Interview with Hallis Chalmers: The Man Behind the Curtain
Today I was granted the rare opportunity to interview a legend of the locksport community, Mr. Hallis Chalmers.
Hallis was the “Man behind the curtain” so to speak in the rise of locksport during the early years of the new millennium. He helped keep the community thriving by running the well-known and very popular website, Keypicking.com. His contributions to the community have rarely been matched by any other contributor to this unique hobby.
In the interview below, he tells us the rewards as well as the setbacks he has witnessed over the last 10+ years in locksport!
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Q: Let’s start this interview off by telling us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living, and what got you into lock picking?
"I’m semi-retired after working 26 years in the telecom consulting business. Basically, I represented the interests of real estate portfolio managers while negotiating rooftop communications agreements for cellular, two-way radio, commercial broadcasters, as well as right-of-entry agreements for fiber optic and Wi-Fi service providers.
I started as a gopher and moved my way up to assistant project manager, then field service manager and finally ended up strictly negotiating license agreements. Eventually, in 2006 I got together with a business partner and started our own company and ended up selling it to a larger company in 2015.
How did get into lockpicking? Well, when I was a small kid – about 8 or 9 years old - I had one of those cheap little padlocks that you win in a gumball machine. I had misplaced the key and my uncle gave me a small screwdriver to jam in the bottom and open it. That was it. The spark of ignition, so to speak.
20 years later (1980’s or so), I was sitting at a desk, doing boring security guard work at night and reading a gun magazine. In the back, was an ad from “Steve Arnolds Gun Room” where he sold blackjacks, lockpick guns, and Majestic lock picks. Well, what else is a tightly-wound security “pro-feshnul” as myself supposed to do? I bought a blackjack, a lockpick gun, and a set of plastic handled picks. Oh and I also picked up a copy of the original “MIT Lock Picking Guide” written by Ted the Tool.
That was it, man. I had the holiest of holies! The bible of lockpicking! This was going to be it. Locks would just fall open, like pitiful piles of tumblers and pins as I slayed each and every one. Or that’s what I thought.
I soon found out I knew nothing about lockpicking.
Back then, there was no Internet, no YouTube or any other way of acquiring knowledge or experience – unless you became a locksmith. And the chances of a reputable locksmith taking you under his wing and actually teaching you anything were zero. Zed. Nada.
Consequently, my lockpicking went into a peaceful slumber for a number of years.
Fast forward another 20 years or so. It is now the early 2000’s or so and while poking around on YouTube I see a shitload of lockpicking videos. And in particular, there was this one guy on YouTube by the name of Wizwazzle who had a raspy voice, a huge freaking snake that he carried around, and a magic touch when it came to locks. Watching him pick locks on those videos are what did it for me. It was like watching Stevie Ray Vaughn teaching you to play guitar. Needless to say, I found my old pick set and started killing every Master lock I could find. I was now fully engaged in the hobby."
Q: What are some of the accomplishments and contributions you have made to the locksport community that put your name in the limelight?
"Back in 2000, there was only one “reputable” lock picking forum on the net, and that was LP101. Another guy from the UK tried to open another more relaxed forum known today as Keypicking.com, but it was constantly being hacked by these idiots that would post a big rolling banner saying you’d been hacked across the webpage – along with some PLO looking terrorist guy waving an AK47. I don’t know if it was just hackers being hackers – or if there was some animosity by others in locksport that viewed Keypicking.com as a group of malcontents and interlopers. I believe I didn’t actually join Keypicking.com as a member till sometime in 2006.
Eventually, the attacks slowed down and Keypicking.com was able to flourish fairly unimpeded. After hanging out on the forum for a while, I eventually became a moderator and ultimately purchased the forum from the owner in 2008.
Let me tell you, owning and operating a forum, especially a lockpicking forum, can become a daunting task if you are not fully prepared. Apart from the monthly dollar cost of paying for the site hosting, you have to constantly play referee for the dick measuring contests that inevitably pop up as a result of the bruised egos and keyboard Alpha-males that seek to dominate every conversation with their “know-it-all-ness”.
Initially, my goal was to build a forum with a core group of lockpickers that would – in a spirit of camaraderie and fellowship, share their knowledge and pool resources for the betterment of locksport. Looking back I now see that I was being quite naïve.
Although the majority of the members were outstanding and unselfish individuals, there was that 10% of jerks that made it difficult for others. I remember one guy that was so pissed off with me for appointing another member to help me moderate the forum that he flew into a rage and sent me some nasty PM’s. Evidently, in his mind, he was entitled to be a moderator – irrespective of the fact that it was my forum and I paid all of the bills.
I learned that the more technical the subject matter, the more people will act like kids when they don’t get the attention or recognition they assume they deserve. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going come on here and belittle the members of Keypicking, another forum, or locksport in general. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Some of these folks have become very good friends of mine and will remain my closest friends for the rest of my life. I have made lasting friendships with people all across the US, the UK, and Australia.
But for anyone considering starting their own website and forum, just keep in mind that the hobby you love can turn sour very quickly when you’re up all night scanning pages for inappropriate posts, getting cease and desist letters from European lock manufacturers threatening to sue your ass off – as well as one of your members - because he posted a short video showing all of the inherent vulnerabilities of their supposedly “safe, secure and proven” lock design. You’ll find that your family time ends up being consumed more and more by the forum.
In 2011 I finally gave it up. I had an illness in my family that required home hospice care and I made a choice to concentrate on family matters first and foremost. I turned Keypicking.com over to the great group of guys that currently operate the forum. I am extremely grateful to those guys for keeping the torch burning and keeping it alive for years to come."
Q: Were there any people in the Locksport community that you really looked up to or aspired to be as good as?
"Yes, without a doubt Wizwazzle was instrumental in helping me become a better lock picker and has been a tremendous source of assistance and knowledge."
Q: What is your favorite brand of picks to use on pin tumblers, dimple locks, and disc detainer locks?
"For pin tumblers, I primarily used three picks – two were custom made by a great craftsman by the name of Ratyoke. A jeweler by profession, he turned out some very nice custom picks. I used a deep set hook and city rake, as well as a standard HPC hook.
For dimple picks and disk detainers I primarily used some of the European picks I obtained from my good, good friend Alan over at UKlockpickers.co.uk."
Q: Do you prefer custom lock picks or manufacturer made lock picks?
"I see custom picks as “accessories”. Are they required? No. You can do the same job with a cheap pick as you can with a $300 custom hand-made pick set."
Q: What lock pick set do you consider is the best set for beginners to start out with?
"For beginners I would say don’t buy an entire $100 set of lock picks! Build up your skill sets and learn to “feel” what you’re doing. I probably have every set you can imagine – Majestic, HPC, SouthOrd, Southern Specialties, Gosso, Peterson, Falle, KLOM, Rytan, etc. In the end, I still only use 3 picks for pin tumblers which are 75% of the locks you’ll pick in the USA. All I ever needed was a hook, a deep set curved hook and a rake. As for tension wrenches, the majority of wrenches I use are made from stainless steel windshield washer inserts. However, for tight and small keyways, I would buy some of the prybars and a U-Bend-It spring steel assortment of steel stock and bending tool. Peterson Tension Tools
Remember: Just because you can afford the most expensive lock picks available commercially doesn’t make you a better lock picker. Lockpicking is a skill set that must be learned through hard work and experience.
Does buying a master mechanic set from Snap-On tools make you the lead mechanic on an Indy 500 pit crew? No. It takes years of making mistakes and learning skills that make you successful."
Q: Are there any particular locks you are working on at the moment, and any locks that you just absolutely cannot defeat?
"I’ve been out of locksport for 5 years now, and I may get back into it. Every lock out there is a challenge now. But I do have a Brinks shielded lock that I’ve never been able to open. If I get it open, I may get back into lockpicking with more enthusiasm."
Q: How have locksport and the locksport Community changed over the years in your opinion?
"From getting my feet wet in an internet free environment in the 80’s to nowadays everyone on the face of the planet being able to use their device to view thousands and thousands of information sources like books and streaming video, people don’t realize how easy they have it now. They way technology changes minute by minute, it will be interesting to see what new advances the lock companies implement – and how adept the locksport community will be at defeating that technology."
Q: Where would you like to see locksport and yourself 10 years from now?
"I’m sure at locksport will continue to thrive. It’s human nature for people to try and crack a puzzle. Human beings cannot resist a challenge. It’s like setting a mouse trap with cheese. The mouse will always try to beat the device."
Q: Finally, what is your favorite beer to drink while picking locks?
"I’m not a hipster or beer snob. I’ll drink anything – preferably Wild Turkey and a Miller Lite."