Pan mining exhibit comes to fair

By Ryan Cornell

FRONT ROYAL — They’re partying like it’s 1849.

For Strasburg residents Don Kibler and his wife, Stephanie McBee, owners of McKiblerBee’s Country Store in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, a trip inside their pan mining trailer is a step back in time to the California Gold Rush.

Twin sluices run down both sides of their 32-foot trailer. A series of wooden sieves hang above the troughs and underneath charts displaying various gemstones and fossils.

Demonstrating the panning process, Kibler empties a bag of mining rough into one of the sieves. He dips it underwater and sloshes the mound of dirt from side to side. When he brings it back up, an array of rocks and gemstones appear, as if pulled from a magician’s hat.

“You don’t ever get tired of playing in the dirt?” someone asks.

“No, never,” Kibler shoots back. “My wife and I fight over who gets to do it.”

Kibler said he added the mining trailer this year when a friend visited one in the South — they’re popular down there, he added — with his kids and gushed about how much fun it was. They both decided to buy one.

“So many times today, there’s no family event,” Kibler said. “This is something families can come and do together and everybody can have fun. And it’s educational.”

He said they can tailor their program to fit into a school curriculum. Kids can learn about which countries their rocks originate, and identify whether they’re sedimentary or metamorphic.

“So they’ve tied it all in so when we do a field trip, it’s all a learning experience, but it’s hands-on for the kids, and that’s the key,” Kibler said.

Stephanie Kibler said many kids go panning to find gemstones to add to their personal rock collections.

“They get so excited, especially when they see all over the world where the stones come from,” she said. “They get pyrite and they think they’ve struck gold.”

The McKiblerBee’s mining trailer is in the Wonder Building at the Warren County Fair, and will be at the Shenandoah County Fair later this month.

Bags of mining rough are $8 for a bag with a half-pound of stones and $11 for a full pound of stones.

For more information, contact Don Kibler at 540-335-1261 or visit

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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