A Brief History
Back in 1978, I was attending college at Southwestern College in Winfield, Ks. The first fall I was there, I saw an ad for help at a local Bluegrass Festival. A college student, broke, chance to make extra cash? I was all over this, so I signed on. Not only did I get paid, but I received free tickets to the festival. So there I was, walking around on Saturday, when on one of the back stages was a mountain dulcimer workshop given by three attractive women. I still remember two of them, Cathy Barton and Mary Faith Rhodes. I sat back and watched. I also fell in love with the dulcimer. Here was a simple instrument that originated in the USA, the Appalachians in fact, and made with woods that I was very familiar with due to my families mid western logging business. I went to these ladies shows, watched the Dulcimer Championships. I spent my earnings on a very cheap dulcimer. I could not learn to play.
The strings were too high, it was poorly made. The next June, there was a June Jamboree segment of the fall festival. Once again, I worked it, this time I spent my earnings on a dulcimer kit. I built this with less than half the recommended tool list, I remember using a rock to pound in the frets and a stack of bricks for clamps. I ended up with an instrument that was more playable, and amazingly enough, better looking.
It was at this time I transferred to Iowa State. A few years into school there, I discovered that there was a wood shop available for student use. Wood from the family sawmill, and my first dulcimer was made. Again I looked at it, thought about it, saw my mistakes, a cherry board from Dad, and I built number two. It was an hourglass, all cherry, natural knotholes for the upper sound holes. My Mother still has this one, A-2. I made 5 dulcimers at Iowa State, except for #2, I have no idea where or who has them.
I ended up back at home next, worked for the family logging business, built a few more in the basement of my parents house. One of those was shipped back to Winfield, Ks. I also entered one in the county fair, it received a ribbon. Can't remember how many I built in Woodbine, but they were numbered W-6 on.
I ended up back in Winfield, Ks next. Here I decided to get serious about the dulcimer business. It was here that I also took first place in a major art show with one of my dulcimers. These dulcimers were numbered Wf-XX. Not sure the starting number, but when I moved I was in the 50's.
My next shop was in Wapello, Ia. Here I got busy. The last dulcimer built there was Wp-149. Formed a loose partnership with a singer/teacher named Pat Walke. She had me build a student model. These were very simple in shape and design, allowed me to use a lot of scrap lumber and also try out new and "exotic" woods such as mulberry and honey locust. It was here that I also branched out into other instruments. I built two 3/4 size guitars, 18 old-time banjos, 2 hammer dulcimers, some kalimbas, and assorted other things.
My next move was to Winfield, Iowa, where I built WFI-150 for my wife. That was over ten years ago, and I am ready to re-open my shop in Webster Groves, Mo.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
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