The Main Stream

Jan 24, 2013 11:32 PM by Sam Salzwedel

Gem show vendors can't afford theft

TUCSON - Ralph Thompson found his first piece of petrified wood more than 50 years ago. Now, he makes a living selling the fossilized trees at a gem show in Tucson.

"It's just a fluke," Thompson said. "It's just an oddity, and it's just so beautiful. And I just want to show it to everybody."

He travels all over the West looking for petrified wood on private property. He refines it back in Massachusetts.

"Tucson is by far the largest venue worldwide for my kind of things," Thompson said.

He feels pretty good about the safety at his warehouse. The property has a security system, but Thompson does not like to think about any of his fellow vendors becoming victims of theft.

"Jolts through my body," Thompson said, "fear, it feels close to home."

Somebody stole about $1 million worth of Oregon sunstones last February. Burglars took the gems from a trailer parked at a South Side motel. Tucson Police recovered most of the stones in the past week.

Gem show vendors could lose a year's worth of work and wages if their products are stolen.

"The money that I make now," Thompson said, "I've got to invest all this next year to come here again. And to have that investment threatened like that is very scary."

Thompson's company is called Russell-Zuhl. His show opens at the Mineral and Fossil Co-op on Oracle Road, north of Speedway Boulevard Tuesday.

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