VALLEJO — There’s more to the Solano County Fair than the Ferris wheel, the ball toss with its stuffed animal prizes, the spinning Gravitron, pulsing music and corn dogs.
The fair has a quieter side, too. In a concrete-block building tucked in along the eastern end of the fair’s main drag is the Gem and Mineral Display.
Here, fairgoers can see and buy necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry containing polished rocks. They can see a cow’s skull covered with crystals. They can look through small containers with arrowheads, fossil sand and meteorites from Argentina. They can see a display case containing pink halite, comanite and pyrite with white quartz.
All of this comes courtesy of The Vallejo Gem and Mineral Society, which got founded in 1954 and has its year-round home in the fairgrounds building.
Club Past President Barbara Battin of Benicia on Thursday pointed to a small, polished, streaky gray stone. That was once a raw rock, she said. It is jasper, which can be found locally.
Behind a display case, out of sight of the fair exhibit, is the work area where club members transform raw rock into gemstones. There sit four power saws and two trim saws with diamond blades, and eight grinders. The rocks get cut, shaped and polished until they emerge ready to be fitted in jewelery.
A group of children participating in the nearby 4-H exhibits came over to the Gem and Mineral Display during a break. Samantha and Gary Moore of Dixon didn’t have to convince their children to choose the mineral display over the fair’s ride section.
“This is their favorite place to come at the fair,” Samantha Moore said.
The children also go to the Dixon May Fair and get their rides in there, Gary Moore said.
Eight-year-old Gregory Moore stood nearby holding a small plastic bag of rocks he had gotten by sifting through sand at a Gem and Mineral Display exhibit. He confirmed that the display is a favorite of his.
“Because I like rocks,” he said, adding he has a collection.
He’d come to the right place and, if he ever wants to take his hobby a step further, the Vallejo Gem and Mineral Society accepts new members. The fair exhibit raises the group’s profile for a few days and can bring in recruits.
Battin joined the mineral society about five years ago. She knew about the society from word of mouth. Then she came across a rock collection that had been created over 50 years. The children of the collector were throwing it out and told Battin she could have it if she took it all – enough to take seven moving trips.
With that, Battin joined The Vallejo Gem and Mineral Society. She and James Sargent of America Canyon formed a gemstone business called The Beauty Within and now travel with their gemstones to such events as the Tomato Festival in downtown Fairfield.
“It started out as a hobby,” Battin said, then added, “It’s still a hobby.”
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.