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Russellville junior constructs massive LEGO Titanic

For 17-year-old Russellville High School Junior Hank Cartee, putting together LEGO sets is a skill he’s been honing for a long time – since he was about 5 years old, when he put together his first set, a Toy Story project. He estimates he’s put together between 30-50 sets over the years, some small enough to fit in the palm of his hand and others much larger. Recently he built his largest set to date: a 9,090-piece replica of the R.M.S. Titanic.

Cartee completed the Titanic in five or six days – despite being in recovery from surgery to his dominant hand.

Measuring 4 and a half feet long, 18 inches high, 7 inches wide and 54 inches deep, the LEGO ship is truly titanic in comparison to Cartee’s other sets. It didn’t come with lighting, but he added tiny string lights to accentuate the finished piece. “I’ve always been interested in the Titanic,” explained Cartee, “and when I was little, I made an attempt at building a LEGO version, but it was much less sophisticated.”

The sets he buys now come with instruction manuals – the large ones, his mother Brittany Gault Richards noted, are practically as long as a book.

For the Titanic, and some of the other sets, putting them together isn’t the only challenge.

The Titanic set sold out quickly, as Cartee said he suspected it would, and remains in high demand still. Richards got online at midnight on the Sunday it was released to secure it for him. He had learned about the set from watching a TikTok video of the set’s creator talking about it, and he said he knew right away it was extra-special. He requested it as his sole Christmas present.

“I learn about most of the sets from YouTube or TikTok videos,” said Cartee, “and then I read about them to see if a particular set is one I really want. When I was younger, I would play with the sets and take them apart, but that always results in losing pieces. Now, I leave them up when they’re finished.”

He said most of his completed projects are in his game room, but the Titanic needed an extra amount of space to “stay afloat.” Careful to measure before purchasing, it turned out he had just the right amount of space on a dressed in his bedroom, and that’s where it now stays docked.

In other large projects, Cartee has put together a Spider-Man set of The Daily Bugle. It had been out of stock for a while when he found out it was available in Nashville. He used his Christmas money to pay for it and worked on it all day one Saturday. In total, it’s 3,772 pieces.

A set Cartee got around the age of 12 of Cinderella’s castle comes in at 4,090 pieces, and he bought that with Christmas money, too. “I love seeing it go from nothing and turning into something. It’s just fun, even though it can be very frustrating at times because it’s a tedious process.”

He explained that while he loves it, it’s a difficult process that tests his patience. “I won’t be able to find a piece, and I’ll get frustrated and quit, but then I’ll go back to it the next day and go right back to it. A lot of times, it’ll turn out the ‘lost’ piece was right in front of me the whole time.”

Richards explained another challenge along the way is if he gets something put together wrong. “Even one piece will mess up the whole thing,” she explained. “He’ll have to take it apart and fix it, and that’s really frustrating. He keeps going and always works it out in the end.”

Cartee said it’s incredibly rewarding to see everything come together after all the setbacks along the way. “It’s tedious, yes, but so much fun. It’s really awesome that I get to build them.”

In December the family visited the LEGO store and bought a Stranger Things set, coming in at 2,287 pieces.

Cartee said he’s tried other types of puzzles and kits, but they just don’t hold the same appeal. Other favorite LEGO sets include pieces from Star Wars and Harry Potter.

“My friend Jared Davis helped some on the Stranger Things set,” Cartee noted. “There’s a house you have to build twice, and he built one of them, and that probably took a day or two off the building process for me. It’s usually my own hobby, though sometimes friends have hung out while I worked on it.”

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