By: Nicole Zempel
I always say stories are everywhere - everyone has one, every place has one. Some folks are born storytellers - others are the very expression of their story. And to the lucky few, both seem to come naturally for them.
Such was my experience at Those Blasted Things...
I was having lunch at nearby Papa's Place and happened to glance out the window. The side of a neighboring building caught my attention, "Rocks, Meteorites, Cool Stuff..."
I can comb a beach for hours, walk the river banks and lake shores all day long - and when I travel, the best souvenir is always a rock. For me, it's like bringing a part of the place home with me.
I have rocks from all over the world...some from my own travels - but mostly from those of my friends who are kind enough to, "Remember to grab a rock for Nicole."
And the lengths some of my friends or even their children will go to in search of that "perfect rock," ....those stories have become part and parcel of the gift!
So, when I see "Rocks, Meteorites, Cool Stuff..." painted on the side of a building you can bet I'm going in for a look. Some may not understand the lure of stones - but fellow rock lovers do.
On this day, I encountered a kindred spirit in Vance Walgrave - owner of Those Blasted Things. Vance has done something that so many people long to do...build a career around their passion.
With a smile on his face Vance says he's always been fascinated by rocks - he says he went from, "a kid with pockets full of rocks to truck loads of rocks," today.
Vance worked full time as the manager of a local pioneer cemetery - it was in his spare time that he starting working with stone - creating monuments. That was twenty-seven years ago.
Eventually his part time passion grew into his full time business. And in 2001 Vance and his wife Becky took a self proclaimed "leap of faith" and purchased their current store front location which also houses a very unique rock shop - Those Blasted Things.
Not wanting to have to compete with the big box stores of the world - Vance and Becky wanted "one of a kind" items that folks would never be able to find anywhere else.
And not only have they accomplished this - it also shows in the knowledge that they and their daughter Katie, who also works at the shop, poses about literally each and every item in the store.
They know their items so well because they hand pick what they like and bring it into their store. The family closes shop from mid January to March 1st - hooking up their fifth wheel they travel to rock shows through out the southwestern United States.
I inquired about everything from petrified prehistoric bugs and dung - to wood, to oh so many different stones and other hand carved or misc. items - they knew everything about each item.
This personal knowledge is as rare as their arrowheads from an African desert or Shiva Lingam stones which are found in one of the seven holy sites of India - the Narmada River.
This knowledge brought a certain charm and legitimacy to the rock shop. After all, it is this kind of knowledge of and attention to product detail that people appreciate. I know I sure did.
Katie was very kind to answer my countless questions - and she did so with a sense of humor. Upon purchase of my Shiva Lingam stones she said, "Watch so they don't burn a hole in your purse."
The confused look on my face prompted the reminder, "You know...like the stones from Indiana Jones." Knowledgeable, clever, creative and friendly...this is Katie. And in this instance, the apple certainly didn't fall far from the tree!
The Walgrave's seem a fun loving bunch - and this too was evident in three things that stood out to me. The big buffalo out in front of their shop, the store restroom and their clown...a.k.a. "Buttons."
Of course I had to ask, "Why the giant buffalo?" Vance informed me that this 450 pound "landmark" took a long ride in the back of his truck - which made for a rather interesting trip. It's not everyday folks encounter a giant sculpture of a buffalo hitching a ride.
Then, there's the restroom - the magnificent creation of Katie who has a love of all things Wizzard of Oz. Folks can "follow the yellow brick road, literally. And while doing so "Zed" a zebra decked out in a tux acts as a restroom patron - you'll have to see it to fully understand :)
And, I can't forget "Buttons." He guards the entry to the yellow brick road. "Buttons" is an amazing recreation of a famous Vegas clown of the same name - who had a lengthy career on the strip. It was Vance's sister, an artist, that made this life like replica of the real "Buttons."
"Buttons" sat in Vance's sisters garage for 25 years collecting dust. Prior he was on display at a Las Vegas art gallery, but was said to "make customers uncomfortable," and therefore had to be moved. "Buttons" found his new, permanent home at Those Blasted Things thanks to Vance.
Like the giant buffalo out front, "Buttons" the clown had an interesting drive from Vegas to Luverne, Minnesota. Daughter Katie would say probably too interesting...as family members would receive picture messages from Vance of what they thought was a mysterious hitch hiker.
If you happen to find yourself in or near Luverne - Those Blasted Things is a must stop. The family is as enjoyable as the experience gained from walking in the door.