A fancy for fossils

Fossil collectors Wolfschlag,
Gabhart subject of July forum

By Levi King
Staff Writer

(July 2005) – Jim Gabhart has a thing for rocks. The self-described “rock hound” started out collecting interesting stones as a youngster. Gabhart, a remodeling contractor, previously taught building trades and served as a bailiff in circuit court.

Jim Gabhart

Photos by Levi King

Jim Gabhart will display
his fossils at an event
this month in Madison.

His collection now contains crystals and local fossils such as horned coral, trilobites and brachiopods. He also has more exotic North American specimens that he bought at rock shops around the country. Some of these include petrified fish and turtles and oreodont skulls, which Gabhart described as a “prehistoric critter kind of like a sheep.”
Bob Wolfschlag, owner of Wolfschlag Construction, became interested in fossils when he worked for Gabhart many years ago. Wolfschlag, 61, has since gone on to amass his own collection of rocks, including 50-pound crystals and dinosaur bones. Some of his prized fossils include a prehistoric goat head, complete fish skeletons, duckbilled dinosaur ribs and ancient shark teeth.
Gabhart and Wolfschlag will be presenting their collections at the Jefferson County Historical Society’s monthly docents meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 13, at the Heritage Center. The program, simply titled “Fossils,” is open to the public and admission is $2.
The presenters plan to exhibit native fossils as well as stones and bones from around the world. “Most people get bored with the details, so we let them get a good look and ask questions,” said Wolfschlag.
Joe Carr, the historical society director, said that the fossil display will shift the subject of the monthly programs from history to prehistory. “We usually focus on human history, but we’re excited to have Bob and Jim presenting. It should be interesting,” he said.
Gabhart has been doing fossil presentations at schools and service clubs for years. He thinks his hobby has a special appeal for children. He recalls one visit to a 4-H meeting several years ago, where the kids were rowdy and inattentive as the leader introduced the meeting. When Gabhart began his presentation, the kids became enthralled. “You could hear a pin drop,” he said.
Gabhart can’t remember exactly how or when he got into fossils. “About all I can tell you is that my mother used to complain a lot about finding rocks in the washing machine,” he said. Gabhart has no formal training, just the knowledge he’s been collecting along with his rocks. “I’ve learned a little here and a little there, from books or festivals,” he said.
The veteran has some advice for kids interested in rocks. “Get yourself a little fossil book so you know what you’re looking at when you pick something up,” Gabhart said.
He recommends visiting the Falls of the Ohio State Park Interpretive Center in Clarksville, Ind., to learn more about the area’s geological history.
The center displays and explains items found in the site’s exposed fossil beds. Gabhart also suggests a day trip to nearby Big Bone Lick State Park in Boone County, Ky. During the last Ice Age, giant mastodons, wooly mammoths and ground sloths came to the site to drink from the still-active warm salt springs. Many of these animals became mired in the marsh, and paleontologists have been uncovering their fossilized remains since 1739. Visitors can view a variety of these prehistoric creatures at the park’s museum.
Wolfschlag advises youngsters to look around them. “You couldn’t ask for better area for fossils,” he said. Kids can find plenty of prehistoric shells and creatures in creek beds or along the roads cut through hillsides. “You get an eye for it,” said Wolfschlag.

• The public is invited to attend the fossil presentation at the Heritage Center, 615 W. First St., Madison. Call (812) 265-2335.

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