The LEGO Train Hobby: Running in Autistic Mode

Where you have a "condition" you will find degrees of it manifest in people on a spectrum, such as a political spectrum, or the autism spectrum, which was the first spectrum I learned of. The social worker I saw when I was a teenager thought I might be on the autism spectrum, but it turned out I was just bitter and particular.

The condition of being someone who builds trains out of LEGO is quite the condition. I can speak to this because it is a condition that I have co-opted myself after spending too much of the money I earned from my summer internship on LEGO pieces that will go into a train.

Let me exemplify one such spectrum: Cale Leiphart, who seemed jolly when I met him at Brickworld and builds big, wide steam locomotives. They you have Matty, who seems grumpy online and builds small, narrow diesel locomotives. You may decide who is good, and who is evil. It's a spectrum!

A spectrum.

Another spectrum central to the LEGO hobby in general, not just local to train builders, is the purity spectrum. The absolute purist builds exclusively with stock LEGO parts. Most builders probably lean toward the pure end. Many would say that is where the fun lies, and what differentiates the LEGO hobby from doing other shit. It's hard to imagine what an absolute hacker would be like. There used to be a space builder who did hacks, but he passed away.


Nnenn adopted the rubber band holder as his icon. The rubber band holder was packaged with sets from LEGO and even has some technic-compatible geometry, but was not used in completed stock models. It feels foreign to the touch as the plastic it is molded from feels disposable. As an emblem, it spoke to where Nnenn was on the purity spectrum, as if to say, "You may find my practice alien, but space is full of aliens. Fuck you, space cowboy." RIP.

As a science fiction builder-hacker, Nnenn was an outlier. The train subspectrum of the LEGO hobby is likely situated more in the middle as LEGO has offered only so much to conduct a system for making toy trains. The aforementioned Leiphart has recently written to that.

If reading what nerds have to say as they squabble over arbitrary rules and styles sounds like a good time, you can read this facebook thread which prompted Cale's article. The Original Poster of that discussion, Mr. Moon, was getting burned for 3D printing a shell to house LEGO power functions components by the likes of folk who would petition LEGO to bring back monorails or operate unmodified Emerald Nights, and it is funny to read the more butthurt comments.  I have to say I liked Moon's rebuttle:
Now hold on. This group is far beyond just showing your creative concepts and building abilities. I see lots of people sharing their expensive Lego Train finds and lots of cool pics of layouts which were built following a booklet.
Good point, Moon. People who do inventive things, purely LEGO, hacks or otherwise, are smarter and cooler than people who just buy stock lego sets and keep them built per instruction booklet under the pretense of being creative. A more informed and less toxic discussion is happening here on Brick Model Railroader's facebook. You can find there opinions from people who actually matter, but perhaps less comedy.

 One good point made there by James Mathis was, "One word: Galidor"
The LEGO Galidor guy for McDonald's Happy Meals
Galidor is proof that unwavering obedience in a higher power, such as TLG, can lead to both light and darkness. Because Galidor was ass.

Back to the issue of LEGO purity and toy trains. Where do I stand? I fall into the aesthetically purist, but functionally experimental camp. I don't particularly romanticize the challenge of being limited by the LEGO part library. To me, the limitations of the LEGO system is just the sea in which I swim. It is only water, bro. Except it's plastic. Also, I do not take myself too seriously as a modeler. I like the way LEGOs look, feel and go together. The system provides ample possibilities to make good designed objects, but where it fails or is redundant, I am open to other options. I toyed with the idea of making balsa wood tracks to LEGO train gauge, here is the result:

To me, this is no worse than pushing a LEGO toy auto on a surface.

I made this video showing off a steam locomotive combination lever approximation using only official LEGO parts. I like it and think it's fun.  Someone else might have more fun with aftermarket accessories instead, but I am not them.
Purist combination lever

Depending where someone falls on any spectrum, you should respect their effort, unless they are not putting forth any, in which, ignore them.

Also, train people are big nerds who talk too much about nothing that important.

1 comment:

  1. Holy shit there's new(ish) content on Twee Affect?! I need to check back more often.

    Regarding the theme of the article, I also don't place too much weight on building "in system." I've cut pieces to get the desired effect once or twice and I'd use some of the cooler clone parts if I could source them. I think I saw enough of nnenn and DeCastro's stuff back in the day that it had a bit of an effect on how I view purism.