Fueled with imagination, a keen sense of geometric proportion and a drive to experiment, the builders of this year's Lego Train Show have come up with moving displays that will take up nearly all of the floor space at Cantigny Park's Visitors Center in Wheaton.
"There are a lot of train clubs that build a city or a farm," said Jamie LeBlanc, president of the Northern Illinois Lego Train Club, producers of the show that runs Saturday and Sunday. "We decided to allow club members to kind of do whatever they want to do."
If you goWhat: 14th Annual Lego Train Show
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12 and 13
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Cost: Free park admission; $5 parking fee, waived with donation to Toys for Tots
Info: www.cantigny.org and (630) 668-5161
LeBlanc describes the club's 14th show at the Wheaton park as "one gigantic, eclectic train world."
While there will be skyscrapers and towns fashioned from Lego bricks, he said, visitors also may see train exhibits that have a familiar, topical theme, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter.
New this year, he said, is a 25-foot-long amusement park created with Legos. "All the lights are working and all that crazy stuff," he said.
That's one of a handful of exhibits that have all the elaborate scenery but no trains. There also will be a huge castle, a project that presented a transportation challenge for its builder.
"He actually went out and bought a used U-Haul truck," LeBlanc said.
A separate exhibit will be on display in Cantigny's First Division Museum. It's a 26-foot model of the USS Missouri battleship, the world's largest Lego battleship, created by designer Daniel Siskind of Brickmania, a company that makes custom Lego kits.
LeBlanc said Lego builders often incorporate little sight gags in their creations. One example is the staging of an accidental collision between two doughnut trucks.
"We like to see how people react," he said.
Detail is also intrinsic to the design, be it using a kit to create a flickering campfire or blinking Christmas lights on a Lego evergreen.
LeBlanc has been a Lego fanatic for decades.
"I got my first Lego set in 1974 when I was 6 years old," he said.
Building Lego replicas gives builders a chance to be original, he said.
"It's the creativity aspect," he said. "It allows us to use that other side of our brain."
He said it's difficult to pick a favorite project because the newest venture is always top of his mind.
"I have a 1950s diner that I really enjoy. It has a black-and-white tile floor," he said of one of his most memorable projects that he may pull out of retirement one day.
Durability is an issue often raised by spectators, he said.
"Most people are like, 'Is it glued?' Nothing is glued. We drop it, it goes all over the place. So we don't drop a lot of things," he said.
LeBlanc said there are no plans available to guide builders.
"It's literally us looking at pictures and using our imaginations," he said.
Visitors who want to learn more about how to engineer their own Lego creations can attend free engineering classes from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday in the McCormick Museum Gold Theatre.
Admission to the train show is free, but there is a $5 parking fee per vehicle. The parking fee will be waived for visitors bringing a new, unwrapped toy for donation to the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots charity drive.
For a fee of $25 for adults and $18 for children ages 3 through 12, the park offers a Lego Train Show Party from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday. The party includes refreshments, a souvenir Lego mini figure and another opportunity to meet with builders. Tickets must be purchased in advance at www.cantigny.org.
There also will be a Brunch with the Grinch buffet in the Red Oak Room at Cantigny Golf, 27W270 Mack Road, at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. seatings. The event includes an appearance by the Grinch and a screening of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for ages 4-10. Call (630) 260-8194.