A Collector's Story

by James Hird, MSDC’s Guest Speaker for June

I was born in Cheektowaga, New York and raised there. I started picking rocks at the early age of 7. In high school, I was taken under the wing of my 9th grade earth science teacher and told about the geological section of the Museum of Science. I started to get a wider appreciation for minerals with the club there. My parents became members with me at that time. We spent many weekends collecting in Lockport, New York and the surrounding areas around Buffalo. We even spent one Mother’s Day in Lockport Quarry because my mother got bit by the rockhound bug as well. My parents were active members of the Buffalo club till their deaths.

In 1965, after a two-year degree at Erie County Tech, I transferred to Michigan Technological University where I earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering. This is where and when I was introduced to the Lake Superior Copper District and the beauty and history of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The freedom of collecting in that area at the time with all the abandoned mines and still-working underground mines has stuck with me for all time. 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 waste rock piles.

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 with a new wife for two years of graduate work in mining engineering and rock collecting.

With bills to pay and life to live, I next headed for West Virginia and the coal fields where I spent 30 plus years working in and around coal mines for U.S. Steel 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 there was fun, but I was always drawn back to the Keweenaw and the rich copper and history of the area.

We joined the local rock club, The Kanawha Rock and Gem Club out of Charleston, WV, when we first moved to West Virginia. It was 134 miles north of our home in the southern tip of WV, which made hard to attend meetings. The distance and my work schedule put a damper on our ability to attend club activities, but we still managed to support the club and its shows.

Maintenance is hard on a family life and after two children and 25 years of marriage, my wife and I parted ways. My son also attended Tech and now lives with my two granddaughters in Palmer, Michigan. With my daughter is living in the Buffalo area, part of me is still in both areas. The pull of the Keweenaw still takes me back again and again, now for family reasons as well as collecting.

After my kids and wife were gone from home, I returned to Kanawha Club and with retirement approaching and more time on my hands, I was able to start a new part time job, get remarried, become club president, show chairman, and spend more time in my beloved Keweenaw. When my wife Bonnie was introduced to the rockhound hobby, she took to it and has since gotten into beading and other lapidary arts. We have made many trips to the Copper Country together to collect during Keweenaw Week in the fall and ride snowmobiles in the winter. We also attended many sessions at Wildacres, the EFMLS’ lapidary retreat in Little Switzerland, NC.

That brings us to the present. I now specialize in Copper Country minerals, native copper from around the world, mining artifacts, history, and memorabilia from that special region of the copper country. For the last 13 years, Bonnie and I have enjoyed collecting minerals from other areas, supporting our local Lions Club and the Kanawha Rock and Gem Club. Both Bonnie and I are retired, with me still working part time (soon to retire for good) for fun money. We are involved with the following organizations:

  • Kanawha Rock and Gem Club (our home club)
  • Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club
  • Buffalo Geological Society
  • Seaman Museum Mineral Society
  • Gary Lions Club Treasurer and Secretary
  • Copper Country Rock and Mineral Club
  • Keeweenaw County Historical Society
  • Tate Geological Museum in Casper WY
  • Fellow of the Mineralogical Record

When we have time, and there is always time for that, we head north for the 1,000-mile drive back to the shores of Lake Superior and the copper country as often as we can. Sometimes it’s just to sit on the beaches and watch the sun set.

But always keeping an eye out for agates!