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D&J Rare Gems, Ltd.
P.O. Box 824
Salida, CO 81201
1.719.530.0628

raregems@amigo.net

 

Memoirs of a Gemaholic, January 2017

By John A. Rhoads, G.G. D&J Rare Gems, Ltd.

A Gemaholic is Born!

I was born in the Reading Hospital and grew up in the small community of West Reading, Pennsylvania. The house I was raised in for the first 23 years of my life is still in the family as my older brother resides there to this day.

As a child there was this wonderful vacant lot located behind our home that doubled as a playground. The land where our home was situated including the vacant lot was at one time a limestone quarry that had been filled in prior to the developement of our community as a residential area.

I grew up with two older sisters and an older brother, my younger brother came along about the same time as my interest in minerals occurred although I am not sure if it was before or after this defining event that he was born.

I was three years old and although I remember little before this event I do recall it as if it occurred yesterday.

My sisters would often take me to play in the vacant lot behind our house. Over the years it served as a battle field, a golf course, a football field, baseball diamond, a reptile haven, and of course a source of mineral adventures.

The moment when my interest in minerals and gems occurred was in the vacant lot. Although the quarry that occupied it in the past had been pretty much filled in, there were still areas where rocks could be found. We were playing on the southern end of the field one day in an area where there was a steep bank and lots of rocks to interest a three year old. I remember spotting a fist size piece of limestone that intrigued me. I picked it up and upon turning it over was delighted to see it contained transparent calcite crystals that sparkled in the sunlight. It was that moment that I became fascinated with minerals, especially transparent ones.

I kept that mineral specimen for many years and would not be surprised if I came across it again one of these days as once I left home it was relegated to a box of other minerals that I accumulated over the years and was moved in bulk with many other possessions here to Colorado.

With my interest in minerals stirred I would return to the same location many times either with my sisters or brother or after a few years by myself searching for additional transparent calcite crystals but as I recall I never found another one to match that first specimen.

I did, however, continue to search for other transparent "minerals".

Not far from where I found that first mineral specimen there were a few foundations from buildings that had been part of the quarry operation. Over the years the walls of these foundations had been used to smash bottles which resulted in the ground being littered with broken glass which to a young boy looked very much like transparent minerals. Often while playing in the area I would find my way to these walls and collect the colorful fragments of glass. I remember my sisters, upon seeing me picking up the glass, scolding me with the words "You'll get stitches!". At the time I did not know what they were talking about as how could these beautiful "minerals" cause stitches? I now realize that the stitches they were referring to were in reference to the stitches that would be required should I cut myself with one of the pieces of glass and had to be sown up at the hospital which was only a few blocks away.

On the western edge of our community was another location that fed my interest in minerals. Weiser Lake or as it was known to locals the "Mine Hole" was a water filled quarry where iron ore had been mined in the past. This location also served as a playground area where I learned to fish in the Summer and ice skate in the Winter. The mine itself was flooded when a water seam was hit that closed it down as a commercial operation. The water level filled to the top of the water table and would fluctuate from season to season. There was no inlet or outlet for the lake with fresh water coming in from underground springs and evaporation the only outflow.

Along the edge of the lake one could still find pieces of the iron ore that had been mined in the form of hematite. Over the years I accumulated quite a collection of specimens of hematite from this location as they offered the only variety of minerals that could be found within walking distance of our home. I do hope to come across one of these specimens one of these days as in the late 1960's Weiser Lake, the "Mine Hole", was filled in by the Reading Hospital to build a parking lot. One of the interesting uses of the hematite we found was as side walk chalk as most mineral enthusiasts will tell you that the streak of hematite is a rust red which added a bit of color to the typical white chalk we had access to.

The memories of this first mineral collecting remain vivid and to this day I am most thankful for them as they have led to quite a few additional adventures over the years that I will reveal in coming updates.