MULTIMEDIA: The art of making music and a life worth living

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:16 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 11, 2013
Mike Dulak holds his basset hound, Oliver, in his lap after playing some songs in his backyard in Rocheport on Sunday. Oliver lays on the floor of Dulak's shop while he works and is his near-constant companion, following him from station to station in his workshop.

ROCHEPORT — In his 66 years, Mike Dulak has been a carpenter, waiter, music teacher, orderly, fiddler, professional musician and baseball player – just to name a few. In his current incarnation, he's a mandolin maker.

Since 1994, Dulak has been making and selling inexpensive mandolins from a two-story workshop he built in his garage. His commute is the 30 seconds it takes to walk from the house and through his wife's gardens to get to the workshop. His 6-year-old basset hound, Oliver, and his neighbor's dogs, Nala and Stripe, often join him on his journey.

In the beginning, it was just Dulak and the garage. He started by attaching cheeky notes to his mandolins and sending them to unsuspecting dealers, asking them to try them out. The notes said things like, "Better to talk to us rather than those that build us."

Soon he had customers. His company, now the The Big Muddy Mandolin Co., grew and eventually required more hands to fill the orders that were coming in from around the world. Dulak hired three full-time and two part-time employees to handle the workload of producing about a thousand mandolins per year.

Now 66, Dulak has gone back to the beginning and downsized the business to just one employee – himself. It allows him the freedom to do what he wants.

"I goof around with my dog, go fishing, play softball, play music and am a general nuisance to society," he said.

He takes the dogs to the river to play "stick" with them, does some fly fishing, plays the guitar-banjo in his band The Boone County Tick Pickers and eats berries from his wife's garden. When he feels like working, he spends an hour or two on a mandolin.

He keeps his life simple. He likes it that way.

Supervising editor is Katie Moritz.

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