Kansas City Brick Lab member retired Lt. Col. Joe Hammond, now working for Operations Group Bravo, Mission Command Training Program, talks about the Lego exhibit he built highlighting contributions of Buffalo Soldier units Sept. 8 at the Frontier Army Museum. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp
by Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer
The Frontier Army Museum installed a new exhibit featuring Lego vignettes of prominent moments in Buffalo Soldier history Sept. 8 beside the carriage exhibit. The display is accessible to visitors throughout the year.
The exhibit, built by retired Lt. Col. Joe Hammond, comprises nine Lego dioramas detailing the work of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments, including their roles in the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, the Mexican Punitive Expedition, telephone line installation, mapping of the southwest and securing the first transcontinental railroad.
Hammond said his interest in building Lego exhibits began in Fort Stewart, Ga., when his son started volunteering at museums during summer breaks. Hammond said he built a Lego exhibit about World War II for the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss Museum at Fort Bliss, Texas — where his son volunteered — that was on display from 2017-2019. He said he has also built Lego displays for the Leavenworth Public Library.
Hammond said when his family moved to Fort Leavenworth, he suggested that his son volunteer at the Frontier Army Museum, and so they toured the museum with Museum Technician Megan Hunter. He said he noticed an opportunity to display more information about the Buffalo Soldiers, and he proposed another Lego exhibit.
Hammond worked with Hunter and Combined Arms Research Library librarians to find inspiration through archived photos and articles. He said during his research, he found multiple recurring themes, such as protecting the railroad and conflicts in Mexico, that helped him format the overall exhibit.
“The only (build) that is a specific recreation of a photo I found is the (25th Infantry Bicycle Corps vignette). Everything else is kind of my interpretation of what I read… a snapshot of an activity that they did over the 50 years that (the 9th and 10th Cavalry) were out in the American frontier.”
Hammond said he also chose events based on his ability to build each scene with relevant, affordable parts.
“A couple of (the vignettes) happened real quick, and usually it’s building the idea in my head and then seeing if I have the parts on hand or seeing if I have to buy the part and order them and then try to make it come together,” Hammond said.
“The cattle rustlers (vignette) was easy to do, except I don’t own any (Lego) cows because they’re super expensive, so I had to borrow cows from somebody else.”
 He said for Lego parts he might not have but needs for a build, he innovates or sources them from Brick Link, an online community that buys and sells parts.
“Trying to do stuff that’s historically accurate is fun, or figuring out new ways to use a part that nobody has really done before, or (seeing) someone else build something in a certain way that’s not something Lego did… Lego doesn’t do military stuff at all.”
Hammond said he pays attention to the details in his Lego builds. For example, he said he pulled the blue Cavalry uniform torsos on some of the Lego Minifigures in the display from a “Lone Ranger” movie Lego set and the Native American torsos from sets designed in the 1990s. He said his wife designed decals for the Army uniforms on other Lego Minifigures to replicate historically accurate apparel in each scene.
He said he hopes visitors viewing the exhibit will appreciate the history of the Buffalo Soldiers and the alternative use for Lego.
Hunter said the museum had never before installed a Lego exhibit, and she emphasized the importance of incorporating fun in the museum field.
“We pride ourselves on being family-friendly, but the museum doesn’t necessarily have exhibits that play through a child’s imagination, and this is an opportunity to highlight that,” Hunter said. “(History) doesn’t have to be boring and stale, it can be fun, and Lego is a great way to tell the story in a nice, fun, colorful way — it’s ‘edutainment.’”
Hammond said he will continue building and participating in large-scale builds with KC Brick Lab, a club for adult fans of Lego with more than 500 members online and about 80 members actively building Lego together. He said he has a goal to construct an exhibit for the World War I Museum in Kansas City, Mo.
The Frontier Army Museum is open 9 a.m to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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