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Vista hosts Gem Show debut at museum

VISTA — The scenic Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum was the site of the county’s first regional gem show in 25 years. The event, held April 3 through April 5, attracted more than 80 vendors and a moderate but steady stream of shoppers. The show was a chance for gem clubs and local hobbyists to show off and sell their rocks, fossils, jewelry and crafts.
The so-called first annual County Council Tailgate was organized by the San Diego County Council, a group made up of representatives from the 13 gem and mineral clubs in the county.
“I started this whole thing,” said Ray Pearce, whose Vista gem club puts on a show at the museum every fall. “I decided we needed something to gather the rock hounds of Southern California together.” Pearce sent fliers as far afield as Arizona, Utah and Sacramento, but he said he had expected 40 vendors at the most.
Aside from the perfect weather and the flush toilets and the hot food, the incentive that packed so many RVs and trailers onto the museum’s campground was the complete lack of an entrance fee.
“(The museum staff) are just fantastic people,” event co-organizer Simon King said. “They gave us this for half of what the normal rent was … so we were able to give all the dealers their spaces free this year.
King said the council does plan to charge a nominal fee for next year’s event — $40 for a 20-foot-by40-foot plot, but that is far less than the more than $200 a vendor typically pays to attend a gem show.
Every dealer offered something different. Jim Mellows from San Diego was selling 40 pounds of black sand dredged up from the Little Chiquita River. An excited Matt Beck of the Palomar Gem and Mineral Club methodically swished a scoop of the muck around in a plastic dish, separating the lighter sands to reveal dark magnetite ore glittering with flecks of pure gold.
“This is just basically panning,” Beck said, offering an impromptu lecture as he worked. “The gold is so heavy that it’ll settle down to the corner here.”
Charlie Macias came out all the way from Prescott, Ariz., to sell his gems and bead necklaces, though he said he was used to driving as far as Oregon for a good show.
“It’s a great group,” Macias said. “Part of the reason we’ll do a show is if there’s a good community effort, then we want to be part of that community.”
Macias said he definitely expected to return next year. “Once people know that it’s going to be here year after year, the community begins to recognize it and the draw will be better, I’m sure,” he said.