Looking Back: Old-time fiddling fun

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MEEKER — Once again, the annual Old-Timers’ Dinner and Dance will host the remembrances of those who grew up in the valley, including the many dances and valley get-togethers.
Most everyone recalls the music and how quickly anyone who played an instrument could be gathered together to make sure that the dancing would continue into the wee hours of the morning. Often in looking back, many children remember the fiddlers and how the sounds they got out of any old violin were one of a kind. But others remember the talents of a particular local fiddler, Ben Gillaspie.
Volume I of the Rio Blanco Historical Society’s “This Is What I Remember” includes the reminiscences of Gillaspie and noted that he hand-carved more than 100 violins. His story tells that for fun he began to play the violin and call for the dances but he didn’t make his own violin until much later in his life. He shared his memory of the one that he made for his granddaughter. “That’s the first one I made. I found a little board so I whittled out a little fiddle, that’s when she was about 5 years old.”
He told how the one that he made out of his mother’s bread board was “the best fiddle I ever made. Because of the sound and the way it plays. I can’t make another one sound like that one. I don’t know why, but I can’t. That is regular wood from Kansas.”
When asked about the process, he shared his views on the creative process when crafting a homemade instrument. “I don’t know how long it takes to make one. I don’t work straight hours on it, I just whittle a little here and there after work.”
The best kind of wood was birds-eye maple, according to Gillaspie, as he explained, “That’s what the old-timers used to call it because it don’t have much heart in it, you see its little bird’s eye in the middle. It’s all wood, most all wood. I can’t make a bow. I can’t find nothing to make it out of. I buy the strings. They cost you $3 a set.”
He found that he had to spend quite a bit of time in preparation before each dance as he recalled, “It takes about four hours to tune up one of my violins. You got to play it to get it exactly in tune.”
While live music continues to be part of many get-togethers, the fiddle playing of old was a highlight of the many dances held in the old schoolhouses throughout the year.
Remem-bering some other local fiddlers, Maggie Jones Ralston told her interviewer, “We didn’t have too many neighbors but we got together for dances every weekend somewhere. We had dances in the schoolhouse sometimes and other times in neighbor’s homes. We never hired music. Everyone played a tune or two. Damon Adams played an awful lot. Bill Cargyle used to play the violin for us and he called the dances, too. “