Yes ... I am an AFOL

Martin Lanser

OK ... It's time to fess up: I'm an Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL)! Big time AFOL! "Big time" as in I can spend hours "playing" with Lego, and as in having already spent way too much money on those small plastic bricks. Yes, I'm too far gone - I've lost my soul to tiny colorful plastic bricks.

OK ... It's time to fess up: I'm an Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL)! Big time AFOL! "Big time" as in I can spend hours "playing" with Lego, and as in having already spent way too much money on those small plastic bricks. Yes, I'm too far gone - I've lost my soul to tiny colorful plastic bricks.

But how did this madness begin? Was there a gateway drug? memories from my childhood? And how could this go so wrong so fast? Well, it began in the early 70's. I was young and impressionable ... scratch that ... I was a curious little kid who always disassembled all his toys. Why? Because I wanted to see what was inside, how they worked, and, well, because :)

At some point my mother decided that it'd be smarter to just let me play with Lego. Of course, back then Lego was not as sophisticated as it is today, but I still built huge cranes, cars, and trains. I spent hours every day in my world of plastic bricks. Before school. After school. All the time. And I absolutely loved it!

My engine shed from above

It all ended when I was 10 or so and was sent to bording school ... in another country! That's also when I entered into what we AFOLs call the "Dark Ages" -- the time when we stopped playing with Lego as kids, and didn't start again until we were grown-up. Sure, for a while I played with other toys like Matador, Fisher Technic, and Meccano. But it wasn't the same.

Fast forward a few decades. My own children were still young when I tried to get them excited about Lego. Of course, at this point Lego had developed quite a bit and I found the new sets fascinating and a lot of fun. My older daughter was less excited, and while my younger daughter hung on a bit longer. But it was clear that the true Lego fanatic was me.

There were a few years with some timid attempts at getting a hobby going, but ... well, life happened. Then, a few years ago, I started to get interested in and robotics and wanted something to play around with.

As a programmer, I wanted learn how to control mechnical devices, and perhaps even build a fully functional model of a 6-axis industrial robot. And as so many crazy adventures begin, I started to search for robotics on the interwebs. Very quickly I fell down into a giant rabbit hole with sophisticated Lego scale models remote controlled via Bluetooth. There were large-scale and super-detailed trucks and trains and cranes and robots and completely crazy and incredibly complex contraptions.

Probably not cheaper than therapy, but definitely a lot more fun!

I found websites sites dedicated to custom designs with professional building instructions, online marketplaces for Lego bricks, user groups and conferences and CAD software and so much more. There were themes and specialty interests with an infinite number of sub-groups and on and on. This was a whole new world! And best of all, there were lots of grown-ups. Yes, I had found my tribe!

And like a child in a candy store, I wanted it all! I started to buy various Technic sets, but it wasn't very satisfactory. The more sets I bought, the stronger the urge to get off the beaten path and start building very complex custom designed models.

My engine shed from above

My day-job includes lots of travel, but also lots of time spent on endless conference calls. And with the siren song of the interwebs luring me deeper and deeper into the world of expert MOC builders like Ingamr Spijkhoven, M1longer, and others. I didn't stand a chance! In quick succession I purchased my first set of professional grade instructions for a few trucks, set up accounts on BrickLink and BrickOwl, and started buying Lego parts like crazy.

There was no holding me back now! I had waited years for this and ... well, let's just say I felt I had some catching up to do! My first truck was scale 1:18 and had some 2,800 Lego bricks -- trust me, that's a pretty big truck! I added my own trailer with container that in itself was well over 2" long.

The truck was, of course, motorized. I rebuilt it a few times in different color schemes and finally settled on a blue and yellow scheme. Then followed a wheel loader in the same scale which was also motorized and remote-controlled from my phone using 2 Sbrick modules. Then we had a few excursions into pneumatics, robotics, and other stuff.

During my online travels through Lego wonderland I also came across incredibly detailed Lego trains. And having had a soft spot in my heart for trains since I was a little kid, I, of course, had to build a train.

Now, the world of Lego scale vehicles is already wonderfully insane. But the world of Lego trains takes insanity to a whole new level, and, of course, I love it!

Lego trains take up quite a bit of space, and many fellow train nerds therefore join clubs where they can meet and bring their sections and put them together to create giant layouts.

Of course, for that to work, the community has had to work out a standard for these modules so that they can be connected, and thus the MILS standard was born! This concept is so much like the concept of APIs in the software world and it's absolutely phenomenal.

On top of that, one also has to decide what scale to build one's trains in. The trains that come with standard Lego sets are 6 studs wide, but that is actually a bit too small when compared to the size of so-called Lego mini-figures.

My engine shed from above

Lego nerds being nerds, they have, of course, created metrics, sizes and guidelines. The end-result is that American style trains look more proportionally correct if they're 8 studs wide. Naturally that makes the models much larger, but the overall effect is a lot less toy-like.

Right away I decided to build all my modules using the MILS standard, and I settled for 8 studs as the proper width for my rolling stock. My first engine was a custom version of an EMD SW1200 diesel switcher.

I also built several rail cars, laid tracks on a table next to my desk. Added on to that table. Started to route the tracks beyond that table and onto my desk ... yes, it's so difficult to stop once you get started!

Then I added a large warehouse with gantry crane and loading docks. And landscaping. And an engine shed. And more tracks. And lots more details. And ... and ... and.

Yes, I'm beyond help at this point and I love every minute of it!

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