- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

COALGATE, Okla. (AP) - Tom Owen snatches a pair of reading glasses from his shirt pocket, flips on a bright table light and peers backward in time.

“Probably made sometime in the 1930s, I’d say,” Owen remarks. “I’m not familiar with the maker, but the spruce and tiger maple are good quality so it should make a very good instrument. How much did you say you paid?” he asks with a serious tone.

“$74.95 on eBay,” was the answer.

“Well, I’ll give you $75 for it and you’ll make a profit,” Owen said, flashing a wide, welcoming smile.

Owen doesn’t need the German-made violin he whimsically attempted to purchase. The wall of his small workshop is lined with some 30 violins just waiting for a buyer.

Price tags tied to the violins - ranging from $350 to $850 - dangle and twist gently from the breeze of a fan cooling the shop.

“I am looking at getting on eBay to sell these,” he remarks, sweeping a hand in the air to show his overabundance of violins.

At age 83, he is examining modern technology to sell instruments. Foot traffic is tapering off these days.

“I want them to go to people who will play and enjoy them. I don’t want them to become kindling for my wife,” he jokes.

The Ada News (https://bit.ly/1TUWrWt ) reports that Owen has served up TLC to violins and many other types of instruments for more than two decades in this small Coal County community.

His specialty is mending broken violins.

“I guess there aren’t too many of us around anymore,” he observes. “What intrigues me is all the work it takes to coax the best sound possible from them.”

Owen once repaired a violin crafted in 1850. “I hated it and loved it at the same time,” he grins. “I was really nervous, but those old violins like that are the very best.”

Born in Oklahoma City in 1932, Owen’s mother introduced him to music. She was a violinist. “She saw to it I played from the time I was in first grade,” Owen recalls. “I played tuba in school four years.”

He graduated from Classen High School in 1950, served in the U.S. Navy, and attended Oklahoma A&M; and Utah State University, earning a master’s degree in forestry management.

He and wife, Jean, a Coalgate native who he wed six months after being paired with her on a blind date, began a family. They reared three sons, Luke, Adam and Joseph, relocating 13 times during Owen’s career with the U.S. Forestry Service. When it was time to retire, the Owens moved from Alaska to Coalgate to assist her ailing parents.

“I knew I didn’t want to just sit around watching television. I was interested in violin repair and picked up every issue of “Fret” magazine because each had an article about violin repair,” Owen explains.

Twenty-five years ago, Owen attended the bluegrass festivals in summer, introducing himself, selling and swapping fiddles. He counts world and national contest fiddle champions Jim Chancellor, better known as “Texas Shorty,” Byron Berline and Regina Matthews as clients.

“I’ll keep doing it as long as I have good energy and feel well,” Owen said. For musicians in Oklahoma’s hinterlands, Owen’s work is quality and it’s quick. There is no need to drive to Dallas or Oklahoma City. His prices are low.

Owen spends approximately four hours per day in his shop performing repairs and rehairing bows while two lazy cats, J.J. and Little Sister, take frequent siestas in the shop.

“I stay about as busy as I want to be,” he observes with a smile.


Information from: The Ada News, https://www.adaeveningnews.com

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