My LEGO Story

The Early Years

Like most American boys of my generation (I was born in 1971), I grew up with LEGO. I can’t really remember for sure what my first LEGO set was, but there were a few that stand out as highlights from my childhood. I have vague memories of playing with some of these sets at various points, and still have most of the parts from them. Two sets that stand out from my early childhood were 430 Biplane and 456 Spirit of St. Louis. I also had a number of the pre-minifig sets, such as 550 Windmill, 580 Gravel Quarry, and 485 Fire Truck. Those sets all came out in 1975 when I was 4 years old, so they must have been some of my very earliest LEGO sets. It’s hard to imagine a 4-year-old playing with the Gravel Quarry, though!

When the minifigure came out in 1978, I was just the perfect age for it (7). I dove headfirst into the Classic Space theme and every birthday and Christmas would pester my parents for years to get me those. My favorite set from that era was 497 Galaxy Explorer, which I got for Christmas in 1979.

But then, as is very common, other things became interesting to me: mostly computer programming. I started playing with Commodore PET computers at school in 1981 and got my first computer, a VIC-20, in 1982. I was writing simple BASIC programs but had little enthusiasm for video games. I later got a 64 and then a 128. I look back now and see that the skills I developed playing LEGO translated into programming for me. Just like LEGO bricks can fit together in a certain number of ways and you can create structures to achieve a particular aim by putting them together, software instructions can be assembled to create a program. I tell parents this all the time, encouraging them to get their kids working with LEGO…

The Dark Ages

So as I became a teenager, the LEGO was played with less and less. I kept it around, but rarely if ever did anything with it. At some point I think it was boxed up and put in the basement. Luckily for me, my mother insisted on keeping all my LEGO – she figured it would be for her grandchildren, but little did she know…

The First Awakening

One day in 1993 I was shopping one day at Game-Alot, a toy store in downtown Santa Cruz, and they had some new LEGO space sets that caught my attention, in the Ice Planet 2002 line. I bought the big Deep Freeze Defender set.

I asked my mother for my LEGO collection, and started playing LEGO Space again, building a few spaceships of the kind I had made in my early teen years. However, that didn’t really “stick” as a hobby. Since I didn’t know anyone else who was into LEGO as a hobby, and if there was any online LEGO community I didn’t know about it, I wasn’t really challenged to do anything more with it and put it away shortly thereafter. Anyway, 1993 was the year I was graduating college and entering the workforce so I had more important things to worry about.

AFOL At Last

In 2000, Eric Harshbarger’s LEGO Desk was featured on Slashdot. My brother-in-law Jim, living in Japan, saw it and sent me the link, having heard about my previous interest in LEGO. I went over to Eric’s site and looked at some of his other creations that he had done at that time, such as the Tux the Linux Penguin and Alice from “Alice in Wonderland”, and thought “Hmm, I could do that.”

I went to Toys-R-Us and bought a bunch of the 3033 tubs at $20 each (some of them on sale for $15 as I recall) and started building. At that time, I had been watching a lot of Pokémon videos, collecting the VHS tapes at flea markets and such, and so I built a few sculptures of Pokémon creatures. First I built a pokeball (having heard that LEGO Master Builders are challenged with the task of building a sphere from basic bricks, I decided to try it), and then I built Pikachu, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle.

I’m not quite sure where I first heard about LUGNET or BayLUG, but I did, and started spending a lot of time online at the LUGNET forums for various themes, and going to BayLUG meetings. My first BayLUG meeting was in March 2001 and I brought my Pokémon.

In September of 2001, shortly after 9/11, I was laid off from my job. I spent six weeks hunting for a new job, and at the same time working on a new model, the PB4Y-2 Privateer which my dad had flown in the Navy in the Korean War. His health was failing at that time, and I was building the model as a way of trying to reconnect with him. As it turns out, he never did get to see the model. He died in early November of 2001, a few days after I started work at Oracle. I brought the finished plane to his memorial service, though, and many of his Navy buddies were there and said nice things about it.

In 2009, I got together with a few local AFOLs here in the bay area and started a new non-profit organization, Bricks by the Bay, Inc. and started planning our first convention. We raised funds from BayLUG members and booked the hotel for our first convention in April 2010, and have been having them every year ever since. In addition to Bricks by the Bay, I’m also a regular attendee of BrickCon in Seattle, and occasionally visit other conventions such as Brickworld in Chicago.

–Bill.

26 thoughts on “My LEGO Story

  1. Hello Bill,

    I’ve been browsing around and love your awesome Lego pictures and creations. I was wondering do you have blue prints of some of your builds that I can have. I am starting to get back into Legos and wanted to imitate some creations that have been made by others first. I totally understand if you don’t want to release the build prints. Thanks for keeping me entertain with the pictures.

    Sincerely,
    Jimmy

  2. Dear Bill:

    In selling Building instructions—the main problem is, Once you sell one copy–it’s out there–and the buyer can tweak it a little and then re-sell it. Or just re-sell it right away…

    I’d recommend small simple sales for not a lot of money–to individuals. Sell a copy of “How to Build This Box Car”, for example.
    Or a “How to Build Micro Tower of the Empire State Building.” Specialties like those would interest me as a buyer. And especially to me, as someone who doesn’t speak L-draw, or as someone who does NO designing on computer……

    If these “sets” were put in a box with bricks, how much would they sell for? As Lego Sets, they’d have one price. As Lego Architecture sets—double it. As Custom Created-by-fans lego sets (Like that guy in the Northwest who created The Blacksmith’s shop) they’d have another price.

    Why not put together some instructions for one of your more requested sets and try it out?

    Good Luck

    And add me to your list of Fans.

    Rich Levier
    Los Angeles

  3. Thanks! That pretty well captures the issues… I think the problem is I’m too much of a perfectionist – if I do something I want to do it “right” the first time.

  4. I am an adult builder, but not highly creative. I own a lot of kits, however. One thing I have always wished Lego would come out with is a travel trailer. I just recently bought the motorhome they came out with. I am very impressed with your Shasta trailer, and I seem to remember another one I saw on your site a while back. Do you have the plans for the trailer that you are willing to sell? Thanks :)

  5. I am searching for a lego designer to design a piece in memory of my late husband, so that my kids can build it. We know what we want to build, but don’t have the skills to design it. Please let me know if you’re interested. Thank you –

  6. Hi Bill,

    I was wondering if you or anyone you know coach or mentor young kids 10 – 13 years old to do the FLL Lego robotics in the Bay area? I live in Fremont.

    I desperately need some connections to others with similar interests for my son. Please reply soon either way.

    Thank you very much.

    Michelle

  7. Hi Bill
    I am putting together a 12v grey lego layout. I have come across some grey curve conduct pieces that have a small plate on the bottom. I have found a code and descipition for these on bricklink, but no info on them or what they are used for? would you know or how i could use them?
    Part no: 3241c Train, Track 12V Conducting Rail Curved, interference-free.

    Thankyou

    Alby

  8. Hi Bill–
    I came across pictures of the haunted house you created and am interested in purchasing instuctions for the house, gravestones, tree, etc. I would be interested i buying the model, if possible. Can you let me know the pricing.

    Thanks–
    Dean

  9. Sorry, I didn’t create any haunted house. You are probably talking about the house designed by Kenny Paul that was on display in our window in the LEGO store a few years ago, I think…?

  10. Hi

    i am trying to build lifesize starwars figures – R2D2, vader etc – I have a lifesize Jango fett that I bought – but am finding very difficult to follow the design as it is so well built. I have been stock piling lego bricks and have loads for the project but I dont know where I can purchase designs/instructions that I can buy – any help would be great

  11. Good luck with that! You’ll need tons of bricks to make it work. The life size model you have (where did you get it? I assume it was made by LEGO master builders as a promotional display?) probably has a steel skeleton holding it up, and is probably glued, so you’ll have a hard time copying it.

    I’d suggest you start making a small model and then scale it up from there. You will have to come up with the design yourself – but that’s the most fun part of LEGO anyway isn’t it?

  12. Hi Bill,

    I am a lego novice and new in Lego. Been buying sets all the time. I want to try to create my own. Can you recommend where to start buying Lego in Bulk quantity ?

  13. Hi everyone,

    Does anyone know if replacement Ninjago parts can be found anywhere? I have a very sad boy who just lost a piece to a brand new set down an elevator shaft.

    Thanks for any info or suggestions you have. You can email me at lynne(at)lynnemcintyre(dot)com

  14. So I get this announcement from My sons school that play well Tek is starting a lego engineering after school program so I click on the site to reg my 5 yo. Since he loves legos and makes the MOST amazing lego creations on a daily basis and who’s name pops up? Non other than Bill Ward !! One of my favorite big “kids” that I share another hobby with! Too cool !!!!!!!

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