Made On Earth — Hacker of Yesteryear

Craft & Design
Made On Earth — Hacker of Yesteryear


When Jake von Slatt was 14, he was the only kid in his neighborhood (maybe the only kid in any neighborhood) who owned his own brazing torch. At 16, he lost part of a finger in a “hovercraft incident” (now that’s an emergency room visit you don’t see every day). Jake von Slatt’s not even this colorful character’s real name, but a persona he uses online, his “brand,” as he calls it.

By day, he’s a Linux sysadmin for an aerospace firm outside Boston, but in his spare time, von Slatt likes tinkering with and modding castoff tech of the past. He has several websites chronicling his progress in everything from converting a 1989 Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP bus into a gorgeous motor home to his Steampunk Workshop, where he mods kerosene lamps and experiments in brass etching. And then there’s his page where he enthusiastically logs his town dump and dumpster-diving finds.

Given Herr von Slatt’s interest in tech resuscitation, it’s no wonder that one day he looked at a Western Electric Bell Model 500 rotary phone, that icon of 20th century telephony, and saw its future as a 21st century mobile.

Unlike other retro handsets he’d seen tethered to a mobile phone, von Slatt wanted his creation to be totally portable, sans cord, so he got out his Dremel tool and grafted his mobile LG phone’s belt clip onto the back of the Model 500’s earpiece. He upgraded the electret in the Model 500 with an element from a computer mic, and used a mini-plug out of the Western Electric so he can still unplug the mobile phone and use it without the handset.

Some wire soldering, J-B Welding, and black Krylon painting later, a comfortable, hands-free mobile Model 500 emerged that fits perfectly into the brassy von Slatt lifestyle. Picture him tooling down the street talking on his Western Electric cellie in a steam-powered car (a project he’s considering tackling next).

>> Jake von Slatt:

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn