Pilot story and photos by BILL LUNDQUIST
GOLD BEACH Did you know you could buy a $15,000 rare book, an exquisitely carved myrtlewood lighthouse, or tour one of the West's oldest salmon hatcheries, all in one day in Gold Beach?
More than 50 participants on Wednesday's Hospitality Tours learned they could do all that and more in a leisurely morning and afternoon.
The theme of most of the free Hospitality Tours is discovering the hidden treasures of America's Wild Rivers Coast, but that was never more true than on February's tour.
When Gold Beach residents watched the two-story home of Gold Beach Books rise out of the smoke of the Biscuit Fire, few realized that John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury and even St. Jerome would soon be moving in.
Owner Ted Watkins hadn't even planned to build the bookstore in Gold Beach. He'd lived in Pistol River for several years, but figured a world-class bookstore would have to be in Portland to make any money.
Then he discovered a telescope shop in Bandon that, by all rights, should have been in New York or London.
The owner told Watkins it didn't matter where the store was, as long as he could sell his products all over the world through the Internet.
The idea clicked with Watkins, and he decided his Gold Beach Books, Biscuit Coffeehouse and Art Gallery would be built right in Gold Beach.
He said his Web site, www.oregoncoastbooks.com, "let's me live in the most beautiful place in the world."
It wasn't all smooth sailing, however. People warned Watkins against naming his Biscuit Coffeehouse after a natural disaster like the Biscuit Fire.
Sure enough, he said, the head of his shovel broke off at the groundbreaking ceremony.
"That's not good," said his contractor, who later fell down the stairs he was building at the bookstore and broke his hip.
Fortunately, Watkins' customers have fared better, aside from the occasional heart failure at the sight of a $15,000 price tag.
Not to worry. Gold Beach Books has plenty of $1 used books too, along with new books, nine different special blends of coffee beans, pizza by the slice, and an ever-changing art gallery.
Even most of the books in the secure rare books room cost no more than $50 to $100.
Then there are the treasures. The $15,000 book is a scarce first edition, in its first state dust jacket, of Steinbeck's first book, "Cup of Gold."
Watkins has other rare editions of "Cup of Gold" worth about $500, but they don't have the incredibly rare dust jacket.
Rarity, condition and desirability determine price, said Watkins. He should know. The 50,000 books on the shelf represent only 10 percent of his collection.
"Collecting," he said. "It's a disease."
As an example, Watkins said he once decided to collect the first editions of Bradbury, one of his favorite authors.
He soon learned that Bradbury had written hundreds of minor books besides the famous ones.
Having accomplished that mission, Watkins collected all the Bradbury stories in periodicals. He then discovered there were plenty of foreign editions of Bradbury's works.
As a publicity stunt, 200 editions of Bradbury's famous "Fahrenheit 451" were bound in asbestos.
Ordinary paper, of course, burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Watkins has number 97 of that 200 edition run, and it can be yours for only $12,500.
The store also offers signed editions of books by Teddy Roosevelt and Zane Grey, along with some truly used books, like a 1489 edition of "The Letters of St. Jerome."
Watkins' advice? "Collect what you like and buy the best examples of it you can get."
That advice might also apply to collectors of model lighthouses.
A Light in the Wood
Fine myrtlewood lighthouses are arguably the most interesting products turned out by the Rogue River Myrtlewood Factory, another downtown Gold Beach business.
The lantern rooms are made of leaded glass, and each light is controlled by a microcircuit board in the lighthouse base. The bulbs dim and brighten to simulate a light rotating in a lighthouse.
The tour participants were taken back to the drying room in small groups for a lesson in how myrtlewood products are made.
To keep the rare hardwood from splitting, the lumber is first dried in a kiln for six to eight weeks, then roughed out into shapes like bowls and dried again.
After being "turned" by crafters, the products are coated with a two part epoxy spray in spray booths similar to those in auto body shops.
Sativa Warren explained about the equipment that keeps wood dust out of the lungs of the crafters.
She said she especially appreciated all the precautions because her husband is one of the crafters.
Myrtlewood, she explained, grows only on the Pacific Coast from Eureka to Florence, and in Israel.
It is related to California bay laurel, but where that wood is gray, myrtlewood can range from gold to black. Tiger-stripe and burl is the most precious.
Unfortunately, said Warren, myrtlewood is considered a scrap wood by loggers. Timber companies spray it and other hardwoods to prevent growth.
Most myrtlewood today grows in protected groves in state parks. Warren said the parks departments often call when a tree must be removed for some reason, providing a source of the precious lumber.
She said the myrtlewood factory actually had to shut down its Web site because sales greatly exceeded supply. At the store, she said, the lull between tourist seasons grows shorter every year.
A short drive up Jerry's Flat Road, back in the hills from the Indian Creek Cafe, is the Indian Creek Hatchery, founded in 1877 by R.D. Hume.
It has been run by the Curry Anadromous Fishermen since 1988 as part of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Salmon and Trout Enhancement Program.
John Weber, from the fish and wildlife department, told tour participants that volunteers are needed in the Brookings area to help collect brood stock for the Elk River hatchery.
The Indian Creek Hatchery fertilizes 150,000 to 170,000 Chinook salmon eggs each fall, said Weber. Half of those are released as tiny fry and have to survive on their own.
The other half are raised at the hatchery until they reach the smolt stage and are preparing to live in salt water. They are then released into the estuary.
Weber said about 1.5 percent of the smolts return to the hatchery two to five years later. The fry don't do nearly as well.
The hatchery fish have one fin clipped and fishermen are allowed to catch them when they return to the river.
Coded wire tags in the snouts of the fish tell biologists where the fish came from, and what percentage return to the hatchery to spawn.
Volunteer Larry Schnider took tour participants into the hatchery to show them how fish are raised in naturally flowing creek water. The hatchery has automatic feeders and egg counters.
All the News
Around nearly as long as the fish hatchery is the Curry County Reporter, the town newspaper founded in 1914.
Current owner Molly Walker distributed copies of an 1893 edition of The Gold Beach Gazette, which preceded the Reporter.
Her father, Bob Van Leer, had been an advertising representative for a newspaper in Eureka before he bought the Reporter in 1956.
Walker said she was born into the business and worked her way to the top until she and husband Jim took the paper over in 1998.
The paper is composed entirely by computer now and sent electronically to the printing plant in Smith River.
Walker said the paper office is not as interesting to tour now as it was in the days of hot lead type, but she showed participants historic artifacts like a printing block for photos and metal type. She said today's photos are all digital.
Participants also made a brief stop at the Rogue Outdoor Store on the north end of town. The longtime business took its current name 30 years ago.
People know to go there for expert advice and equipment for hunting and fishing, but tour participants were surprised by the large selection of clothing.
A 71-pound Chinook salmon, the world record for a salmon caught on a fly rod (with a seven pound test line, no less), is mounted on the wall.
Next to the Rogue Outdoor Store is a business open only six months: Sweetbriar.
The gift shop features art, its own line of bath and body products, and a candy shop with homemade fudge.
The next free Hospitality Tour will be held March 17 in Brookings and revolve around a St. Patrick's Day Irish mystery.
Call tour director Jan Norwood at (541) 469-4909 to reserve a spot.