For 68 years, the All Rockhounds Pow Wow Club of America has been bringing its Rock, Gem and Mineral Show to Madras. This year, more than 80 dealers set up at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds for the four-day show, June 22-25.
Jason Fabbi, of Las Vegas, Nevada, at 38, one of the younger dealers at the event, returned to the show — which he considers a classic — for the third time.
"This is one of the original rockhound shows; it's older than Quartzsite," he said, referring to the Arizona show which started 51 years ago.
Fabbi, whose business is JHF Stones, first became interested in gemology when he was taking science courses at the College of Southern Nevada. "The course opened my eyes to the turquoise in my backyard," he said. "There are treasures everywhere."
After working as a cook, an electrical worker and a landscaper, Fabbi decided to go back to school to become a graduate gemologist, with a degree from the Gemological Institute of America, and is now getting back into the circuit of gem and mineral shows — which, of course, means the Jefferson County show.
"I love the view," he said, gesturing to the snow-covered mountains to the west. "I love the weather. I visited the pool this morning, and I love it there."
This year's event was very special to Fabbi, because it was the first event where he was offering some of his mentor's rock collection. His friend, Steve Lebow, of Eugene, had asked him to stop by last Tuesday, before heading to Madras. There, his friend, who is in poor health, asked him to take some of his collection of polished stones.
"I can't give you a bunch of money, but I can tell your story," Fabbi told him.
Set up next to Fabbi, Spokane resident Carey Cady returned to the show for the fourth time, with trays and trays of rocks. A retired submarine sailor and 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, Cady took up rock collecting about seven years ago.
"I started by going down to Quartzsite, because it was 75 (degrees) in January," said Cady, whose business is called Get Your Rocks Off. "I got into cutting and polishing rocks, and before you know it, I bought too damn many rocks."
Gesturing toward another rockhound, who has been a fixture at the local event over the years, Cady said, "I started hanging out with an old-timer (Mike Siperah). He taught me about rocks and location; you learn from their experience."
Cady finds that working with rocks is soothing. "It came down to being a hobby that gave me comfort from PTSD; I could channel my energy into it."
Vendors may travel hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to attend the event, but Jan Stiskala, hailing from Sydney, Australia, has them all beaten.
Operating an electric unicycle, Stiskala arrived near closing time last Thursday, but changed his plans to stay another day in Madras, so he could spend more time at the show.
The Australian, who was born in Czechoslovakia, bought a motor home in the U.S., and now spends three months a year traveling around the country. After two months on the Oregon Coast, he and his wife read about, and decided to visit, Richardson Recreational Ranch, to check out the dig locations at the ranch.
When he heard that the rockhounds were in Madras, he said, "We don't want to miss it — a big rock show."
A stone mason, Stiskala imports stone from the U.S. for the building industry in Australia, but is also interested in rock collecting. "Everything is affordable (in the U.S.)," he said. "It's a good hobby."
With all the stones he has purchased, including mookaite jasper — an Australian stone that was half as expensive in the U.S. — Stiskala had a new concern. "I don't know how I'll be able to carry all the rocks back," he said.