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Watch Now: Nebraska teen turns rotary phone into unique lamp
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Watch Now: Nebraska teen turns rotary phone into unique lamp

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For one of her 2020 4-H projects, Kiersten Preister ripped apart a rotary phone and reassembled it into a lamp, complete with a dial dimmer.

"It's a pretty involved project so I was a little nervous," the 18-year-old Humphrey native said.

It had been on her to-do list since seeing a Pinterest photo of a rotary phone lamp about two years ago. Stuck at home during quarantine in the spring of 2020, Kiersten finally decided to give the project a go.

Kiersten ended up building the lamp over a few weeks in the spring and completed it in time to enter it in the Platte County Fair.

Kiersten began the project with about a decade of robotics experience under her belt, having started participating in robotics programs when she was 7. But there was still plenty for her to learn.

"It was a big project. Every step I thought, 'Oh this will be easy, this is the easy step.' And then five hours later I'd be like, 'It's not easy'," Kiersten said. "I've never done soldering before so it was my first time doing that. And then I learned how a circuit worked and how a dimmer works in a circuit.”

As with many 4-H projects, building the lamp was a family affair.

When she would get stuck, Kiersten would turn to her older brothers, Colin Preister and Alec Preister, for help. Aside from their own robotics experience, both Colin and Alec studied engineering at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

"I did computer engineering and as part of that, I did some electrical engineering classes so I wasn't completely lost. I was surprised; it was actually pretty easy after I made sure all the voltages matched on everything," Colin said.

Kiersten said Colin and Alec came home every weekend so she was able to work on the lamp while they were visiting.

"Originally with the phone, I was just going to put lights in the receiver and then the power chord would have an on and off switch on it," Kiersten said.

As she started looking more closely at the project, though, she changed her mind.

"I was like … 'We're going to make the buttons turn the phone on and off and I'm going to make the dial be the dimmer,'" Kiersten said.

She said the hardest part was probably completing the dimmer, which involved ripping out a spring in the rotary dial.

Kiersten said she mostly avoided repurposing the phone’s existing parts, like the wiring, in the interest of fire safety.

"I helped her pick out the electronics and helped her do research to make sure everything would work together," Colin said.

Alec, meanwhile, helped her create parts for the lamp using the 3D printer at Kiersten's house.

Kiersten ended up using a lot of robotics parts to create the lamp but said most of the phone's original inner workings are still inside.

"We ended up leaving most of what was there for the weight because when you put the receiver end on top, it would tip over," Kiersten said. "So the bells and everything are still in there."

A 4-H'er since she was 8, the rotary phone lamp wasn't the only project Kiersten worked on for last year's county fair.

She also entered her own photography, a table and a robot she built, baked and decorated a cake, sewed a romper and completed three quilting projects — a king-size wedding quilt for her cousin, a baby blanket and a table runner.

Kiersten is now double majoring in business and graphic design at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. She said robotics had a lot to do with her decision to study graphic design.

"We have to do a notebook that describes everything about your robot and what your team does, and that's what I really, really liked about it," Kiersten said.


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