Robert R. Buckman, 79, craftsman, built Swiss-style chalet in retirement

October 25, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert R. Buckman, an accomplished Carroll County woodworker who built a Swiss-style chalet for himself and made dulcimers, died of cancer Monday at his Mount Airy home. He was 79.

Mr. Buckman was born and raised on his family's Mount Airy farm. He left school in the 10th grade to work on the farm and later earned his general equivalency diploma from Frederick Community College in 1973.

During World War II, he served in Germany with an Army anti-aircraft battery. He was discharged as a private in 1946.

He began his career as a builder in 1946 doing carpentry and installing standing-seam roofs. He later worked as a trim carpenter for various builders and operated a home improvement business.

Mr. Buckman went to work in 1969 as a maintenance supervisor for the Montgomery County Public Schools. He retired in 1986.

While serving in Europe during the war, Mr. Buckman was struck by the beauty of the Alpine chalets in the countryside and vowed one day to build one for himself.

When he retired, he decided to build the chalet on a 6-acre tract in Mount Airyreplete with oak, birch, beech and dogwood trees. A friend who was a draftsman helped by putting a working design of the house on paper.

After clearing the land of trees and stumps and digging a foundation, he and his sons began prefabricating components in his wood shop. The 2 1/2 -story house featured a great room, fireplace, two bedrooms, kitchen, wood stove, and a balcony with sliding doors.

On a chilly November morning in 1986, Mr. Buckman, dressed in Alpine garb, joined family and friends who gathered at 6 a.m. to help assemble the house.

"It was an old-fashioned house-raising. We must have had 50 people who showed up to help. We loaded the prefabbed pieces aboard farm wagons and carts, which were taken to the site. And we managed to get it all up in a day," said a son, Robert R. Buckman Jr. of Shepherdstown, W.Va. "We had food and lots of fun. It was like a big party."

It took three years for Mr. Buckman to finish the work, which included sculpting gingerbread and scalloped eaves.

In 1963, Mr. Buckman also designed and installed a constantly playing musical water wheel. Its prototype, supposed to be the only one of its kind in the world, was in the Austrian Alps. The wheel was made of blocks of wood and eight tiny hammers that strike eight bottles of varying sizes and shapes filled with water to create different notes.

Water traveling through a 30-foot-long pipe created a waterfall that spun the water wheel. The spinning water wheel engaged the rest of the mechanism, including the tiny hammers that rapped out the various notes.

"They can play as many as 600 musical notes per minute, which totals 864,000 notes over a 24-hour period," reported the Frederick-News Post in a 1964 article.

"On a quiet night you could hear it for miles, so we would disengage it so it wouldn't disturb the neighbors. It played faster or slower depending on the flow of water," the son said.

Mr. Buckman also played musical instruments. While he was unsuccessful at getting the contraption to play tunes, he did learn to make dulcimers out of wormy chestnut and rosewood. The dulcimers were finished with ebony inlay.

His favorite instrument was the washtub bass.

"He also played the mandolin and guitar but loved his washtub bass. He never played publicly but was a member of what we call the Back Porch Band when the family gathered," the son said.

He was a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Moose.

Mr. Buckman was married for many years to the former Hallie M. Rhinecker, who died in 1983.

Services were yesterday.

In addition to his son, Mr. Buckman is survived by another son, Brian L. Buckman of Mount Airy; two daughters, Linda B. Graham of Union Bridge and Lisa B. Head of Loysville, Pa.; a brother, Emmette Buckman of Baltimore; three sisters, Elizabeth Harrison, Mary Rimbey and Virginia Linton, all of Mount Airy; 13 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and his companion and fiancee of 17 years, Della L. Shives.

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