Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every artist was once an amateur.” It wasn’t until I walked into my first class at the Truckee Roundhouse that I fully understood what he meant.

The Truckee Roundhouse is a nonprofit community makerspace located at the Truckee-Tahoe Airport that “supports the teaching, learning, and practicing of a wide variety of crafts, skills, technologies, and arts,” according to its website.

I was given the opportunity to experience the Roundhouse firsthand, by taking any one of the classes that are offered each week. When the time came to choose, I knew I wanted to learn a skill with which I was completely unfamiliar, and knew I had found it after reading the description of a three-hour class called CNC Plasma Cutting. How does one cut plasma? “Plasma,” from what I understood, referred to either television screens or blood cells.


Plasma cutting, however, is the art of creating 2-D shapes out of metal using electricity. Cutting metal sounded complicated, but I was intrigued, so I enrolled.

Upon entering the Roundhouse that afternoon, the smell of freshly-cut trees and wet clay entered my nose. The sound of loud machinery followed, and I was instantly transported into what I can best describe as a mix between a high school art class and a mechanic’s garage.

I waltzed over to the metal shop expecting to put on safety glasses and wield a welding torch within the first five minutes. When a user’s manual was thrust in front of me by the lead of the metal shop, Val Barker, it immediately became clear that my expectations were tremendously inaccurate.  

I opened to the first page of the manual and my brain went fuzzy when I realized that a variety of software programs were necessary to “build” my project. Then, Val started using words like “vector,” “voltage,” and “gauge.” I was in over my head, and bolting for the door, but Val assured me she was going to help me every step of the way. Even though we had just met, I had every reason to trust her.

“Val is known [affectionately] as the super modeler of the Roundhouse,” Karyn Stanley, general manager of the Roundhouse, said.  

This moniker could not be truer; she is part runway model, part mechanical engineer, and full genius. With 17 years as a megatronics engineer, 10 years of experience working in makerspaces, and a master’s degree from Stanford University, she is the perfect candidate to run the metal shop. Not to mention she is both willing and excited to teach computer-illiterate students like me.

By the end of my class, I had learned to safely use the plasma cutter, and created a cactus made of steel that I was able to take home with me. I haven’t felt more proud of something since my elementary school paintings were hung on the refrigerator.  

It was then that it became clear to me: The Roundhouse really is accessible for everyone.  

Besides offering introductory classes, it offers monthly and yearly memberships for those who want to use the space more often.

“I’ve been a member of the Roundhouse since March, and I love it,” said Mark Hermsmeyer, software salesman and fellow metal shop student. “For me, it’s about harnessing my creative side, [since] I work in a fixed mindset most of the time.”

Ryan McAuliffe, who has completed two plasma cutting courses, explained that he was learning how to use the tools in the metal shop to create a plastic recycling machine that he plans to implement in the community. He utilizes the other aspects of the space, too.

“I am re-upholstering my boat right now in the textile shop, and building a cutting board for my mom in the wood shop,” he said.

The final product is not always the reward, however; the relationships and interactions that occur while everyone is creating are what makes this space so special.

Charlotte Semmes spends her time in textiles shop making baby bibs and blankets for her business, Penelope Prints.

“When you think about the age-old concept of a sewing circle, the textile lab gives us a modern-day outlet for this,” she said. “There often is a group of us, chatting and sewing, discussing politics, sometimes gossiping. It’s therapeutic.”

Morgan Goodwin, who is a Roundhouse board member, the mayor of Truckee, and Pacific Crest Trail angel, said he recently made a boombox using nearly every facet of the maker space, including its members.

“[One] member gave me the wood,” he said. “Another member and I geeked out about battery characteristics, while a third member and I spontaneously started brainstorming how to make the leather corner pieces.”

“Those sorts of connections are magical, and a big part of why I’ve been so passionate about creating this space,” he said.

Whether you have an advanced skill set or have never seen a pottery wheel in your life, the Roundhouse offers an opportunity for you to tap into your creativity and experience the community in positive ways.

So … what will you make?


  • Megan Brancaccio

    Megan Brancaccio swears she was a cat in a past life. Many moons ago, she wrote for her college newspaper at the University of Vermont, but became a dormant journalist afterward. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her searching for sunshine, solving a crossword, or sipping Fernet with the gals.

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