Miners, dealers key to event


Rockhounds hold annual pow-wow at Jefferson County Fairgrounds

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Steve Schultz, left, and Rod Blanton, mine owners and partners in Silver Streams Northwest, display the Owyhee Mountain dendritic jasper that they discovered this year in Malheur County.From miners to toolmakers to dealers, the annual rock, gem and mineral show at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds draws a wide variety of vendors.

Eric Morgan, of Othello, Wash., the president of the All Rockhounds Pow-Wow Club of America, said there were about 125 vendors at the 64th annual event. Vendors ranged from "the people who are there strictly for the pleasure of it, all the way up to people who are almost geologists."

Fewer people attended the free show, this year, however, which he attributed to "not enough publicity." Morgan explained that the club had lost the former president, which meant others had to scramble to handle his duties. "We were way down in the numbers of visitors."

Despite the low attendance, and weather that ranged from too wet at the beginning of the week to upper 90s by the end of the week, vendors enjoyed the show.

"Madras continues to be a gem of a show for Central Oregon," said Julie Meinz, of Tigard, who owns Rocks 4 Life with her husband Dick.

The Meinzes, who make jewelry from a variety of gems and stones, have been attending the Madras show for the past 11 years, and look forward to reconnecting with friends they've met over the years.

by: HOLLY M. GILL  - Pete Sprague's father, the late Charles R. Sprague, invented the CRS Grippers - a tool that simplifies rock cutting - in the early 1980s. Since his father's death, Pete Sprague has been marketing and demonstrating the tool.Dick Meinz is particularly appreciative of the fact that "there are a lot of miners here. They bring new product to market."

Among the miners bringing the new product are Steve Schultz and Rod Blanton, of Homedale, Idaho, who own numerous mines in Malheur County, and have attended the show for the past seven years.

"This is a unique show," said Schultz. "It has the biggest concentration of miners in the Northwest. The buyers come here to get product from the source, instead of being a buy-sell deal."

New this year is the Owyhee Mountain dendritic jasper, which Blanton discovered in Malheur County, where 90 percent of their mines are located, and they traced back to its source.

On a background that ranges from tans, peaches and earth tones, the stone features tiny crystals of manganese that form in the shape of tiny ferns or flowers in colors ranging from rust to mahogany. Meinz was already offering finished pendants and jewelry with the interesting new stone.

"I've been doing this off and on for 40 years, and there's not a lot of land to discover; finding new product is really unique," said Schultz. "You see a trace and scout out to find the source."

The two then file claims on mineral rights through the Bureau of Land Management.

Many of the vendors who work with the gems and minerals make use of a tool invented by the late Charles R. Sprague, called CRS Grippers.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Dick Meinz, of Tigard, a vendor at the annual Rockhound Pow-Wow at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, points out a type of setting for Molly Siebert, of Madras, on Sunday, the last day of the local show."I think it changed the whole industry for rockhounds, because they can put the stone in the gripper, orient it the way they want, and cut it," explained Pete Sprague, who has continued to market the tool since his father's death. "It's an accessory for their slab saw."

A retired auto mechanic and tire store owner, Pete Sprague took over the sale of the gripper tool, and has been attending 10-12 shows a year.

"We bring a lot of our stuff to sell here," he said. "My dad was coming over here for about 40 years, and I've been here for the last seven."

Alan Neer, of Corvallis, who had a booth at the show, said he owns a gripper. "It's the best vise ever made," he offered. "I wouldn't be without mine."

Vendor Ed Mardock, who has lived at Crooked River Ranch since 1995, said that business had been good for the days they were open, but they lost the first day due to rain.

Mardock, who is retired from real estate, enjoys attending the shows with his wife to sell the custom wire-wrapped jewelry they design and create. "It used to be our excuse to go to Arizona for the winter," he said.