For Steve Demlow, building Lego-based displays requires a certain amount of “selective compression.”
“You try to capture the essence of whatever it is that you’re building,” he said.
Demlow’s take on the METRO Blue Line and Northstar Commuter Rail Line do just that. His custom-built models – part of a sweeping set of intricate displays at Minneapolis-based Brickmania – deftly mimic their life-sized counterparts.
With seating for up to 14 Lego "minifigs," Demlow’s light rail train includes carefully-crafted details, such as the hangers that connect the vehicle to overhead power lines (known as pantographs). The star and other graphic elements have been crafted into the Northstar train. Both trains are powered around miniature tracks by small motors.
Demlow came up with the design for the light rail train on his own almost ten years ago and worked with his son Nathan on the Northstar model last year. Demlow said developing the models required a complex combination of pieces and a fair amount of "noodling" over several months.
Between four train cars, a locomotive and a model of Target Field Station, the Northstar display includes more than 7,000 Lego pieces. Each train car holds 44 unique figures (a cow is squeezed into the second floor, just one of many whimsical elements in the displays).
While copying the designs would be tough, Demlow has distilled his Blue Line model train down to a more manageable 90-piece set. When assembled, the small-scale version can be used as a holiday ornament.
Though Demlow could have used his longtime love for Lego bricks to recreate virtually anything, he said he wanted to highlight Metro Transit’s trains because they are such familiar sights for local residents. Among a dizzying array of models on display at Brickmania, the blue, yellow and red trains instantly stand out to visitors.
“There’s a lot for people to look at and it can be pretty visually overwhelming,” said Demlow, a member of the Greater Midwest Lego Train Club. “That’s why I like to build local stuff that people recognize. The trains are obviously a key piece of the community.”
The light rail train Demlow developed bears the Hiawatha branding which has now been replaced by the Blue Line moniker. Demlow said he hopes to create a new version with the updated design elements ahead of the METRO Green Line’s opening next year.
The trains can be seen at Brickmania Toyworks, 1620 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis. Free open houses are held the second Saturday of every month between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and the first Thursday of every month between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. There will be two additional open houses from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7 and Saturday, Dec. 21.
A replica of the light rail train Demlow created earlier this year can also be seen on display at Commuter Connection’s downtown Minneapolis store, located in the US Bank Plaza’s Skyway level at 220 S. Sixth St., Suite 230.
The 90-piece light rail kits are available for purchase at both Brickmania and Commuter Connection.