How I First got Interested in Collecting Rocks

by Jim Hird, MSDC Member

Kanawha Rock & Gem Club Member Jim Hird doing a presentation: “If it can’t be grown then it has to be mined” to the 2nd grade class at Fall River Elementary in McDowell County, February 19, 2020

I was born in Cheektowaga, New York in 1946 and was raised there. I started picking rocks at the early age of 7. My father built me a special wooden lock box for all my treasures. In high school, I was taken under the wing of my 9th grade earth science teacher, Miss Elye'. Under her guidance I had an exhibit of local rocks and minerals in the hall display case, and even had a column in the high school newspaper called the “Pebble Pup”.

Early on Miss Elye' told me about the Geological Section of the Museum of Science and their meetings. I started then to get a wider appreciation for minerals with the club there. My Parents, Horace and Gertrude Hird, became members with me at that time. We spent many weekends collecting minerals and fossils in Lockport, New York and the surrounding areas around Buffalo. My mother even got bit by the rockhound bug and we spent many Mother's Days in the Lockport Quarry. My parents have since passed away but were active members of the Buffalo club till their deaths.

After a two-year degree at Eire County Tech, I transferred to Michigan Technological University in 1965 where I earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I picked the college for the engineering department as well as for its wonderful geological, mineralogical, and mining department. This is where and when I was introduced to the Lake Superior Copper District, its minerals, beauty, and history of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The freedom of collecting in that area at the time with all the abandon mines and still working underground mines has stuck with me. The area is not as easy to collect in as it once was, but there are still materials that can be found on public land and with permission of the owners of the poor rock piles.

Chalcocite: Fresh and Weathered. Photo by Jim Hird.

In my years at Tech, I took mineralogy classes for extra credit and made many friends in the student collecting group, the Seaman Mineralogical Museum, and the local rock club. Graduation in 1968 took me away from the Keweenaw but something of me stayed behind. After two years working in Niagara Falls for Union Carbide, I returned to the Keweenaw as a married man for two years of graduate work in mining engineering and always rock collecting.

Jim at the Cliff Mine, West Virginia. Photo from Jim Hird

After completing two years and with bills to pay and life to live, I headed for the coal fields of West Virginia. I have spent 30 plus years working in and around coal mines for U.S. Steel Mining doing maintenance, engineering, and design work on both surface and underground facilities. My work was not about minerals but my eye was always open for the occasional quartz crystal or other mineral trace. Collecting in West Virginia was fun but always I was drawn back to the Keweenaw and the rich copper and history of the area.

Picking Kona dolomite for kids. With Ken Valko. Photo from Jim Hird.