A childhood hobby has turned into Guy DiTorrice’s lifelong passion

Guy DiTorrice of Brownsville holds a fossilized clamshell. It’s one of the millions of rocks and fossils he has collected since he was young. He has spent 20 years sharing his findings and passion through Oregon State Parks presentations.

Carol Rosen
Guy DiTorrice of Brownsville holds a fossilized clamshell. It’s one of the millions of rocks and fossils he has collected since he was young. He has spent 20 years sharing his findings and passion through Oregon State Parks presentations.

It isn’t often that a child’s activity turns into an adult hobby, but that’s exactly Guy DiTorrice’s experience.

He began collecting things such as fossils, rocks, leaves, snails and insects when he was 7 years old in Illinois. When his family moved to Colorado’s dinosaur country, he began looking into finding and collecting their bones and fossils.

“It became a hobby when I found snails inside limestone near my home in Illinois in the 1960s,” DiTorrice says of his collections. His curiosity has allowed him to keep the hobby going throughout his life.

He likes meeting with various organizations and schools to talk about his collection, hoping to influence them to start their own collections. About 20 years ago, he was approached by Oregon State Parks to offer educational seminars.

They tried to call him the “Fossil Guy,” but then found out “there’s a guy in North Carolina who is a well-respected ‘Fossil Guy’ and I didn’t want to take away from him, so I became the Oregon Fossil Guy,” he says. “It’s an offshoot of my hobby. The rangers suggested it and encouraged me to talk about it.”

He’s done at least 60 talks per year since 2005. His collection encompasses about eight states and Alberta, Canada, with some of the dinosaur material from cultural exchanges.

Before he retired last spring, he managed to do tours and talks to groups.

“I have a friend in the senior retirement business and he encouraged me to do presentations for those residents,” DiTorrice says. “Before that it was strictly state park presentations from Warrenton to Brookings. I did one a couple of months ago on a Sunday in Florence. It was standing room only with 730 people.”

He also speaks to church groups and Lincoln County elementary and middle school students.

It’s great to see their small hands on the rocks, he says.“It’s fun to watch the people during the talks. I see their eyes light up especially after the talk when they get to visit the rocks. Every fossil has a story to go with it.”

Of note

There are a number of local spots to find fossils, including Holleywood Ranch near Crawfordsville, or Linn County for petrified wood. There’s agatized quartz in Rock Castle that can be bought by the pound. Certain minerals color these rocks. Saltwater fossils are found at Peterson Butte. Clam fossils, more common cousins to today’s steamer clams, are on the beach at Kathernella. And, in Bakersville, DiTorrice found a huge shark tooth colored red by iron oxide.

DiTorrice will lead beach fossil tours at Beverly Beach State Park in Newport at noon Nov. 11 and Dec. 30.

Call 720-326-3573 or send an email to oregonfossilguy@h...

His Brownsville garage — and the room above it — are chock full of rocks, some being polished, and others in stages where the fossils or the geodes are being opened up.

One particular rock was a dirty gray with small spots on the outside, but when he pulled it apart, it showed both sides of a fossilized clam-shell.

“When I first started I went hunting with a guy from Ashland,” DiTorrice says. “We’d go up to the top of the Siskiyou Summit by (Interstate) 5 where we found shrimp fossils at the top of the mountain.”

His collection of rocks is estimated at 20 to 30 million. He studies each of them, writes down their first and last name, and what it is. But he doesn’t stop there; he studies what they are, researches botany and zoology books, rock magazines and other books on the topic.

For example, he found a palm leaf sample on the beach. By researching botany books and internet sites, he discovered the leaf sample is 110 million years old and from Colorado during the time of the Inland Sea.

His wife has a photo of him in a ditch next to a road where he found petrified wood.

“When I find something, it’s really exciting not just because I found it but I get to research and find what it is and how it got there,” he says.

DiTorrice notes that the fossils near Brownsville are quite different than those on the Oregon Coast where there are miles of sandstone bluffs filled with fossils that often fall off.

“I had to learn geology to know that there are sandstone wedges on top and buried under lava rock,” he says. I’ve also had to relearn the geology of Willamette Valley.”

While he doesn’t post each find, he does publish sites where people can go to find a specific rock or fossil. When traveling the state, he digs through ditches and sometimes finds new items.

“Sometimes it takes three or four months to find out what it is,” DiTorrice says. “Once, I found three different snails (fossils) in the same site.”

Among the places he works are tide pools and riverbeds. These sites can be anywhere, especially in sandstone or silt deposits and material including sandy beaches and bends with gravel bars.

But he cautions that there are a number of things to consider and rules to follow.

“First you need to follow the rules,” he says. “This is a hobby that is self-destructive. You need to find out where you can use a pick, shovel, chisel and rock hammer. Most places allow casual collecting, but you don’t get to cut down a tree and you can’t sell anything you collect.”

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This dinosaur arm bone is just one of Guy DiTorrice’s many prized findings. He encourages his audiences to become their own fossil collectors.

Most beaches allow on-ground collecting, but people aren’t allowed to hammer a wall or do any mining. Those fossils also can’t be sold; they actually belong to the state.

In addition, federal rules are different from state and local marine preserve rules, DiTorrice says.

In protected federal areas, people are allowed to draw pictures. It’s illegal to take verifiable fossilized animals such as clams, snails and petrified wood.

On the Oregon Coast, collectors are allowed one gallon of material per day or a total of three gallons per year.

“We aren’t allowed to collect at any protected areas,” DiTorrice says. “That includes wildlife refuges or Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.”

He suggests collectors research gathering areas ahead of time.

Resources are really important, he says, because they can tell you whether it’s legal to collect, and to note safety considerations.

“Collectors need a resource guide as well as maps, cell phones and a compass,” he says. “They also should research cell phone service in case of problems. Go where you can legally go and be safe.”

Oregon Fossil Guy also notes that tools should be based on ages. Children should have cotton gloves and tools specifically based on their age. For example, younger kids should have a plastic shovel along with brushes, magnifying glasses and waterproof canvas bags.

Adults can bring items such as a geology pick, a shovel, chisel, safety goggles, five-gallon buckets and cotton gloves.

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