I love metal detecting.
I started in the early spring of 2014, about six months after I hung up my badge and gun belt for good. My wife’s brother, Steve, was at our home visiting one afternoon and excitedly started telling me about his new hobby of metal detecting. He hadn’t found much, he’d said, but he was having fun.
“You ought to try it. We can go detecting together.”
My lovely redhead of a wife chimed in. “Yes, you need a hobby or something now that you’re retired. I don’t want you in the recliner watching TV all day.”
She was right, of course; I’d started to fall into that trap. Once I’d gotten a few projects finished, all I had to do was yard work and such. The rest of the time I spent watching history programs and cop shows. I figured, Why not? As much as history fascinates me, maybe I’ll like it, plus I’ll be getting some exercise.
Steve and I talked a bit more about the types of detecting I might be interested in and my search for a machine was on. I found a couple of metal detectors that interested me, lower-priced models in the $300 range. I figured I wouldn’t jump in whole hog because I wasn’t sure how much I would like metal detecting.
I settled on a Treasure Commander TCX2, the Si Robertson model. It came packaged with a pin pointer and finds bag; I figured I’d use my garden trowel to dig with. I was set.
I started out in our yard finding, of course, every piece of metallic debris it held. I also found a few coins and one of my son’s toy cars that hadn’t seen the light of day for the last ten years. Pretty cool! I still wasn’t committed, however.
I started watching YouTube videos…hundreds of them. These folks were finding jewelry, old coins, artifacts and relics from times gone by. That’s what I wanted, to find something amazing. I was a part-time school bus driver at the time, often driving athletic trips to other schools and parks, so I started taking my TCX2 along.
It proved to be an excellent idea.
I’d driven the track team to a meet at a small village school, one that had an old railroad bed across the highway from it, and figured I’d try my luck there. The rails and ties had long been removed, leaving only the gravel bed and berm area which ran for hundreds of yards. After unloading the kids and parking my bus, I crossed the highway and slid down an embankment to the abandoned rail line.
I’d dug a few beer bottle caps, a rail spike, some old nails and a few other odds and ends when I got a rather loud signal on my machine. It indicated that the item was only a couple inches deep, in an area along the bed and I started digging. And digging. I was being schooled in the fact that large items can be deep and small items shallow, no matter what your detector tells you.
At six inches I felt and heard a metallic ‘clunk’, telling me I’d found the target. As I reached into the hole my fingers felt a rounded object; a couple more scoops of the dark earth revealed the find that set the metal detecting hook in me.
A railroad switch lock.
It was gorgeous and in fantastic shape. On its face were the letters ‘WB’, raised from the surface of the lock itself. I brushed off all the dirt I could, staring at my find and wondering how long the padlock had been in the ground.
I couldn’t wait to get it home so I could research its origin on the internet, the track meet seeming to last forever. Finally, the kids loaded up and I got them back to the school, parking my bus and making the trip home in my truck in record time. I excitedly showed Stacy my find and told her the story, she being unimpressed but happy for me.
Once on the ‘net I discovered that the ‘WB’ stood for Wilson Bohannon, a lock manufacturer that had been in business since the 1880s in Brooklyn, New York. I called the company the next morning, finding that they’d relocated to a city forty miles southwest of me here in Ohio. I spoke with a man in the sales office who told be their catalogs, dating back to 1899, were all online on their website and, if the top loop of the lock was stamped ‘Brooklyn, New York’, it was 1930 or older. It was. Before hanging up, the man asked if I’d like to donate the lock to their lobby display.
I found my treasure in their 1930 catalog. As with many other detectorists who find older items, my mind wandered…who was the last person to touch this lock? What was their life like? How was it lost? All questions I’ll never know the answers to.
That’s OK with me, though.
I know who has it now.