Bob Walters could get keychains or postcards at any airport during his international travels.
Instead, he chose to scoop up little bits of the world and bring them home, where he stores them in neatly labeled spice jars.
Walters collects dirt — as in soil, loam, earth. And for those who have never walked the preserved pathways of Pompeii or the manicured grounds of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Walters offers glimpses of those places and many more through his selection of specimens on display in the Orange County Fair collections exhibit in Costa Mesa.
The 77-year-old owner of a logistics management company in Anaheim started collecting what he calls “the ultimate souvenir” as a teenage Boy Scout in 1959, when he visited Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii for the Pan Pacific World Jamboree.
About 140 of his stops since then have been memorialized in his glass jars.
The dirt from the Incan ruins of Peru’s Machu Picchu is clumpy. At South Carolina’s Fort Sumter, site of the first battle of the Civil War, it’s rocky. In Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, it’s powdery. The soil from the Blue Lagoon of Iceland, plucked from a geothermal spa set in a lava field, is jet black. The dirt at the Cambodian temple Angkor Wat resembles ground coriander.
Walters also collects sand, distinct from dirt. He entered some of his sand in last year’s collections contest at the fair and took home a fistful of ribbons.
His most colorful dirt-gathering experience, at least so far, happened during the Cold War in Moscow.
“The guards in Moscow followed me for a day,” he said.
The year was 1972, but détente aside, Soviet guards were suspicious of the multilingual tourist crouching over a Kremlin garden with a spoon.
They approached him speaking German, a common second language in Russia, and he responded in kind. He explained further in Russian. He showed them his U.S. identification before they let him enter his hotel, Kremlin dirt in hand.
He has seen six of the seven continents and almost 100 countries, with about 70 still unchecked on his list. He’d still like to visit the Amazon and Antarctica.
Not as nature-made as pebbly earth from Mexico’s Mayan city Chichen Itza but similarly uncommon are Dennis Mitosinka’s antique hubcaps, which, like Walters’ international soils, are on display at the fair through Sunday.
Mitosinka, 72, of Orange, is a car appraiser by trade and has an encyclopedic knowledge of motor vehicles. He also has a personal museum to match.
“I’m a very eclectic collector,” he said. “I have over 400 hood ornaments, I have the hubcaps, I have auto emblems.”
He started delivering newspapers when he was 9, giving him the work ethic to build and trade cars more exotic than the family sedan.
By the time he was in high school in 1964, he had a 1962 Corvette roadster, a 1929 Model A roadster, a 1937 Rolls-Royce and a 1963 Jaguar XKE coupe. He owns 45 cars, which he keeps in a circa-1925 auto dealership showroom in downtown Santa Ana.
Mitosinka has a fondness for obscurities, one-offs and the ultra-luxurious from the pre-Depression era, so his hubcaps, pulled from his inventory of about 200 models, go beyond Ford and Chevrolet.
He selected one from a 1907 Apperson Jackrabbit, one from a 1912 Lozier and one from a 1928 Stutz. The one from a 1929 Duesenberg Model J has the Hollywood glamour of a bygone era.