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A Q&A with the man who built the Hiawatha Line trains — out of Lego

Steve Demlow is a member of the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club and a software engineer at 3M.

Courtesy of Stubble

Steve Demlow is a member of the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club and a software engineer at 3M.

Stubble: How did you go about designing the Hiawatha Line model you’re selling today?
Steve: Well, I had built a larger 2 foot model of it, so from that I had a pretty good idea of what it was supposed to look like. We wanted to make a smaller one that we could sell because people were asking if they could buy it. Then it’s just a matter of trial and error to find something that fits the scale and holds together well enough and looks decent.

Stubble: What about trains interest you?
Steve: I’m part of a group called the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club and our main focus is we have a Lego model train layout that’s about, what is it now, 18×12 feet or so and we’re always adding on to that. We especially like to build local things to add to the model: the Hiawatha when it came out, the Northstar line when it came out, we built the Blue Line when it came out. We’ve built some other local train stuff too.

Stubble: Has anyone from Metro Transit ever seen your work?
Steve: Yeah, there’s a group called the Minneapolis Commuter Connection, it’s an offshoot of the government somehow, but they stock our little models in their skyway store. I have talked to a few people from Metro Transit who buy them and like them. I’ve been to a couple of local train events where a some of the Northstar engineers have come up to my models and played with it so that’s cool.

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Stubble: You know, I didn’t even realize that there was a community of adult Lego builders locally, what’s the scene like?
Steve: The group that I’m a part of has been in the Twin cities for over 20 years. It’s actually the oldest known adult Lego club. There are a lot of them around the world, probably hundreds. Ours is still a fairly small group, but there are a few other Lego enthusiast groups who do similar things. One group is actually doing a show at SpringCon right now. I think I know of 60-80 adults involved in a sort of organized level. We get people who come in and say too that they like to build at home a lot, but aren’t really part of a group.

Stubble: What happens in a Lego club? Trading skills and swapping parts, just trading Lego lore?
Steve: It’s all of that, you get everything from people who are collectors who just buy the sets and maybe put them together to sit on a shelf, then there are the people who are really hardcore into building their own stuff and everything in between. Some are interested in just the parts, some are interested in the techniques, some are into what the Lego company is doing and what’s coming out that’s new. I will say that one focus of the group is coming together so that they can build collaborative displays. Some all build together and others are more fluid, they’ll say OK you build this section, you build this section and we’ll put them together and then people have their own stand alone model that they display too.

Stubble: Last question, what was the first Lego kit that you ever had. Do you remember it?
Steve: Oh absolutely. The first Lego kit that I ever had my grandparents bought it for me when I was four years old at at Wollworths in Michigan where I grew up. It was a little 20 piece set called a bucket loader. A little blue tractor with a red bucket on the front, so that was pretty cool.

Stubble: Did you feel the electricity?
Steve: As a four year old, I wouldn’t say it happened then. But the following Christmas, the same grandparents got me a much larger Lego set and that was a farm. It had the old figures from the 1970s, and that I played with all throughout my childhood. It was kind of the core of my Lego collection. After that I loved Lego.

This post was written by Tom Johnson and originally published on Stubble. Follow Stubble on Twitter: @stubblemag.

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