Rockin’ in the tree world
Jesse Skoubo/Democrat-Herald
Joe Cota of Lebanon examines a piece of petrified wood as it sits on his diesel-powered stone saw.

Joe Cota and Brad Newport, two Linn County collectors of petrified wood, will appear next month on a Travel Channel program called "The Best Places to Find Cash and Treasures."

Hosted by Kirsten Gum, the half-hour show starring Cota, of Lebanon, and Newport, of Sweet Home, starts at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 8, on mid-valley cable systems. It repeats later that night at 10 and again at 6 a.m., Saturday, Jan. 12.

Cota is a former plywood millworker who learned to create art from petrified wood from a Lebanon-based expert named Mel Fisher.

He studied under Fisher for two decades, learning to cut, sand and polish, and gaining savvy in rock, gem and petrified wood retail and appraisals.

When Cota, 60, was laid off from his job 15 years ago, he decided to start his own lapidary business.

A longtime member of the Sweet Home Rock and Gem Club, Cota says he brings in more income now than in his mill days.

Both Cota and Newport are longtime rockhounds.

Newport last year purchased 100 acres last year on Old Holley Road for $560,000, not knowing the land was ripe with up to $100,000 worth of petrified wood.

Newport, 45, said the seller was bewildered when he started moving his petrified wood early into his new home.

"She said 'What do you want to collect that old stuff for? That stuff is poppin' out of the ground on this property,'" Newport said.

He checked it out for himself. "They were better than all the other pieces I had."

Kirsten Gum recently replaced Becky Worley as the show's host. Gum spent separate days with the men, hunting with Newport for petrified wood on his property and bringing slabs to Cota, who turned them into his signature bookends.

Rock piles sit outside Cota's home, where he and a part-time employee make 150 to 200 pieces each week. His wife, Lucy, helps run a shop called Rock Castle and Cota's Lapidary on their property, at 39100 River Drive. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 451-2740 for an appointment.

The shop was on Main Street for 10 years until Cota moved it two years ago, he said, because of ongoing theft.

Cota said his top sellers are bookends, polished slabs, crystals, carvings and beads.

Newport recently purchased rock cutting and polishing machines similar to Cota's, but they have not yet been used. However, he hopes to eventually open a rock shop of his own.

He opened three businesses in Sweet Home this year: Mr. Lucky's Deli, Ricky's House of Cards and Sweet Home Auto Body.

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