By Betty Lawrence
WAPAKONETA -- Robert Dicus has been attending the Auglaize County Fair most of his 83 years, and this year he brought along a handmade psaltery.
"I thought maybe they could use it at the log cabin display, but that was mostly educational materials," Dicus says as he munches on a barbecue beef sandwich Thursday.
On the table beside him lays the psaltery, an unusual instrument that has been around since Biblical times. Dicus picks up the handmade bow, tucks the instrument against his cheek and begins playing the soft sound of "Amazing Grace."
"I really love making these things, but the parts are too hard to get now, so I'm going to have to stop," he says. "It's not a loud instrument, but boy does it have a tone."
He has made 64 of the instruments during the past five decades. Black walnut is used for the body of the zither-type instrument, often referred to as a forerunner of the harpsichord. "The psaltery is referred to in Biblical scripture 26 times," he says. "David played it."
According to a piece of literature about the instrument, it was used for the playing of psalms from which it gets its name.
In ancient times, fingers plucked the 22 strings that make up the psaltery. Today, a bow is used to play the wedge-shaped instrument.
The most difficult part of making a psaltery is tuning it, he says.
"You can tune it one day and because the string stretches, you have to retune it again the next day, and then again until you get it right," he says.
Dicus, the father of six children and 13 grandchildren, learned to play the instrument himself. He now occasionally plays at church, but mostly just for the pleasure of it.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the fairgrounds Thursday, teenagers were trying out the DUI goggles and tested their driving skills with a golf cart as part of Driving Safety Day activities.
The young participants took turns driving a small course lined with orange cones, first without the goggles, then with the goggles on. The special goggles impair the driver to make them appear to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
"It was really hard. I felt dizzy," 15-year-old Ashley Baumer of Botkins says after driving the course and hitting several of the orange cones.
Her friends, Brittany Russell and Katy Demarcus, both 15 year olds from New Bremen, say the DUI goggle experience was an eye-opener.
"It really makes you not want to drink and drive," Russell says. "It shows what can happen. I hit so many of the cones."
An adventurous Kyle Kinney, 15, of St. Marys, describes the DUI goggle experience as "freaky, but kind of cool."
The safety day activities were put on by the Capabilities Driving School, St. Marys, to promote and raise awareness of safe driving habits, said Gregg Nanson, a driving instructor for Capabilities.
The fair ends today, with final events including a teen dance and circus performance tonight.