Cantigny hosts annual Lego Train Show
Star Wars Storm Troopers sipping coffee on the way to work and Batman riding a colorful bicycle aren't scenes from the iconic films.
But they are snapshots from a complex display constructed from millions of little bricks by the Northern Illinois Lego Train Club. The group will be returning to Wheaton's Cantigny Park Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10-11, for its Lego Train Show, an event that attracted more than 6,000 visitors last year.
About 20 builders are competing for the biggest laugh when they infuse their space in the display with humorous vignettes.
"A lot of us put in a lot of goofy things," Northern Illinois Lego Train Club President Jamie LeBlanc said. "Stupid things that would never happen, we have happen."
Each builder plunders their own private collection for a display inspired by more than a cityscape and Lego train.
"God only knows," LeBlanc said when asked how many Lego bricks he's amassed.
LeBlanc got his first Lego kit when he was 6, "a little, itty bitty ambulance and emergency helicopter."
His mom wanted him to have a toy that would spur his creativity and wouldn't fall apart. Ever since, LeBlanc receives plastic bricks for Christmas and his birthday.
"I've got more Legos than most people," the 43-year-old said.
LeBlanc, the Virgil village board president and a production planner at a tech company, said most of the builders use the club as an outlet to test their imagination. He estimated about 90 percent of the display originates in each builder's mind instead of in a kit.
"It's endless," LeBlanc said. "You can do whatever you want."
And their designs garner immediate oohs and ahs from kids and adults.
"Everybody at one point has played with Legos," LeBlanc said. "You're never too old to play with Legos."
The challenge is manipulating and staggering the square bricks into familiar shapes, like the more than 9-foot-tall Willis Tower looming in the display.
"Most people think you just stack the bricks on top of each other," LeBlanc said.
It's part of an effort that has builders planning months in advance. On Friday, the builders will work from 9 a.m. until close to midnight to create the display. A Plexiglass wall will protect that work from prying fingers.
"Some of the worst offenders are the adults," LeBlanc said.
The show expanded last year, using more space in Cantigny's Visitors Center to accommodate the Lego fans.
"It's really come from a very generic show to taking a lot of time," LeBlanc said.
Cantigny Director of Visitor Services Laura Evans said Lego enthusiasts can interact with the builders at a party from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday in honor of the show's 10th year at Cantigny.
"People are just so fascinated by the display," Evans said. "They are so intricate that you really need to take it in. There are so many details."
Some of those details feature scenes from movies and television shows. A self-described "history buff," LeBlanc plans to mesh in a military tribute.
Connecting all that are Lego trains choo-chooing through the entire display.
Outside, a trackless train will whiz around the Visitors Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Ride tickets are $1 each or free for kids younger than 2.
Tickets for the party are $12 for adults and $7 for children ages 3 to 12. They are limited to the first 250 people and are available at www.cantigny.org or at (630) 260-8162.
The train show is free with a $5 parking fee. Cantigny will waive the fee if an unwrapped, new toy is donated to the Marine Toy for Tots drop boxes inside the Visitors Center.
And when the crowds arrive, LeBlanc appreciates their reaction.
"Especially when it comes to the jokes," he said.
If you goWhat: Lego Train Show When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10-11. Lego Train Show party 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Where: Cantigny Park Visitors Center, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Cost: Tickets for the party are $12 for adults and $7 for children ages 3 to 12. The train show is free with a $5 parking fee. Cantigny will waive the fee if an unwrapped, new toy is donated to the Marine Toy for Tots drop boxes inside the Visitors Center.
Info: http://www.cantigny.org/ or (630) 260-8162