20th Annual Festival of Trees – Dearborn, MI


  • Jim Garrett (visited)
  • Peter Guenther
  • Ken Koleda (with various family)
  • Greg Kramer
  • Chris, Sandy Leach (with Ethan and Kira)
  • Larry Pieniazek
  • Nik Pieniazek
  • J. Spencer Rezkalla
  • Steve Ringe
Overall Picture Directories:

Larry Pieniazek

Peter Guenther

Show Dates

Setup – Friday 11/19
Preview Gala – 11/20
Public Show – 11/21-11/28

Report by Peter Guenther

This was MichLUG’s second year with Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser for the Evergreen Endowment of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. This year they gave us our own space, a double conference room, for better crowd management; the lines for kids to run the trains didn’t interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of the designer decorated trees this year. This year instead of a tree, MichLUG provided a mini-layout of several buildings and a Christmas train to be raffled off; again we provided two tracks where kids could run the trains for a donation, this time on a much larger (15’x20′) layout.

The event included a black-tie preview gala and a variety of kids’ events including American Girl teas and Lunch with Santa. Highlights of the decorated trees included a Star Wars-themed tree decorated by the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers and the ever-popular Money Tree.


The Sunday before, Chris and Peter visited the Ford Conference Center, the site of the show, to measure our room and figure out how to fit our layout. The Friday of the show, Peter arrived at setup around 4:30 and began scouting out the location, finding out which doors could be opened, kicking various and sundry people out of our display room, removing extra tables and chairs, and arranging for power taps to be added. Chris arrived a little before the appointed time of 5:30 and Greg arrived around the same time. Ken, Larry, and Nik arrived shortly after and we began setting up tables in earnest. While there were a few minor issues with warped tables, things went up quickly until we reached the point where it became obvious a certain member, who shall remain nameless, neglected to bring the track Larry had staged with him at the previous meeting. The nameless member went home while the rest of the crew went out to Fairlane Town Center, a nearby mall, for dinner. At the Fairlane KB Toys we discovered several values and everyone left fairly satisfied both gastronomically and Lego-wise.

The train setup went fairly well after that, with things looking fairly complete before we left for the evening. We also set up the mini-layout in the raffle item area. The next day, Chris came back to finish up the layout and Larry came back with Nik to finish capturing in LDraw his gas station/mart for the donated mini-layout.

This display was one of the first MichLUG displays to include Chris’ extremely nifty fences to separate the town from the track, had a little extra motion in a helicopter on a landing pad, and had more of a variety of building styles than many of our small shows.

The Show

This year, MichLUG members were able to attend the Preview Dinner, which was a fancy sit-down affair, as well as the Preview Gala after. Larry and Nik lived up to the black tie nature of the event while other club members dressed with less formality. Nobody’s attire got as much attention as the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, several members of which ended up dancing on stage during the dance. We were eager to tend to our display and answer visitors’ questions, so we didn’t tarry after dessert. A couple of adults did pay to run the trains during the Gala, but overall it was a quiet evening in our room. Signage outside the room was poor, especially the first day (before we located our banner, which was placed above the door, and made a large sign to put on an easel outside the room).

The next day the doors opened to the public, and we had a healthy turnout with lots of kids eager to run the trains. Over the course of the week we heard from a number of families who came back specifically because they remembered us from last year or because they heard we’d be there. Several small children amazed their parents and us by remembering unusually many details from last year’s display, which speaks to the impact we had. The Festival provided us with volunteers for most of the show, so that we could tend to the layout and answer questions while the volunteers helped kids run the train. This year we mounted kitchen timers on top of the train controllers so there could be no argument from the kids about when their time was up; the solution worked admirably and we had very few struggles. Kids wanted more time, of course, but they turned to their parents for more money to donate instead of arguing that they hadn’t had their fair time.

The first few days of the show were quieter than last year because of fewer school groups. Things picked up after Thanksgiving, and Friday and Saturday were fairly crowded. On Thanksgiving day, Peter made a train rocket-sleigh for Santa, to send zipping around the layout once in a while. This proved to be a favorite with the kids, but a problem in the sense that a lot of them want to drive it instead of one of the trains already on the track; this was a problem because the one small sleigh way too fast to stay on the tracks with a kid running it around full speed.

We left the Christmas train on the mini-layout running by itself throughtout the show. The only problem was when a small child did a snatch-and-grab, taking one of the vehicles Nik had donated and running off with it. A FoT volunteer saw it and stopped the kid some distance away, but had to wait for a parent to be found before setting everything right. At some point in the confusion one of the buildings got pushed around and derailed the train, but no actual damage was done and the vehicle was soon returned to the layout.

Since Chris was doing the Saline show the Sunday FoT closed, we removed some materials (mostly extra things from under the table, but some cars and minifigs) Saturday, causing a panic with a few FoT volunteers who thought we weren’t going to be there Sunday; we reassured them and cleared up the misunderstanding quickly, however.

Most overheard comments (in no particular order):
-“Hey! The helicopter’s getting ready to take off!”
-“Look at the smoke coming out of that factory!”
-“Look at that McDonald’s!”
-“Have you seen on the Internet that giant church that woman built?”
(referring to ABSton Church of Christ by Amy Hughes, MichLUG member)
-“Hey, they’re getting married at that church!”
-“I didn’t know Lego made trains!”
-“Why are there dinosaur heads at that marketplace?”
-“Hey, there’s a bicycle race!”
-“What happened to the snowman you had last year?”
-“I want to drive the BULLET train!”

A few favorite moments from the show

-The two girls and one boy, all under 12, arguing about whether the woman on the steps of Greg’s house was Mary Jane or not. The oldest girl: “It’s the woman from the Vampire Hunters set; she’s got the same head and hair as Mary Jane but it’s not Mary Jane.” I was impressed!

-The woman who came in looking for her dad (who was fascinated by the trains and deep in conversation with me) and declared, “Dad, don’t you want to see the rest of the trees?” I said, “Hey, don’t drag him away–this is the best part of the show!” She got a little miffed and her dad explained that she was the designer of the tree across the way from us. I retreated a little and let him go… 15 minutes later I was standing next to a younger guy at the same spot of the layout, deep in conversation, and the woman walked back in, put her hands on her hips, and said, “That’s exactly where I found my dad!!!” I said “Hey, guys know what they like”… must have been her significant other.

-The older couple where the woman immediately punched her husband when I identified us as “a group of adult hobbyists” (which BTW is how I always introduce the club now)… then asked about ages of the people involved etc. She proceeded to smack or prod her husband again when I mentioned members having kids, and when she asked if I was gainfully employed and I said I was a teacher… her 25yo son is an AFOL but the father never wants to get him Lego sets for Christmas… tells her the kid needs to grow up. She left feeling very, very justified. The son lives out in Grand Rapids–I was sure to give her a business card for him. I also suggested the AT-AT as a Christmas present, telling her about the TRU deal at the time ($50).


We got things torn down in fairly short order, pleasantly interrupted because FoT provided pizza for the volunteers doing the teardown. Ken had cut some pieces of wood so that we could bolt our plexiglas pieces together and protect them for easy carrying, so this was the first show we loaded them that way. It worked well. Peter lifted one of Chris’ buildings improperly and did it some damage, but otherwise teardown went smoothly.


We were delighted with the amount of money that we raised for FoT through the kids-run-the-train event and the mini-layout raffle, and we’re discussing with FoT how we can do an even better show next year.

Layout Details:

Event Pictures:

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