2010 Creative Careers Interviews : John & Sandy Weber
Creative Careers in the Arts Interview
Arizona Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks
John and Sandy Weber's Gleeson, Arizona, Souvenir Shop
By Chris Dunmire
I first learned about John and Sandy Weber's Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks in 2008 while visiting family in Tombstone, Arizona.
"There's this man who makes wallets and jewelry out of rattlesnakes and sells them in a trailer in the middle of the desert," my sister told me one day. "It's an unusual place. Nobody waits on you in the gift shop you just shop and leave your money in a wooden box."
A souvenir gift shop with a payment honor system? I was skeptical, but intrigued. How can that possibly work out without the man getting cleaned out by thieves?
Days later I learned first-hand how his operation worked when my Mom and I visited Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks after driving through the ghost town of Gleeson, Arizona, about 15 miles from Tombstone. We followed several painted signs on dusty, primitive roads, and finally pulled into the landmark's driveway on a mid-Sunday afternoon.
At first I was overwhelmed by the immense outdoor museum collection of historic western town artifacts. Baking in the hot desert sun were hordes of antique glass bottles, metal sculptures, boots, shoes, signs, phones, and tools surrounding a small travel trailer full of homemade rattlesnake crafts. Outside the trailer stood tables and shelves lined with gemstones and rocks for sale. An unseen radio played classic 60s & 70s rock quietly in the background. My sister was right nobody manned the store. Instead, a weathered wooden box hung on the outside of the trailer to collect payments with an instructional sign that read:
"Well, you wanted to make some new memories," Mom smiled when she noticed my curiosity at full peak. "Here, take some pictures with my camera." And so I did. The kind of pictures you take all the while knowing the place you're standing is the only one of its kind in the world. Nobody could ever appreciate it without photos, or better yet, without visiting it themselves.
As Mom and I browsed the shop, I noticed a small residence not too far from the trailer. My suspicions of it being the owner's home was solidified when a friendly woman emerged from the house and meandered over to the gift shop.
"Hello," Sandy introduced herself. "Where are you from?"
After telling Sandy I was visiting from Northern Illinois, I found out that she and her husband John were originally from the neighboring town of Rockford, Illinois, which they left in 1979 for Arizona, "trading the work-a-day world for the laid-back and somewhat lazy lifestyle of rattlesnake hunters."
Sandy scooted off after some small talk, and I rejoined Mom in the gift shop. "Which necklace do you like better?" Mom asked pointing to two different styles. She always loved wearing unique, chunky necklaces and jewelry, so this place really was her cup of tea. When she was satisfied with her selections, she wrote out a check and left it in the weathered box on top of a stack of money bills and other checks, a self-checkout system of trusting proportions.
As we pulled away in our van, I thought, Wow, what an interesting life they lead. It certainly was a day-trip I'll never forget. Days later, Mom received a "thank you" postcard in the mail good for $5 off her next purchase at Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks. And great customer service, too!
Despite its remote location, John and Sandy's Rattlesnake Crafts continues to get its share of tourists, many coming from Tombstone (December through April is their busy season). It's been written about in various publications and featured on NBC TV's Today Show.
After reflecting on John and Sandy's unique story, and especially their decision to leave behind the 9 to 5 working world to pursue a less-stressed, simple life some 30-years earlier, I asked if I might interview them for Creativity Portal's Creative Careers in the Arts series. I wondered, among many things, if they had any regrets about their decision, and what advice they might have for others wishing to follow an unconventional life path in pursuit of a creative dream. The following is what they shared with me.