Saturday, November 8, 2003
Never has the phrase "family unit" been more apt. To enter the Clark family home at the end of long dirt driveway is to enter a self-contained world.
They live in a renovated trailer at the top of a long, unpaved road. Slowly, they are adding rooms jointed at the corners with knotty pine posts. A few of the posts are carved with old man faces, pulled out of the wood with a knife by Tim Clark Jr.
Nancy and Tim Clark met when they were 13, started dating when they were 14 and have been together ever since. They have one grown daughter and a son.
Sixteen-year-old Tim Clark Jr. has been home-schooled his whole life. He is a quiet watcher and a listener with big late-Elvis sideburns, long hair and an American flag belt buckle.
When he does step forward, his speech is peppered with admiration for his father.
"I'll never leave my parents," Tim Jr. said. "They'll have to throw me out."
The Clark home is full of the evidence of intellectual exploration. One member tries something new, such as stone carving, and teaches what they learned to the others.
"Whatever we know, (Tim Jr.) knows and vice versa," Nancy Clark said. "It's a never-ending learning experience."
For a while, father and son collected large stones from Big Creek and carved them into the kind of mortars and pestles Tim Sr. saw as a child outside Tahoe City, Calif. They were artifacts of American Indian life in the area.
"I was fascinated by them as a kid and could never find them," he said, "so I decided to make them."
Since Tim Jr. was a child, his father has taken him everywhere and taught him everything he knows.
"He was real small when I started handing him tools," the father said. "He picked up on woodcarving right away. He was good at it."
Six months ago, the elder Tim Clark began sharing his other passion -- music -- with his son. Tim Jr. sold his Sony PlayStation and used the money to buy a bass guitar from a friend of his father's.
Soon, father, son and friend Neil Marchman started writing blues songs together and recording their parts onto the family's four-track.
"We are trying to write 20 original songs so that we can make a CD," Tim Sr. said. "But we aren't done with the first one yet."
Why not? Because they have been busy with musical endeavors other than song-writing.
"We were remastering some of Duane Allman's early work and I realized that we needed a slide guitar," Tim Sr. said.
By Clark family logic, before they could learn to play the slide guitar, they had to learn to build one.
Tim Sr. unveiled a guitar design he had been thinking about for 20 years. The end product looks like two conjoined guitars sharing a neck.
"The idea is that symmetrical vibrations can go in a circle (through the instrument)," the elder Clark explained. "In a regular guitar, it goes in one direction."
The guitar body is made of oak with a wormy maple neck and black walnut inlay. Inside the guitar is a thin layer of brass and steel through the center of the neck.
"When you turn it up really loud, the brass rings like the sound of a finger sliding over the top of a crystal glass," he said. "It took us every day for a month and a week to finish. You would work all day and it still felt like you didn't do anything."
As a lifelong guitar player, Tim Sr. felt he knew what makes a good guitar even though he had never played a slide guitar before. "This was all theory," he said.
The hardest part of building a slide guitar for the first time was figuring out where the frets should be placed. "It was a pretty complicated math problem. But it was just math, so it was it wasn't that hard."
They put the finishing touches on the guitar with pieces of antler and an elk tooth as the switch.
Marchman and the Clarks are teaching themselves to play slide
guitar on the completed instrument. And now that the Clarks made one, they plan to make more.
They have named their fledgling custom-slide-guitar business Blues Moon Guitars. Their first guitar is the prototype for those they plan to make in the future.
"I've always worked for myself," Tim Sr. said.
The family makes its living off a Routt County informational Web site called Rockymountain-fun.com and plans to start a new project they call "Freestyle Gourmet."
"I try to keep everything moving together," Tim Sr. said. "Everything is about art and music as much as possible. "And I wanted to be home with my kids. My dad was at work a lot and never around. I promised I would never do that my family."