Preparation for Fanwelt 2014 is in high gears now. This year the exhibition will have a smaller area, but hopefully there will be enough space to showcase our planed layout. In the next weeks more photos will come about our progress. Currently most of the modules are storage.
When I was a child we had a card game with pictures and some information of trains. The value of a card was the maximum speed of the train. The highest value card was the french orange colored TGV. This year LEGO released a new creator train set based on this train. Last year I got very excited when I first heard about this set. In January I received one as present and I also bought a second to be able to build a full proper length train.
The building was fun. The set also has some new parts, like inverted tile. I didn't have time to motorize yet, because at the moment it's exhibited on a self in my office. Once I'm finished building my modular tracks with bedding I will try it out at home on a big layout with digital control.
One year from now when it's get discounted I will probably buy more and keep it in original box as investment :)
Last year I went as a first time exhibitor to the four day long Fanwelt 2012 LEGO show in Cologne. I registered a 7m x 2.5m area for my LEGO train layout which is quite large considering I only come out of my LEGO "dark age" in 2012.
For transportation I asked my friend to help. We rented a van and drove to Cologne one day before the show. At Cologne I also had help from my mom who came for the whole duration of the show. She is not an experienced LEGO builder, but it would have been impossible to do everything alone for such a large exhibition area.
We arrived around 1pm to the exhibition hall and had until 10pm to build. It was quite a challenge considering I didn't have time to finish everything at home. We had a few boxes just with bags of different bricks and base plates.
At the end the layout was a last minute simplified fallback solution with four independent circles. This also made it easier to power the trains with separate digital boosters.
On the two large circles there was three-three trains running simultaneously. The switches were motorized and remote controlled, but I didn't have time to automate the process. It needed human interaction to switch to other trains. In total I built 18 trains from which 8 was running all the time.
During the 9 hours we managed to unpack and build something working. At the end we were also surprised how far we got. There were some flaws like not being able to cover the tables with base plates at some areas, but the trains were running and we were ready for the exhibition opening on the next morning. Some details like flowers and trees were added later during the show.
On the whole trip we had little time to sleep. Each morning waking up around 7am, having breakfast and heading to the exhibition. During the days I was mostly busy managing the trains, answering visitor questions. My mom helped with guarding, moral support and lot of smaller tasks. She also added the finishing details like the trees, flowers and minifigs. Each evening we went to the hotel, eat dinner, had beer with other exhibitors. On Saturday we went to the AFOL evening with all the other exhibitors.
Additionally at nights I was programming in my hotel room. The first day it took all my focus to control each train because I only had a simple command line application and had to adjust manually the speed of each locomotive to keep a distance. On the last day I was able to use my iPad as user interface and had two RFID sensors to automate the speed adjustments. It made a huge difference.
The organizing was great. For a smaller fee we had lunch and some cookies at the exhibition in a separated area. Only minus was the hotel being very far away. It took around half hour by car, but at least it was cheap and there was an organized bus transporting us in the morning and evening. Basically I never had to go outside of the exhibition hall or hotel. I had no time to visit Cologne as a tourist :)
On the weekend we had lot of visitors. Many times they completely surrounded our tables. Compared to other exhibitors our creation was not as detailed and finished, but kids loved the eight trains running simultaneously in this relatively small area. This was only possible thanks to the digital controlling. Most popular were the two ICE trains.
All in all we had a great time and I consider it a big success. I thank all the Fanwelt organizers and helpers. I hope we can make it again next time in 2014 with a more detailed and fully automated creation.
End of summer 2012 I decided I want to build a huge train layout as exhibitor at LEGO Fanwelt 2012. It was an ambitious plan considering I never built a big layout and I was far from implementing the digital controlling system for the 9V LEGO trains. The preparation started slowly and got more and more intense getting closer to the deadline. I even took some days off from work just for building bricks. In almost every step of the process I underestimated the time required. Mainly because even if one step took 5-10mins you have to multiply this by 30 to 300 times depending the task. Like building 16 x 16 studs modular blocks or converting 9V motors.
After having some initial planing of the layout and the trains I knew I will need to order lot of bricks from bricklink to be able to fill the 7m x 2.5m area I registered for. I also wanted to have track bedding under each train rails and also build some discontinued modular houses like the Green Grocer and Cafe Corner. Soon I realized this will be a huge order from many-many bricklink shops. I even made a small software to optimize my order for the best price.
For two weeks I was receiving smaller and larger packages from almost 40 bricklink shops. Afterwards I realized that one mistake I made was to order one type of brick from multiple shops when the price was small. This made the package verification and sorting much much slower because of the high number of lots.
I also bought lot of 9V train motors which needed cleaning and converting to be used with digital decoders. Even today I'm not finished this task for all my 9V motors. I will write a detailed post about this process later.
Another problem I faced was my fingers not being able to keep up with building. I needed to build hundreds of different sized modular blocks for rails, switches or just plain fields. At the end it hurt putting together two bricks. So I started using gloves.
As I mentioned earlier everything took more time as planed. I only had just a few weeks before the show when all the bricklink orders arrived. I started building the trains and tried also to make at least a few own creations. The most successful was the basic train station with windows. I also gave some original modular house sets to friends so they would build it for me. Vickey even came to visit me in Germany to help out on a long weekend. It was great fun!
In the end I had to simplify my layout track plan, I gave up building some modular houses and could not finish all the modular blocks. I didn't want to use expensive proprietary commercial digital control centers so I had to write build one and write my own software. The first "command line" version was ready on the last weekend and was only tested with one locomotive at a time. It was a big gamble if it could even work at the show in large scale.
In my next post I will write about the Fanwelt 2012 show as my first exhibition. It was a great experience!