After my first experience with BrickFair over a five-day period, I must admit I am kicking myself, repeatedly and hard. For over half my life, this annual festival of Lego enthusiasts has taken place not 30 minutes from my house, and yet I had never bothered to attend, much less exhibit. Finally, that has changed!
Early in 2017, I made the decision to start participating in shows beyond the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum, which has been the only location to host public displays of my Lego trains since 2010. While checking the Dulles Expo Center calendar for the Greenberg Toy & Train Show dates, an event lined up for earlier in the month of August caught my eye. Scheduled for a total of five days, BrickFair not only hosted public hours on the weekend, but included two full days (plus an extra day for load-in) of private hours for AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) to socialize, shop, play games, share the MOCs they've built (Lego fan slang for My Own Creation, that is a custom build without official instructions) and generally enjoy the world of Danish building toys. I fired an email off to the show's organizer inquiring about space for larger train layouts, and received a very friendly response encouraging me to register my trains!
So began several months of planning, building and otherwise preparing a display layout larger than any public layout I've ever done. This layout required four 30x96" tables provided by the venue, as well as two 30x60" tables borrowed from friends. I spent a Saturday afternoon cutting some wood two-by-fours down into half-foot chunks to prop up all tables except one, giving me a low table for a sectional build of rockwork and rolling green hills. I built a truss bridge again so I could have a duckunder between tables, a highway overpass to serve as a scene divider, and I used up every available train wheelset I had to fill out my equipment roster. Even after loading in, I was still finishing display pieces at home before the public show hours began Saturday!
On Wednesday afternoon, I arrived and checked-in at the front desk, receiving my Lego name badge, a goodie bag, and directions to my floor space. Unloading the truck took several trips, after which I set to work assembling my layout. Because my display was positioned near the public entrance, I opted to construct a BrickFair VA sign to welcome visitors, which was one of the first display pieces to hit the table after the track was laid. Amazingly, my sectional scenery survived the journey from home intact, and most of my other structures only needed minor repairs before they were fit for presentation. By the time the opening ceremonies began at 6pm, I had been running trains for an hour, and already received many compliments from fellow AFOLs!
Most of Thursday was spent walking around the Expo center visiting other MOCs, punctuated by a couple of games and seminars. I entered the "First-Timer Parts Draft," in which participants unboxed a handful of new sets, sorted the pieces as a team, and then took turns selecting one Lot of a piece type to take home. This was my first experience sorting Lego with others, which was a chaotic, but fun experience. I also traded parts with a few players once we had run out of parts trays to choose from. Unsurprisingly though, there were many more parts to acquire at BrickFair; some sellers had set up open bins of loose bricks, encouraging shoppers to fill up ziploc sandwich-size bags for less than 10 dollars. Many other sellers had collectible minifigs, old sets, 3rd-party parts, and all sorts of memorabilia available for purchase. Towards the end of the night, I participated in the "Dirty Brickster" game, similar to White Elephant, except all the gifts are Lego-themed. Sadly, my gift was voted "crappiest gift," a bit insulting as I guarantee I put more thought and effort into that improved-color-palette ruler than anyone else did for their gift! FOUR BRICKLINK ORDERS to get all the right colors! But I digress...
Friday was my birthday, and what better way to spend my time than running trains all day! Well, I did break to get hot wings for lunch, and I attended a seminar called "Are You a LEGO Hoarder?" which became more of a support-group style discussion, in which we all earned custom bricks for our name badges by contributing stories about how we are, in fact, brick hoarders. Some of my favorite contributions include "If children are coming to my house that I don't trust around the Lego, I need two weeks advance notice to gather all the displays from around the house and hide them somewhere safe." "I have sets I haven't opened after buying them 25 years ago." "It's not hoarding as long as you aren't storing Lego in the kitchen or bathroom!" and my contribution "I found a box of bricks in my house and I have no idea where it came from."
I also spent a good chunk of Friday taking pictures and video of my layout, which can be viewed here:
You may have noticed in the pictures that there are stanchions around my layout. Due to the immense crowds (over 10,000 public visitors in two days, not to mentions the 1,000+ registered participants) the crowd-control barriers are a MUST at BrickFair... and what a dream they are! For the first time in my show career, I didn't have to say to EVERY child, EVERY minute "Don't touch! No touching, please!" The barriers did all that work for me. I also didn't have to excuse myself past a dozen dumbfounded members of the public every time a train derailed, I could simply walk around the layout unobstructed. My next three shows definitely won't have stanchions, but golly, I need to make that a permanent part of my public displays. I also purchased some black table skirts for this show, as most other display tables had enormous white tablecloths draped over them, which hid their transport boxes and personal belongings, giving the show a tidy appearance. This even prompted me to dedicate some of my plastic tote boxes to tablecloths, skirts, and accessories for those two things, something I will cover in a wrap-up blog post after my next two shows.
Outside of public hours, one of the other train groups at BrickFair hosted some train-themed games. On Friday night, we had the "Train Olympics, which included a strength test (won by a Lego N&W Y6b equipped with two XL Power Functions Motors, pulling 11.5 ounces, nearly twice the weight any other engine managed), a tug-of-war (again, won by the Y6b, although we tried three of my 9-volt engines against it, and for a moment they did well) and then a two-lap race around their oval-shaped layout. Saturday night was much more exciting, with the Train Demolition Derby. "Most Spectacular Crash" would be declared winner, so I entered a purpose-built train... well, when I say "train," what I mean is "glass box filled with loose parts that will fly everywhere on impact. I'd say it did rather well:
By Sunday, I was dead tired, as observed by a few friends who came to visit BrickFair. The five days of fun was fulfilling and rewarding (and I certainly collected a modest amount of swag, as shown in the picture below), but I was definitely ready to go home. Packing the layout went smoothly, and for the first time in my show career, I had empty boxes leftover at the end of packing! Typically, I bring an extra empty box in case I don't pack my things the same way I brought them, but this time I had box space leftover. How bizzare!
At the closing ceremonies, congratulations and thank-yous went all around. The Slade Child Foundation thanked us for helping to raise nearly 15,000 dollars (enough to feed, clothe and shelter 450 needy children for a year), we all expressed our gratitude to the event organizers, and the event organizers reminded us that WE made BrickFair possible by entering our MOCs for display. That being said, I choose to close out this blog with pictures of many creations entered by my fellow AFOLs. Already looking forward to seeing what we all come up with for next year!
Oh, and a disclaimer: I made a rookie mistake when photographing the MOCs of others, and failed to take down the name of the builders, so many of these pictures are without credit. If you know who is responsible for a given MOC, please don't hesitate to email me and let me know! I'll be doing research on my end as well, but I might not get them all.
Thanks for reading!