HackBerry lab repurposes totaled car

Jameson Filston, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor

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Jameson Filston | CAMPUS CARRIER
The front half of a Scion xB, dubbed the “Half Cut” by students, sits in front of Hackberry Lab. The project was suggested by junior Will Knowlton as a way to use the car in a creative way.

Hackberry Lab is known on campus as a place where people create crazy contraptions, but something crazier than usual showed up in front of the lab last semester. The front half of a 2006 Scion xB sits in the parking lot, castor wheels supporting the back of its sawed-off frame.

Zane Cochran, Clinical Instructor of Creative Technologies, said that the project was a way to help those involved learn useful and applicable skills in a fun way.

“In this lab we try to find a creative opportunities in everything around us,” Cochran said. “The lessons we learned along the way, the planning that went into this, some of the mechanics that came out of designing this are real lessons that have a real function and meaning even if the end result is to be fun or silly.” 

Cochran enjoys working on vehicle projects and interactive art projects in lab because they offer ways to turn ordinary objects into something more interesting. This leads to lots of different kinds of projects, but they all have something to offer students.

The car was originally Cochran’s, but it was rear ended and considered totaled by his insurance company. He convinced them to let him take it to the lab instead of the junkyard. It sat at the lab until junior Will Knowlton realized that everything important was in the front except the gas tank. Since the front of the car is the most important, it allowed them to modify the front half of the car to be functional on its own.

Cutting the car in half was easy according to Cochran. The only tool needed was a reciprocating saw and the whole process took about 20 minutes. However, the real challenges became apparent when they had to make the car run. They accidentally cut through some important wires while cutting the car in half, so they had to rewire the car. The lab tried three different kinds of wheels before finding some that would both roll well and support the weight of the car.

Cochran was in charge of cutting the car in half, while Knowlton tested the wheels and got the car to move under its own power. The process was fairly straightforward from Knowlton’s perspective, and went smoothly despite the challenge of rewiring and finding the right wheels. The whole process took about two weeks and 12 hours of work.

“It was pretty much as easy as I thought it was going to be,” Knowlton said. “The process was pretty simple.”

The project was completed in time to join the Hackberry fleet in the Christmas parade last semester. The parade also included other HackBerry projects such as a flamethrower powered hot tub. The car was driven sideways down Broad street through a crowd, so they made sure that the vehicle was safe before the event. 

“Everyone loved it,” Knowlton said. “The kids were very excited about it.”

The back wheels of the car rotate in any direction, so the car spins around easily and can drive sideways. Knowlton said that the car is hard to drive but also very fun.

Ideas for the future include finding a way to enclose the back of the car or reattaching the halves with steel poles to make a stretch limo. Knowlton would also like to get the car a new gas tank that is smaller and safer.

Cochran said that they now have more cars than they have ideas. HackBerry currently has another Scion xB that may become a race car, and is working on converting a 1970 Volkswagen Carmengia into an electric vehicle.

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