room is the “big room,” he said. Looking up, one sees multiple trusses he assembled at floor level and then used a pulley system to put in place. Those trusses took 9 months to complete and install, he said.

Greiner taught himself the skills needed to build the castle. He visited houses under construction to learn about plumbing and electrical work, he said.

The backdrop to the castle is acres of land, mostly wild and untouched, filled with large, old trees, brush and wildflowers.

Full steam ahead

Meandering through the acreage is a railroad track that consists of 1½ miles of track for the one-eighth-scale model steam locomotive Greiner built. It burns coal and works just like a full size train with a boiler, safety valves, water and oil pumps. It takes 125 pounds of steam pressure built up before it is ready to move, and that takes over an hour, Greiner said. The locomotive itself weighs about 1,000 pounds.

The track was built using 825 10-foot sections built by Greiner. It has 25,000 ties and about 120,000 screws and washers.

The locomotive passes by a Western log village including a saloon and a Wells Fargo Bank, as well as a general store.

Two bridges between 15 and 25 feet span gullies on the land, and, yes, Greiner built the bridges, too. The 24-foot-high bridge took more than 300 wheelbarrow loads of cement, and the cement to make the piers was lowered by a bucket on a rope. The bucket had a bottom that opened remotely with a string, and the concrete was poured into place. That bridge alone took him about 2 years to complete, Greiner said.

Greiner even constructed a railway turntable so the train can switch directions.

The trip by train takes about 45 minutes and can hold about 20 children or even a few adults, Greiner said.

A fiery nature and other hats

Greiner did large fireworks shows on his land starting in 1980, but he stopped the large productions after 1999, he said.

Now he mainly does them for the enjoyment he, his family and friends get from them. He starts working on the pyrotechnics in January and finishes up just in time for the Fourth of July holiday, Greiner said.

Greiner said his interest in fireworks goes back to 1958 when he stole a library book on how to make them from a Fort Worth library. Since then he has perfected the art and has a ton of knowledge about the subject, he said.

“I can make any kind, any color, and I love ground pieces. Of course, we always have the American flag, but this year I had a 24-foot waterfall and a heart with someone’s name inside it,” Greiner said.

Greiner loves to sing and play the guitar, and these days you can find him at a nursing home or two providing entertainment. He used to sing karaoke at Corona’s de Oro in Temple. One of his signature songs was “Margaritaville,” but he also performed songs by Willie Nelson, Hank Snow, Merle Haggard and others.

Another hobby of Greiner’s is his remote-controlled model airplanes. He began the Temple Aero Modelers Club and was president for a time of two, he said. His passion for the hobby can be witnessed in several rooms of his castle and he even has a mowed runaway on the property.

An almost 2-year stint with the Temple Civic Theater working on sets is also in Greiner’s repertoire.

Greiner, now 79, is a man who is passionate about life and about trying to do everything he possibly can during his lifetime.

“You can set your mind to do anything, and doing it makes you unafraid to try other things,” Greiner said. “I like to build and create things and to make people happy by entertaining them. But a person must have the drive and focus to do things and must be willing to work.”