When Tom Harmon of Savage was a little boy, he and his grandmother would come to a creek nearby Sidney and look for agates.
“We were always running around here on the river. We were more interested in buffalo bones but when we would see an agate we would pick it up and look. Where we lived, there was a whole ridge of gravel hills and there were agates in them,” Harmon said.
His family came to Sidney in 1949 because it was one of the largest shipping points for cattle in the state at the time. His father was a state brand inspector, Harmon said.
At 17, Harmon left for the Army, became a lineman for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and returned home in 1965 ending up in Billings.
Harmon went to mechanics school, met his future wife Cheryl, and upon graduation was offered a job which he turned down.
“I turned down that job but went to work for Action Auto in Sidney,” he said.
That was where his first interest in agates began years before and where it rekindled itself.
Harmon began picking agates on the weekends where he would sell them at rock shops in small towns nearby.
“Every little town had a rock shop. I was making money off of agates,” Harmon said.
“It was a side business. It became a full business - Harmon Wholesale Agates - in 1971”
In 1998, it became Harmons Agate & Silver, Inc.
Harmon explained it was not an easy thing to quit his mechanic’s job to go full time at agates having a small infant son and wife to support.
“My wife said, ‘what are you doing at home?’,” Harmon said.
“I am going to the river full time,” he answered. “It’s exactly what I did.”
There is no wonder that Harmon was so taken by agate.
According to many experts in gemology, Montana agate is world renowned. It is some of the best in the world.
“In every agate deposit across the world - which are all different - there are lots of low end then there are lots of outstanding pieces,” Harmon said.
Montana esteems agate and it has two official state gemstones - the sapphire and the agate.
Still, it was not easy going for the Harmons at first to get into the agate business.
Harmon said there was a state rock show in Williston they wanted to get into, but couldn’t afford.
“I had all this rock and we didn’t do any shows and you could buy a table or two to set up at the show. We had to go to the Sidney National Bank to borrow $50 for tables for the show,” he said.
“Glendive had a show, Miles City had a show, and we started to expand,” Harmon said.
Today, at 78, Harmon is what many people call the agate king. He has written and self-published five books on the business, sold his agate world-wide, and been at many rock shows from California to Arizona, including one of the largest gem shows in the country in Tucson.