June 21, 2005 > Jeweltrain
"There wasn't much to do in Green River," says Ben Nott of his childhood years in the small mining town located in southwestern Wyoming. At the time, fishing was so-so since the river water was pretty warm, so rock and fossil collecting came naturally. Ben also spent six years in nearby Kemmerer where "fishing" without rod or reel in dry rocks was often done to find fossils of perch, herring, paddlefish, stingray, and catfish. Locals knew and paleontologists soon discovered that 50 million years ago, a now extinct lake in the area was teaming with life and left a rich treasure of evidence, aquatic and land-based, behind - one of the richest fossil sites in the world. "I remember taking a tire iron and cracking a rock open to find a fossil when I was 5 or 6 years old," says Ben, "so you could say I have been interested in fossils since then." Over 8,000 acres near Kemmerer was declared Fossil Butte National Monument in 1972.
It seems inevitable that Ben would find a career associated with rocks. At age 17, while working at his dad's service station, a friend came by and took Ben on a hunting trip, not for game, but for petrified wood and agate. From that point on, he says that he could be characterized as a "rock hound." Ben notes, "I have been doing it ever since" and adds, "How many jobs do you know of where you can pick up your merchandise from the ground?" True to his early experiences in life, a profession in mining seemed natural. At Colorado School of Mines, Ben studied mine engineering, crystallography, gemology, geology and mineralogy.
Working throughout his career in tunnels, powerhouses and mines, Ben knows all about geologic formations and mining. In the past, he has been a "powder monkey," setting explosive charges to break rock and create tunnels and mine shafts. He says, "Powder is the easy part; it is [difficult] drilling holes at the right place and angle to get the result you want." Ben's career took him throughout the western United States; to the Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah, NORAD facilities and Climax Molybdenum mine in Colorado, a 26 mile water tunnel from Dillon to Grant Colorado, sometimes as much as 4,000 feet below the surface. He is amazed when others romanticize this work that he always thought of as somewhat routine. There were times, however, when he admits to close calls that could easily have resulted in a fatality...his.
Ben was the Chief Inspector of tunnels for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) between 1965 and 1970. He worked on tunnels through the Berkeley Hills at 9th Street and the Market Street tunnel in San Francisco. On the side, Ben worked at shows and did business by mail order. Gazing around his shop in Mission San Jose, he says with a laugh that he proved to be a better buyer than seller. A quick glance reveals a fine gemstone jewelry shop with interesting quirks - fossils, crystals, rounded (cabishon) and faceted semiprecious stones mingle with precious gems and pearls.
Ben is quick to add that since Jeweltrain has access to a wide variety of stones, almost any design can be accommodated including Feng Shui requirements. He has spent years working with stones, creating "lapidary art," one of Mother Nature's finest artworks. Jeweltrain has, over the years, "morphed" from a crystal and rock specialty store to become a top quality jewelry shop that can design and manufacture fine jewelry while still catering to customers seeking unusual stones and fossils.
When he and his wife Ellen first opened the shop 12 years ago, Ben says, "I got what I could afford." Active at shows and the Alameda County Fair Gem and Mineral Building for 22 years, Jeweltrain has expanded to include items in almost any price range. Ellen, also a gem aficionado since age 3 (Ben met Ellen Krueger at a gem show), is especially enamored with pearls and is known by her unofficial title of "East Bay Pearl Maven." Of course, fine pearls are available at Jeweltrain. Ellen came by her love of gems through her aunt who was a member of the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society. She is also Show Chair of the San Francisco Gem and Mineral Society. This year's show will be held at the Hall of Flowers at Golden Gate Park, August 6 and 7.
Ben emphasizes that Jeweltrain specializes in "fine jewelry and colored stones." As an example, he displayed a ring of beautiful colored diamonds. While many jewelry stores concentrate on clear diamonds, "We specialize in colored, rare stones such as Tanzanite and Benitoite, the rarest gem on earth and it comes from San Benito County. The largest one in the world is 8 carats and I have one that is 2.7 carats." Repairs of fine jewelry are also available at Jeweltrain as well as custom design work. "If they can draw it or have us design something, we can make it," says Ben.
Come by and see Ben and Ellen Nott at Jeweltrain or, for the next several weeks, at the Alameda County Fair as well. In either locale, they will be happy to talk with you about fine jewelry, gems, pearls, crystals and fossils. These two "gems" each have a lifetime of experience to share. For unusual gifts and custom jewelry including carved gems, it is hard to beat the Jeweltrain team.
43494 Ellsworth Street, Fremont
(Mission San Jose near the post office)