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Fiddin’ around in Fergus

You are never too old to try something new. Just ask Arlen Wahl. At age 65, he started taking fiddling lessons. Today at age 74, he owns over 70 violins and is still fiddling around with them.     Arlen can be seen at the Fergus Falls Senior Center five days a week. He delivers meals to Riverview and River Bend apartments. A job he has been doing for over a year. In his spare time he reads history books and fiddles.     “I bought a majority of my violins on e-bay.They have come from Louisiana, Texas, and West Virgina. They range from one quarter size to full size.     “ My dad, Herman, was a fiddler. My favorite violin belonged to him. It is a Strad copy made in 1910. He cleared a farmer’s field in exchange for the violin. The German maker’s name was scratched off, but we estimated it was made in 1910. “Dad played the coronet in the old Erhard band. Then he and two other fiddlers and a piano player formed the Long Lake band. They played for PTA programs in area schools.     “I play by ear. I did take a few lessons when I lived in Bemidji. It was an adult beginning violin course and the teacher was fantastic. I also follow the fiddler players on YouTube and learn from them.”     Not all of his purchases were in tip-top shape, so he has learned minor repair work and has refinished a few.     “One time I dropped an eight pound watermelon on a 1904 violin lying on the seat in my car. It broke into seven pieces, but I put it together and it plays.     “I have learned to rehair bows and have done around 70 of them. Rehairing bows require 150 strands of horsehair. And some bows are worth more than the violin. They can be worth over $70,000 or more.     Arlen likes to play old-time waltzes, country western music and old hymns. He hasn’t played in public yet, but has been thinking about making a debut at the Senior Center.     “I took up the violin when my first wife died in 2001. It was good therapy for me. I remarried in 2004. I met my second wife in Fergus Falls after a 50 year absence. We were former childhood neighbors. I play for her now and she always cries when I play  ‘Amazing Grace’ as it brings back sad memories.”     An electronic tuner is used to keep the violins in pitch. “Sometimes they just sing, and some days it just doesn’t go.     With a chuckle in his voice, Arlen said, “I entered a fiddling contest once and won first prize because I was the only entrant in that category.”     The former Department of Transportation employee loves his hobby. “I never knew my 34 years of working for MNDOT would help me in restoring violins.”     Arlen goes on to explain how he was the poorest draftsman in his high school drafting class in Fergus Falls. He started out his career as a surveyor and inspector and did hand drafting at age 47. At age 52, MNDOT taught him computer drafting. In his late fifties, MNDOT went to the metric system.     “They switched back to inches and feet a few years later,” Arlen said. “But the metric system comes in handy when I work on my violins. It is easier to work with the metric system than our American system of measurement.”     “I have never gone to luthier (one who works on lutes, guitars and violins) school, but I have several books that I have learned from.”     Arlen admits his fun hobby has gotten away from him.     “I have to start selling some of them. I have too many.”

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