As if he were a world traveler on a budget, Jeff Hurd had to decide between the Tower Bridge of London and the Eiffel Tower. Well, Jeff’s a working man. He knows the value of a buck. When it came time to buy a new Lego set, he knew he couldn’t afford Paris.
In choosing London, Jeff hardly had to settle. The set he ended up with, depicting that city’s famous span over the River Thames, is quite spectacular. It’s over three feet long, has 4,295 pieces, and includes a working drawbridge and an iconic red double-decker bus. The Tower Bridge and a number of Jeff’s other finished Lego sets were on display recently at 8 Forman
Street in Bradford. Among them were an old-fashioned model train, a Grand Prix race car that turns into a race truck, and a Star Wars collection.
The collection includes Hans Solo’s Millennium Falcon; the dagger shaped, 3,000-piece Super Star Destroyer Executor; and the almost 4,000-piece Death Star. And, of course, R2-D2, whose head rotates.
Jeff reads the assembly instructions once, then gets to work. When he takes a set apart and redoes it, like he’s done with the Falcon four times, he doesn’t have to rely on the instructions very much at all.
Building a Lego set takes a combination of patience, discipline and dexterity — and sometimes an Xfactor: Marie Barnard, a residential program worker, once saw Jeff pull out his calculator while working on a set. The sight still intrigues her.
The sets can take from several days to several weeks to finish, depending on how much free time Jeff has. He also cooks, bakes, rides his bike, plays Xbox and watches horror movies. That’s his spare time. He works at the SPCA three days a week keeping the cat rooms clean and two days a week at Futures Rehabilitation Center. He saves his money for
Legos. “Jeff works hard,” says Paula Vecellio, program director.
For the better part of a decade, Jeff has been at Evergreen Elm, first in the Supported Living program, then at 8 Forman, one of eight residential homes for the intellectually disabled. It’s a tidy, two-story brick house that years ago used to be a doctor’s office and residence. It has a newly remodeled kitchen and a refurbished interior. Three men live there, Jeff and housemates Michael and Charles.
When he got to 8 Forman, Jeff showed one of the staffers something akin to a to-do list. The highlights were getting a new bicycle, adopting a cat and restarting his childhood hobby of constructing Lego sets.
He’s done all three.
Jeff is 27, short and stout, with glasses and medium blond hair. A photo in the hallway shows him mischievously putting his finger on the nose of a mounted bear, another wearing a backwards ballcap and holding a kitten. He brings a folder of recipes into the room on his head. “It’s got a kick!” Jeff says of the Tex-Mex dinner recipe he made for the house. He’s got a kick, too. He’s fun.
Jeff sits cross-legged in his bedroom while talking about his Legos. The twin-size bed is where he puts his sets together. A huge plastic tub on the bed almost overflows with what he estimates is 2,000 Lego pieces.
The bedroom is small and fairly neat, but still typical of a guy in his 20s. The TV has been left on, and a Campbell’s Tomato Soup container sits on the shelf near an unfinished Lego version of the Taj Mahal. (The Taj Mahal set rocketed in popularity when soccer superstar David Beckham revealed in an interview a few years ago that he had put one together.)
Jeff gets a groan from Paula when he bends his right pinky finger almost all the way over. He cracks his knuckles a lot, too. Your mom was wrong. You’ll just grow up to be an expert Lego builder. Some of the plastic pieces are so small, they look like you’d need a tweezer to pick them up. Jeff’s nimble fingers handle them with ease.
Jeff says it’s a relaxing way to unwind after work. Patrick Kaleta, an agitator-type for hockey’s Buffalo Sabres, would agree. Kaleta picked up the Lego habit when he broke his and in a game. He not only used Legos for physical therapy, but stress relief. The famous Danish toy company estimates that 40,000 adults around the world are members of a community called Adult Fans of Lego.
“See, it’s easy,” says Jeff, connecting two tiny pieces of the Falcon. Sure it is, but try it with a curious 15-pound cat hanging around. Forest is Jeff’s kitty, the one in the photo allgrown up, and his best friend. He got him at the SPCA five years ago. The thing is, the “declawed” Forest actually does have one claw — and he knows how to use it.
Lego pieces go missing all the time. “Forest, leave it alone!” Marie sometimes hears Jeff exclaim. The cat lurks over the Tower Bridge in a photo that looks like a comical idea for a disaster movie spoof. Pieces get batted under the fridge. Eleven (Jeff knows the exact number) are missing from the Falcon. At the mention of it, Forest discreetly leaves the room.
Despite the slight stress of Forest’s antics, Jeff’s Lego experience is all positive. He’s so happy when he finishes a set, he’ll let out a, “Yes! Yahoo! I finished it!” He’s not sad when he’s done, either. He knows he can do it all over again.
Lego, which is Latin for “I put together,” challenges one to think systematically and creatively. Program director Melissa McGuire marvels at the fine motor skills the activity must develop.
“It gives him a goal. And keeps his hands busy. It’s therapeutic,” says Marie. “It’s taught him a lot about budgeting, too. He won’t waste his money on junk food, he’ll save it for new Legos.”
About that. These sets are expensive. The Tower Bridge was $299 — “plus tax!” Jeff hastens to add — the Executor even more. He disappears for a few minutes and returns with his laptop displaying the Eiffel Tower set on eBay. It’s becoming rare. He points at the price — well over $1,000. Even though he’ll keep working and saving, Jeff seems to understand this one might be out of reach. On his to-do list, maybe he’ll always have Paris, but at least the Taj Mahal is only a few feet away.