Thursday, May 10, 2007

One Track Mind

I always have a tough time explaining to my wife why I like Lego Trains. I guess it's because Lego trains tantalize the standard male brain. The link doesn't seem to be valid anymore but I have a saved copy of the article.

My sons and I saw a wonderland the other day, an eye-popping place where tiny trains snaked around scale-model skyscrapers and silos, steeples and suspension bridges.

And everything was made of Lego blocks.

"This is so cool," enthused 8-year-old Jake, as his little brother Luke let out a yelp.

My wife's reaction, though, was a bit more reserved at the National Train Show, held over the weekend in Philadelphia.

"What is it about the male mind?" asked Julie -- sadly, not for the first time.

Now, in fairness, she enjoyed the show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center -- especially the 8,000-square-foot Lego landscape, made of more than 2 million plastic pieces.

I mean, who can resist the lure of Legomotives as they chug past a hobbyist's painstaking version of downtown Columbus, Ohio, or an almost-8-foot model of a Detroit high-rise?

And you have to admire the architectural daring that adorns an office building's roof with a little plastic sniper -- who's about to be netted by Spiderman.

"I didn't know you could do that with Legos," my wife allowed at one point.

But I could hear the sentiment left unsaid:

"Or why you'd want to."

And at that point, she didn't even know about the guy who spent $17,000 to create a building out of Lego blocks in a particularly hard-to-find color.

The crowd was mostly male, of course, and mesmerized by a show that marketed tiny palm trees, rubber rocks and something called Goo Gone to help clean your tracks.

Hey, you can't spell locomotive without loco.

A spokeswoman for the National Model Railroad Association, the show's nonprofit sponsor, had a theory.

"It's primarily engines," said Mary Sudasassi. "That kind of thing appeals to men -- anything that has a motor and a cool sound. And I think it has a lot to do with fathers handing it down to their sons."

As the mothers look on, bewildered.

Lego railroads have gathered steam in the past decade, said Steve Barile of Portland, Ore., president of the International Lego Train Club Organization.

"Our club numbers keep increasing worldwide," said Barile, whose group has about 340 members in 34 organizations. (My favorite club is Michiana, which was made by snapping southern Michigan onto northern Indiana.)

These guys, and a few women, spend lots of time and money on their hobby -- and they follow some strict rules.

"We don't glue or paint anything and we don't cut the pieces," said Paul Janssen, 38, of Dublin, Ohio, a Lego modeler who is an assistant professor of cardiovascular physiology at Ohio State University. "That's part of the challenge."

"Some people have money and space, so they'll store their buildings," added Janssen, whose name tag is made of multi-colored Legos. "Others just tear them down and build something else."

Oh, there's one more explanation for all this -- from my wife.

"The trains go around in circles and they spin their wheels a lot," she observed after we had been gawking for more than hour. "And they have lots of near-misses and occasional derailments -- just like you."

Wow. She finally gets it.

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