Skip to main content

Today's Family Magazine

K’Nex enthusiast's display at Wickliffe Library extended through June 1

By Mary Flenner

Whether you have a child who is interested in K’Nex or you just want to be impressed with an extraordinary design, you need to head to the Wickliffe Library to view the sensational K’Nex roller coaster display that resident Mike Shaw has created.

With over 12,000 pieces and 75 feet of track, Shaw has created the K’Nex roller coaster of dreams, which will impress adults as well as children who come to view it.  The enormous coaster features a nine-foot hill and the complete setup also includes a beautiful motorized Ferris wheel.  While the 8,500 piece Ferris wheel had instructions, the roller coaster is Shaw’s own design.

Shaw estimates that he’s spent about 150 hours on the coaster, but he continues to expand on it.  In fact, if you head up to see the display, you may just find him working on it, and he likes to invite interested kids to lend a hand in the building process.

“That’s my favorite part,” Shaw says.  “Kids come and are excited to see it.  I ask them if they want to help me build and by the end, they don’t want to leave.”

Shaw began working with K’Nex about 15 years ago after finding some sets at a garage sale.  After that, challenges from his young grandson helped to inspire more ideas.

“My grandson used to come over and say, ‘Papa why don’t you see if you can make it do a circle?,’ and he’d leave and I’d have to figure out how to do it.”

“Now we have a 4 ½ year-old grandson and he really enjoys helping me too.  I remind him when he’s struggling with a piece, I say, “Remember, this set is for 8-year-olds and you’re only 4 ½, so take your time, you’ll get it.  And he slows down and he gets it done.”

Shaw works meticulously inside the perimeters he’s given, whether at the library or in his workspace at home.  He started in his basement, using careful measurements to build exactly within the limits of the walls and ceiling.  He also provided a coaster to the Wickliffe Library for a display case in years past; with measurements so precise they had to remove the glass to place it inside.  

“The challenge of creating something,” is what he enjoys most. “Building is my favorite part.  Once they’re built.  It’s done.  I take it apart and build something else.”

Shaw says if he encounters a problem, “I don’t give up on it.  I just change my ideas.”

K’Nex have been praised for improving fine motor skills, sharpening focus and patience, developing problem-solving skills and more. And while they are beneficial for children to work with, they’re also especially helpful for Shaw, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 18 years ago. 

“You have to keep moving,” says his wife of almost 48 years, Carol. “It’s so important to stay very active with Parkinson’s.”

“She supports me one hundred percent,” Shaw says.  “Although I’m sure she wishes I never got started with the K'Nex,” he jokes. 

In the past, Shaw has also made a K’Nex Christmas tree, a Big Ben clock, and ball runs.  Nowadays he mostly focuses on coasters.

The roller coaster display at the Wickliffe Library was originally supposed to be up until September of last year, but has been extended twice because it has been so well received by visitors.  So take the family up on one of these snowy/rainy/cold days before it’s gone and he’s on to his next project.  June 1 will be the absolute final day for the display.

You can also see some of Shaw’s K’Nex creations on YouTube by searching “Knex151.”