Mike Trower grew up believing the LEGO miniatures he creates in his tiny Independence apartment of such Kansas City landmarks as Union Station, the Fidelity Building and the Power & Light Building weren't very good.
He was so mistaken. Nevertheless, the retired AT&T employee who “enjoys building things” continued creating them with no training. After all, “It was just a hobby,” he says. “An excellent way of releasing stress.”
Only a few close friends knew about his life-long hobby or ever saw his creations. Mike didn't keep them long. To make room for more miniatures, he quickly dismantles them. After all, he didn't think highly of his workmanship.
However, others did. Like Mike's neighbor, Linda Parvin, a friend of Shireen McLaughlin, site coordinator of the historic Bingham-Waggoner Estate in Independence. So spellbound by Mike's exquisite 2018 Christmas creations, Linda informed Mike she was going to ask Shireen to drop by Mike's apartment and view his beautiful holiday miniatures. It was a must visit. She had to see it.
Shireen will never forget Linda's call.
“She called one day during our busiest Christmas season and says there is a gentleman in her apartment complex that builds outstanding miniature buildings, and I want him to make a Bingham miniature for the estate, and I wish you would come see it.”
Although “really tired and really not wanting to go,” Shireen decided to check things out after work. And what she saw “blew me away,” she recalls.
“I think I spent about two hours with him. I was having too much fun looking at pictures of all his creations, and I have been super excited ever since.”
Shireen, though, never got to ask Mike if he would consider building a Bingham miniature.
“Linda had already asked him and wanted me to come and see what he had done,” she says, explaining Mike accepted the challenge and began work on his largest masterpiece on New Year's Day. Two and one-half months later, his largest creation was completed.
What took so long, he says, was everything had to be done from scratch, except the walls that were LEGOS.
Mike had toured the stately three-story Bingham-Waggoner home numerous times and was very familiar with it – both inside and out. He also took about 100 exterior photographs so he knew what the details looked like.
“That's how I knew where all the windows would be. LEGOS don't make windows, so I had to make all the frames myself out of wood. Then I had to make all the windows custom, because LEGOS windows would not have worked. It's almost a custom house.”
As for construction plans, “There were none. Everything was all in my head. There was no plan. There was nothing drawn or written down,” he continues. “I just put the pictures in front of me and put the LEGOS on a large piece of cardboard until I get the scale I want, then I start building up.”
When Mike began assembling his 3-by-3-foot miniature, he erected it in pieces, he says, because of its size, adding: “Trying to build an entire house is like a puzzle. It is very difficult to get the pieces to fit. And I did that more or less,” he chuckles.
“The wrap-around porch came in six pieces,” Mike says. The inside is held together with a wood foundation. Of all his miniatures, the Bingham gets Mike's nod for being his favorite.
“I have put more into this plan than I have done before,” he says, “because with my other stuff, nobody ever sees it except for a couple of people who come to visit me in my apartment. With the Bingham, I knew it was going to be on display, so I really put more into it than I would for anything I would build for myself.”
As for the estate's latest acquisition, no one is more excited about having the magnificent miniature as its permanent third-floor centerpiece than Shireen when the estate opens for the year next Monday.
“I couldn't be ... happier with it,” Shireen says. “I love it. It almost makes me cry. We are so happy to have it.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.