TORRINGTON – Take a drive a couple of miles and hundreds of millions of years into the past to The Rock Shop.
It was a passion for “rock hounding” that brought the original owners, Dale and Wanda Miller, to open The Rock Shop alongside Wanda’s sister and brother-in-law, Lola and Ted Shiller, in 1963. And it was a desire to not see a Goshen County cornerstone disappear when the Miller’s decided to finally retire, more than five decades later, that brought Loree Marlin and her daughter, Tineasha Ollila, to take over the operation in June 2019.
“I’d worked for them for quite a while and I really enjoyed working here,” Loree said. “And they needed somebody to take over and they’d tried to sell.”
You’d be hard pressed to find anybody in Torrington and Goshen County who doesn’t know about The Rock Shop with the almost-landmark spinning attachment on its sign along U.S. Hwy. 26-85 west of Torrington. Just about everybody local has at the very least visited the business at some point to look at all the decorative, interesting and even unusual items filling its shelves.
“I have memories of coming here when I was a kid,” Tineasha said. “Good memories. That’s what everybody says who comes in here, they were coming here as kids and it would be sad to see it close.
“It’s been kind of a staple to Torrington,” she said. “Everybody always talks about seeing the spinning thing on our sign out front.”
Dale and Wanda Miller were the rock experts of Goshen County. Dale and Ted Shiller would make frequent trips, digging for jade and other minerals around Wyoming and the west. They’d then return to the shop, where the rocks would be tumbled and ground, cut and polished to produce the decorative items for the shop.
And Dale was going to teach all his tricks, share his knowledge, with Loree and Tineasha when he retired and they took over. But, sadly, Dale got sick shortly after the helm changed hands and passed away this past July 19 at the age of 91.
“Dale was going to teach us how to run all the machinery,” Loree said. “But he wasn’t able to teach us. So, we don’t know how to run the equipment – yet.”
It’s also something of a work-in-progress for Loree and Tineasha as they learn about the different varieties of rocks and minerals that line their shelves. Fortunately, they said, they’ve had the assistance of veteran rockhounds and long-time patrons who’ve been more than willing to share their knowledge.
After all, Dale and Wanda said in previous stories in the Telegram that was the way they learned about their stock-in-trade when they first opened their doors – books on geology and the knowledge of older hands.
“But we have an advantage, in a way,” Loree said. “We have Google, we have the internet, which they didn’t have.”
That’s not to say the women haven’t gained knowledge throughout the year and a few months they’ve been in charge. Tineasha, for example, has gotten proficient at scratch-testing, a method to determine mineral hardness, one of several indicators of what a sample might be.
And knowing the composition of the samples they work with is important. Loree and Tineasha have been able to get some of the equipment up and running, cutting and polishing some of the literal tons of rocks and minerals that fill drawers, boxes, bins and shelves in the back of The Rock Shop. The tiny particles released when cutting or polishing samples can be dangerous, even toxic, they said.
“We need to know it’s safe without wearing a full respirator,” Tineasha said. “And my kids come in and they’ll help polish stuff; I need to make sure it’s safe for them.”
Loree agreed: “And we’re learning a lot from different customers. They’ll know something cool or interesting about a specific mineral, we’ll ask them a lot of questions.”
The customer base of The Rock Shop is divided into two main groups – the people who know about rock and minerals on one side, and the people who are just looking for something “pretty” on the other.
“A lot of people just want gifts; they come in to buy gifts for other people,” Loree said.
“They just want something pretty,” Tineasha said. “Then there are the ones who know everything there is to know about rocks – they’re looking for something different and unique they haven’t seen.”
The Rock Shop still has a cadre of faithful rockhounds who scour Goshen County and surrounding areas. There’s a pair of older men who routinely bring in fossils of varying sizes, for example. And there are artisans, both local to Torrington and elsewhere in Wyoming, who make a variety of jewelry the women sell at The Rock Shop.
All in all, keeping The Rock Shop going in Goshen County was important to Loree and Tineasha. For one thing, there’s a loyal customer base nationwide who still make annual pilgrimages to southeast Wyoming to visit what some have described as one of the best rock shops in the country.
“There are a lot of return people who go on road trips every year or go on vacation every year,” Tineasha said. “They say they come through here every year and just have to stop here at The Rock Shop.
And, though they described themselves as casual rock collectors – “I just knew, ‘These are pretty,’” Tineasha said – they still felt almost an obligation to keep The Rock Shop open, both for their immediate and extended families.
“It’s something fun for us to do, something we can do as a family,” Tineasha said. “We’ve always felt like family to Dale and Wanda – we just wanted to be a part of this.”