Lego Lends a Hand to First Night Columbus

In Lego-speak, they call them "the dark ages," explained Paul Janssen. The 42-year-old father of three and Ohio State University associate professor of physiology said that among Lego enthusiasts, the ages between 16 and 24 are when most of them stopped playing with the famous interlocking plastic bricks.

"Then people get jobs," Janssen said, "and have some extra money and get re-involved."

Janssen, a native of Holland, said it took cleaning out his parents' attic a decade ago to reignite his passion for Lego. He grew up right next door to Denmark where Lego started making wooden toys in 1932. The plastic bricks were first manufactured in 1958 and no model has ever become obsolete: The bricks manufactured in the beginning still fit with the bricks made today.

"I was moving to the U.S. and my parents said, 'Hey, why don't you take all your stuff out of the attic and take it with you?' I found all my Lego bricks and that same year, eBay really took off so it was easy to find more pieces that way."

Janssen is now president of the Central Ohio Lego Train Club, a group of about 30, mostly adult Lego collectors who lend their building talents and supplies to numerous events around the area each year.

Their next big display will be at COSI Dec. 4-11, and they'll participate in the big model-train event at the Greater Columbus Convention Center Jan. 8-9. The club also has a presence at the Ohio State Fair every year.

"It says 'Lego Train Club,' but it's basically Lego everything club," Janssen said of the eight-year-old group.

They have a junior division for teens, ages 16 and older, but Janssen said the group's intent is not to instruct children. The Lego store at Easton Town Center provides Saturday morning meetings during the year for that. The grownups just want to trade building bricks and tips.

Many group members enjoy building models of existing buildings, usually on a 1:200 or 1:100 scale. Janssen has created models of the Ohio Statehouse and COSI building. Many others enjoy making train sets.

This year, as in years past, the club will contribute about 50 pounds of bricks to the organizers of First Night Columbus for a children's activity area at Veteran's Memorial. And who knows? Maybe some of those kids will grow up to play with Legos - just like the grownups!