Page 4 of 5
He was always aware of the property's benefits — not least, a transformer capable of a 1,200-amp output. (By comparison, the average house constructed within the past 70 years probably has a 200-amp breaker panel.) What he needed next was a community.
In the Cowtown Computer Congress, a group dedicated to bringing together Kansas City–area technology enthusiasts, he found a tributary for the network he envisioned. At first, CCCKC, which started in 2008, was truly underground, holding its early meetings — including classes on soldering and coding within walls of exposed rock — in the caves at 3101 Mercier. This was Kansas City's first hacker space.
Dalton, an early visitor to those subterranean gatherings, proposed a change of venue last year. Today, a CCCKC membership comes with a pass to use Hammerspace. Hacking is now aboveground.
Indicative of Hammerspace's surfacing is its informal partnership with the e-Scholars Program within the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, at UMKC's Henry W. Bloch School of Management. Tom Boozer, the program's associate director, visited a Thursday open house this past April.
"I walked in and I knew I was in the right place," Boozer says. "We had been looking for this for two years. We needed resources to help people execute a cool idea."
In Hammerspace, Boozer saw the same ethos that he had cultivated over his decade-long career as an industrial designer.
"This is the kind of place where somebody who doesn't necessarily have the skills in production can go and plug into a community of people who do know that stuff and, more importantly, want to help people do that stuff," he says. "It's as much about community as anything else."
On a Thursday in late August, Nick Woods stands astride that antique milk can on the Hammerspace grounds. It's not just a bit of farm kitsch. Until recently, it was what the members here used to smelt metal.
As the sun shines down on his buzz cut, the 30-year-old medical-equipment repair specialist adjusts a pair of glasses straight out of a 1965 NASA control room. Inside the milk can is a band of ceramic fireproofing material and a cracked clay pot. "This was the foundry for aluminum before Dave got the new smelter," he explains.
The new smelter arrived the previous week. Dalton had found one for sale online. The resulting transaction was of a kind increasingly common here.
"A guy came over and sold me the smelter," Dalton says. "An hour later, I got a phone call, and he asked if he could give me back his money to buy a membership. I think Craigslist is my best membership tool."
The aluminum comes from the pallets of empty soda cans, vessels for the hackers' sugary fuel. The scrap will become figurines, ingots or whatever else members want to make from it. As Woods works, fellow maker Paul Leonard, 41, approaches, and the two reminisce about the first brass project in the homemade foundry.
"The first cat didn't make it," Leonard says. "The brass was like cottage cheese. I think we just didn't get the metal hot enough."
Leonard learned to make jewelry at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay nearly two decades ago. He had spent the better part of two months carving this mold, loosely based on five cats that share the house with Leonard and his wife, Jennifer.
"I don't know why we didn't use something else as a test run," Woods says. "Still, it's amazing how many things work the first time we try them."
Trial and error is how things work at Hammerspace. Usually, there's enough material on hand to make it through several errors. "It's the hacker aesthetic," Dalton says. "We re-use something until there's nothing left."
Maybe the best illustration of how everything here comes together is the drinking fountain in the front hallway. It was dry when Dalton bought the building, the valve blocked by lime. A new valve would be costly and would need to be retooled to fit the fountain, an older model. The simple answer: Abandon the implement and bring bottled water. At Hammerspace, though, a problem like this is an opportunity.