By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—Stepping foot into Spencer Johnson’s bedroom is like stepping into an art gallery of sorts. But instead of paintings or sculptures, the shelves of his room are filled with creations made from Legos, from depictions of movie scenes to battleships, to a replica of the International Space Station (ISS).
Johnson said he first got into Legos when he was in preschool after his parents got him a big tub of them.
The 17-year-old’s collection has grown quite a bit since then. He had no idea how many Legos he has, but it’s tens of thousands.
“In this alone is 2,000,” he said, pointing to a model of a rocket. “Each of those boats is probably close to 1,500.”
Some of his creations were built from kits, while others were builds he designed himself.
“I really like space stuff, so space sets like the Saturn V and the ISS I like, but I also really like designing stuff on my own, especially real-life stuff, like the two battleships over there or the two airplanes over there.”
When he’s trying to recreate something like a ship or a plane, he’ll base it off a photo, looking for pieces that match shapes and figuring out ways to put them together. His battleships and airplanes are some of his most complicated builds.
One of his self-designed battleships took two years to build, including planning.
“It started off me just trying to build a ship that was really big and it was about three feet by five feet,” he said. “I could break it off into two-foot sections. I ran out of pieces before I could even finish the bottom part, so I made it a little smaller, where it was about a foot-and-a-half by three feet.”
But he again ran out of pieces before finishing, so he shrunk it down again to about two-and-a-half feet long and a foot tall. It weighs 12 pounds and actually floats. He finally finished this project at the start of last summer and then he finished a second ship with similar dimensions by the end of the summer.
One of the planes he designed himself has retractable landing gear and another has a missile that goes inside.
Once he finishes projects like these, he’ll likes to keep fiddling with them, continuing to add or change things to make them better. Some of his projects go on display, while others get taken apart.
“It depends,” he said. “Sometimes I get a better idea. There’s some I build that I’ll then figure out something else I want to build, but there’s a piece I need for that that’s in something else.”
Johnson amassed his large collection of Legos through a combination of gifts and self-purchases.
“There’s a couple that I buy on my own, like the space stuff,” he said.
“He buys the more expensive stuff on his own,” his mother, Denny, said with a laugh.
Some of those space kits cost $100-$200, but it took Johnson less than an hour to put together the International Space Station and about two hours to build the Saturn V.
“I build fast,” he said.
He does follow the instructions when he’s building kits, but he said he often figures out better ways to build some of the details.
“If it’s a kit that I’m willing to spend 200 bucks on, it’s worth it to buy, build and let it set,” he said.
Johnson has a wish list of three Lego kits: the head of Venom, a Ford Mustang and a Lego Ideas space shuttle. This last one is no longer in production and is selling for $900, Johnson said.
“I’m never going to buy,” he said. “I’d be fine if someone buys it for me, but I’m never going to buy it.
“Dream on,” his mom laughed.
Building with Legos is a big hobby for Johnson, particularly last year when people had to stay home more during the pandemic. The amount of time he spends in a typical week on Legos is “too much to count,” but it’s less during the school year.
Johnson said his friends aren’t into Legos, but his younger brother, Adam, is. Denny noted that Adam’s Legos have a tendency to end up in Spencer’s room.
He’s been spreading his knowledge and love for Legos with other kids too, besides his brother. Last summer, Johnson led a weekly Lego building time at Halstead Public Library.
“That was fun, being able to guide kids along and give them ideas,” he said. “Plus, it gave me ideas.”
Most weeks he had about 20 kids. He expects to bring this back next summer.
Johnson is between projects right now and trying to decide what to build next. One problem is that most of his larger base pieces are tied up in other builds on display, so he might have to take something apart.
Building with Legos is helping prepare Johnson for his future career, as he wants to become an architect or aerospace engineering.
But even when he’s an adult, once he’s designing houses or space ships for real, he expects Legos to be a lifelong interest.
“I’ll still build houses with Legos,” he said.