In the mid 1970’s, I
attended a concert by Mike Seeger. He played several songs on the
mountain dulcimer. I was intrigued and fascinated by the sound. This
fascination led to my building several dulcimers at that time. Marriage,
childrearing and twenty-odd years of milking cows eventually overwhelmed
further explorations of dulcimers. However, the memory of the sound and
the delight of building remained a pleasant and persistent memory
through the years. These memories seemed to attach themselves to another
persistent impulse—the personal desire to someday have a woodworking
shop. Although it took almost thirty years, these impulses eventually
blossomed into an actual shop designed to accommodate the building of
I was raised on a
small, 95 acre Ohio dairy farm by parents who had come of age during the
Great Depression. Typical of many persons from that era, they both
followed a “waste not, want not—make do with what you have” philosophy.
We raised and processed much of our own food, heated entirely with wood
and did the bulk of our farming with horses. I haven’t really escaped
these attitudes—I’ve remained a rabid do-it-yourselfer; we depend on a
garden for much of our food, use wood as a large part of our heating and
we live in a rural community that celebrates such self-sufficiency.
After high school, I
attended college and earned a bachelor’s degree. It was there that I met
and married Ruth, a small town girl from Kansas. For nearly thirty
years, she has taught at a school for profoundly challenged students.
Shortly after graduation from college, we moved to Holmes County, Ohio
(one county south of where I was raised and home of one of the largest
Amish communities in the US) and have lived here since. I taught jr.
high and high school English for a number of years while helping at the
home place. Eventually, we started milking on our own, starting with six
cows and eventually working our way to a herd of 60. In 1990, we
purchased the 165 acre farm where we presently live.
Our farm was one of
the first bits of land settled by whites in the neighborhood. It was
deeded with a sheepskin deed signed by James Madison to a veteran of the
Revolutionary war as compensation for his service. Oral tradition
connects this place to a number of interesting stories from early white
settlement. The farm itself sits on the southern reach of the glaciers,
which gives it some very interesting geological features. It is also
rich in native artifacts—collecting these artifacts has been an
Although dairy farming
was an intriguing and demanding effort, we eventually realized that its
time demands would mean that we would be forced to miss many of our
son’s and daughter’s activities. We closed out our milking operation,
although I continue to be involved with the crop farming. I also became
involved in general carpentry.
In 2005, dulcimers
re-entered my life. Our daughter’s church youth group was raising money
for a trip with an auction of donated items. I decided to make a
dulcimer to donate. I re-discovered the huge delight the building
process held for me. And there was a purely magical moment that occurred
when I finally strung the dulcimer up and heard that wonderful dulcimer
sound again. I’m not certain that a person can fall madly in love with a
sound—but if it’s possible, it happened to me at that moment.
And so a wonderful
journey began. I continued to build dulcimers. Family members, friends
and neighbors requested enough instruments to keep me building fairly
steadily. I gradually became aware of the wonderful dulcimer community.
I’m forever grateful to the generosity and patience of fellow builders
as they shared their experiences and perspectives and provided gentle
and encouraging feedback.
After two years of
building and ongoing “reviews” by knowledgeable players and persons long
involved with dulcimers, I felt that my instruments had evolved to the
point that they were ready for a more general and public exposure. We
took them to several festivals, as well as making them available in two
music stores. Although I still consider myself a novice builder (and I
probably will continue to think of myself that way for quite a while) I
have considerable confidence in the durability and quality of Timbre
noteworthy and delightful stopping point on this journey was the
building of the shop. For many years I had yearned for such a shop. I
enclosed a corner of our barn, using pine wood salvaged from a neighbor's
pine groves damaged in an ice storm. These trees were planted by the
neighbor’s great uncle in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
concerns drove the project, I soon realized that I was creating a unique
and delightful personal space. I’ve grown to love my shop area and have
stocked it with various artifacts of personal significance.
I’ve found building
dulcimers to be a highly reflective and meditative—almost
spiritual—process. I continue to be thrilled with the prospects of
taking a rough piece of wood and turning it into an object of functional
beauty that has the possibility of providing years of satisfaction and
personal music for another human being. I’ve also found building
dulcimers to be a time of self-discovery. Many deeply held perspectives
and preferences become real when transferred to the building
process—some perspectives I had not been able to articulate even to
myself until I started puzzling out the practicalities of building a
I hope the journey
will continue in this vein. I’m grateful to be able to share it with