A Small Break in the Weather = SILVER!

 

Like the Boy Scout motto says: be prepared.

As in, be prepared to take advantage of a break in winter weather to get out and do some metal detecting.

I did that Monday, the day after Christmas, and it paid off. My wife says I’m obsessed with our local weather forecast and, to a point, she is correct; she knows the reason why, too. I’d been paying attention to our local weather reports for a couple of days before Christmas Day, seeing that the twenty-sixth might produce an opportunity to break out the AT Pro and head for an abandoned farm I’d been hunting. Christmas night, before heading for bed, the weatherguessers said we’d have intermittent rain showers the next day, with high temps reaching the low 60s.

Key word: intermittent. It was like going to bed on Christmas Eve all over again.

As is customary, I was up at 0430 hours; the first thing I did after getting the coffee pot going was to look at the weather on my smarter-than-me phone. The hourly forecast said the rains wouldn’t arrive until around 1100 hrs. This being late December, though, it wouldn’t be light enough to hunt until around 8 am or so, leaving me a three-hour window to squeeze one in…. if the forecasters were right.

It does happen occasionally.

My bride, who doesn’t arise at 0430, knew I was preparing to go detecting even before I donned my outdoor clothes when she got up at 0730. She could tell by my giddiness.

“Got a good forecast, huh?”, she said as she sipped her Tim Horton’s black gold, a twinkle in my redhead’s green eyes.

“Yep. If they’re right I have a three-hour window at worst; at best, 5 hours.” I check multiple weather sites on the internet and it’s not uncommon for their forecasts to be divergent.

I dressed, loaded up the GMC with my gear, kissed my wife and took off for my spot, which is about ten minutes away. The sun had broken through the low, scudding clouds a few times but, for the most part, it was overcast. That didn’t matter; it was late December, headed for sixty degrees and I was out metal detecting.

Five minutes after turning my Garrett on, I dug my first target: a wheat cent, which for some reason I love. Not a bad start, especially since I found it in the area where the drive used to be; on three prior visits, I’d hit that section of the property pretty hard.

I intended to head for a wooded area, about fifty yards from the house, knowing the ground would still be frost-free there, and I was right. Along the way I dug a few targets, finding four handgun bullets, mystified by their reddish color. Once inside the treeline, though, I found it a little tough-going; there were numerous thorn bush clusters which I had to work around, wondering how many targets I’d be missing as I did so.

At the base of one of the larger trees ( we always hit the base of large trees, don’t we? )  my AT delivered a high pitched tone, reading out between 85-90; digging it, I uncovered a copper cylindrical object…the metal base of an old, glass door knob. Unfortunately, after cleaning it, I discovered there were no markings on it. I put it in one of the leg pouches of the blue BDUs I wear when scanning in a wooded area. The thicker material helps keep those thorns from penetrating the cloth and impaling my legs.

I dug a few more bullets and trashy targets, working my way to an area directly west of the farm house, about a hundred yards away. By this time it was about 1015 am.

And it started to rain.

I hate hunting in the rain. Excavations turn into mud holes. Plus, the stock headphones I was using weren’t waterproof and I didn’t want to ruin them. Time to head for the truck, realizing that, once again, the weatherguessers had been wrong by 45 minutes, in the ‘worst-case’ forecast.

When ending a hunting session, I always keep my metal detector on while walking back to the truck; you just never know when you just might hit that one target signal.

That would prove to be the case today.

While still inside the treeline I hit on a high-toned target, believing it would probably be an aluminum object. I dug down about four inches, checked the hole with my pin pointer and discovered the target was already out. Glancing at the clump I’d removed, I saw it: a rounded silver edge!

Plucking it from the dirt, I brushed it off a little and saw that I’d recovered a Standing Liberty Quarter! Donning my reading glasses, I was pleased to see a date: 1923! The last SLQ I’d dug was worn smooth where the date is stamped, and I’d watched a few videos on YouTube showing that to be a common condition.

I filled the hole back in and trudged the distance to my truck, satisfied with this abbreviated, damp session and knowing I’d be back in those woods the next time we were due for a break in the weather.

Maybe next week? In Ohio, you just never know.

 

 

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The Christmas Spirit Strikes…36 months Later

Every once in awhile, we get to do something very cool for someone who really appreciates it.

That happened to me yesterday.

Back when I first started this metal detecting madness, my initial ‘cool’ find was an old railroad switch lock; it was a brass Wilson Bohanon job I’d found back when I first started metal detecting, a few inches deep along an abandoned rail line. I really liked it because ‘WB’ was on the face in raised letters and it was in really decent shape.

Once I got home I researched the lock, even sending an email to the company; they replied the following day, telling me that if ‘Brooklyn. N.Y.’ was stamped on the top loop the lock had been manufactured in 1930 or earlier. It was. They’d moved their operations from Brooklyn in 1931 to their present location in Marion, Ohio….about 40 minutes from me. He also told me all their locks from that period back into the late 1800s were in their website’s online catalogs; sure enough, I found it in the 1930 issue. The Wilson Bohanon representative had wanted to know if I’d like to donate the lock for their lobby display but I respectfully declined; I really liked that lock.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday; I’d listed the lock on eBay and Craigslist. I did so because it had stayed in a box on my basement work bench, collecting dust, since I’d found it. I hadn’t built a display case for it, so I’d be just as happy to sell it to a collector.

Three hours after I listed it, I received a text message from an interested party; it seems his mother’s fiancee was employed by Wilson Bohanon in Marion, and this young man wanted to buy it for his soon-to-be stepfather. He added that the man was a thirty-year employee of the company.

We agreed on a price and a place to meet; however, he would have to wait until his wife got back from the grocery store so she could watch their three children while he met me.

That started the wheels turning. Here’s a young guy with a family, wanting to do something good with this lock by gifting it to someone who would have a true appreciation  for and connection to it. As I drove to the meeting spot later that afternoon, I decided what I would do.

I arrived ten minutes before the young man did. When he showed up, he’d decided to bring his family along in the not-so-new minivan they owned. He and I exited our respective vehicles, introduced ourselves and shook hands. I gave him the lock.

“I found out that Mom’s boyfriend has worked at Wilson Bohanon for forty year, not 30; he started working there when he was seventeen years old” he said, as he reached in a pocket for his cash. I stopped him.

“Listen…its Christmas, and what you want this lock for is very cool; I can’t think of anyone who I’d want to have it more. I don’t want your money.”

His mouth flew open. “Whaaat??!!”

I smiled. “Merry Christmas.”

“I…are you sure?” The look on his face and his sincerity was payment enough.

“Absolutely, my friend. Consider it a gift.”

No sooner did the words escape my mouth did this total stranger, driven by a sense of Christmas spirit and gratefulness, grab me in a fiece bear hug.

His face beaming with a mile-wide smile, he said, “Man, you don’t know what this means! Thank you SOOO much!”

In that very moment, I knew exactly what it meant.

It was the Christmas spirit.

I smiled all the way back to Ram Field Ranch. That feeling…money can’t buy it.

WB railroad lock

Polar Vortex, Snow and Metal Detecting

It is here.

The time of year where those of us that populate the northern half of these great United States can look forward to months of frozen ground, bone-splitting wind chill and blankets of snow we didn’t ask for; we’ll spend hours and hours shoveling, scraping and yanking on the starter cords of our snowblowers instead of scanning the earth for metallic treasure…

…and we’ll be watching social media videos of our brothers and sisters in warmer climes engaging in the addiction we call metal detecting. But what else is there to do?

Well, the answer is: plenty.

Here’s a few suggestions that will both pass the winter’s time and better prepare you for the eventual arrival of metal-detecting weather.

CLEAN YOUR GEAR

This is a no-brainer. Most detectorists do this on a regular basis anyway, but during winter take the time to really clean your equipment. Take your machine’s shaft apart, take the coil and cover off and clean them. Pinpointers too. Once you’ve wiped everything down with a damp ( not soaked! ) cloth, take a wooden tooth pick to those hard-to-reach nooks and get impacted dirt free. If your PP housing is durable, high-impact plastic,  consider going over it very lightly with fine-grade steel wool; it can restore some of the ‘right out of the box’ look to that most valuable of tools. When finished, re-wipe everything with a clean, dry cloth.

Speaking of pinpointers, here’s a tip: consider coating the business end with a thin coat of a liquid, rubberized material. There are several products on the shelf of your favorite home improvement store that will work fine and won’t affect the operation of the instrument, and the added benefit of extra protection may save you money in the future. No one wants to discover a hole or crack in the casing’s tip. If you already dip your pinpointer, peel off the coating this winter and re-dip it.

Don’t neglect the battery compartments, either. If you’re very conscientious you have already removed the batteries from your equipment, because the last thing you need when the weather breaks is to discover the batteries have leaked during storage and ruined wiring and contact points inside your gear. Inspect the gaskets that seal the compartments, making sure they havent dried out or cracked and will function as expected. Don’t forget to inspect gaskets at the coil and headphone connections to the control box, either, because gasket failure at these points could be catastrophic for your detector.

Take a look at all cords: coil and headphones. Look for splits, cracks or points of wear. Also check the headphones themselves, ensuring the speaker sound vents are clear of debris and the ‘phone pads aren’t cracking, split or loose. I discovered the hard way that some types of mosquito/bug repellent can cause the plastic foam earpad covering to deteriorate and crack, so be careful where you apply repellent during warm-weather months.

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

For the experienced detectorist, researching promising sites is old hat; depending on local government websites, vast amounts of property information on potential target areas can be gleaned without ever leaving the warm comfort of your recliner. Ownership, property boundaries and history of land plots are available via the internet, but don’t limit yourself to just this resource. Check the area history of your locale, discover areas where people may have congregated such as fairgrounds, old parks, neighborhoods or a long-forgotten swimming hole, places that may no longer be used for purposes such as they were in the past. Search the archives of local newspapers, talk to area historians and visit historical societies, not just in your town but within a radius you’re willing to travel in order to metal detect.

Don’t restrict yourself to just conducting research using the world wide web; grab a metal detecting buddy and take a ride. Make a day of it. Drive aged neighborhoods and look for old buildings, houses and evidence of foundations where a structure once stood, write down their locations and then find out who owns the properties. If you drive the countryside in rural areas, look for lone stands of trees in open fields or evidence of driveway entrances where houses may have once stood. In winter trees have shed their leaves, revealing much more of the interior of a wooded plot; you may be able to see old structures that normally wouldn’t be visible in spring or summer, places that could produce some great finds.

Another resource that not all communities have is a regional governmental board that acquires neglected, abandoned houses and buildings through the court system, generally  due to non-payment of taxes. Many of these types of properties have houses or buildings dating back as far as 125 years, though that number isn’t etched in stone. The agency will either rehabilitate the house or schedule it for demolition and you may find a gem or two to hunt if they will allow you to metal detect those properties prior to the start of any work.

Once you start to accumulate target locations, consider cataloging them on your computer. It will prove to be an invaluable tool once you’ve discovered an upcoming break in the weather forecast and will enable easy selection of good spots. Included in the files should be contact information for property owners; NEVER metal detect a property without first securing permission from the owner. It may be necessary to do some door-knocking in order to ascertain ownership and/or to contact an owner, but it will prove to be worth the effort if you are granted permission.

Here’s another hint: once  permission is gained from a property owner, politely ask if they may have other properties they might allow you to detect. Some land owners have holdings of more than one property and it never hurts to ask. Knocking on one door could lead to several target sites for future hunts, which is always a good thing.

Also, keep an eye on the local news. Pay attention to upcoming construction projects at locations that have history. If, say, a company announces plans for a new manufacturing facility or addition on a property they’ve acquired in an area where circuses were once held, contact a decision-maker at that business; the worst that could happen is being turned down. If your town plans on refurbishing a street or sidewalk that will include removal of old concrete or asphalt, ask them if you can scan the area prior to a new surface being applied. These types of events are usually announced to local media outlets, and you may get an opportunity to metal detect where you normally wouldn’t.

EDUCATE YOURSELF

This should be an ongoing effort, not only for research purposes but a variety of reasons. Take the time to re-read the owner’s manual for your metal detector; you might discover something about its function that you originally missed, forgot about or just plain didn’t understand. Go online or to the local library and learn how metal detectors function and what can affect or interfere with target metals in the ground. Why do some metals corrode badly while others remain pristine for decades? What causes ‘hot rocks’? Think about the questions you’ve had while out in the field excavating a target…and find the answers. It won’t hurt you and will certainly be beneficial in the future.

Talk to experienced detectorists; learn their techniques and patterns they utilize when hunting a spot. Pick their brains about the hobby because there’s always something to be learned every time you activate your detector and put the headphones on. Join a local club for detectorists, sign up for metal detecting message boards online. The information is out there but you have to go find it…just like metal detecting.

Oh, and watch those social media videos, too.

CLEAN YOUR FINDS AND DISCOVER WHAT THEY ARE

I imagine we all have that one container or box where we keep all the interesting items we’re just not sure about, things we put aside with the intention of getting to them…eventually. Now is the time. If you’re in possession of an iron object or two that you think might be something interesting or historical, learn about electrolysis and how to treat that item, and go to it. That weird-shaped, unknown doohickey? Post a picture of it on one of those aforementioned message boards; they usually have a category that involves unknown objects and members are generally eager to help out. You may even gain information about an item from a historical society if you visit them with a recovered piece you’re not sure of.

These are just a few suggestions for snow-bound metal detectorists, certainly not an all-encompassing list. Use your imagination, come up with an idea or two and spring will be here before you know it.

Just make sure you keep that driveway cleared.

 

03-01-15

 

 

 

The Abandoned Rail Station

Every once in awhile, we detectorists gain permission to metal detect at some pretty awesome places.

That happened to me last Friday.

I’d been reading the local paper and saw a news item that piqued my interest: a city nearby, Galion, was going to have a ceremonial ground-breaking at their abandoned rail station, the Big 4 Depot, for a new enclosed pavilion.

The wheels started turning.

Taking a chance, I emailed Galion’s Communications Director, Matt Echelberry, about the possibility of scanning the grounds at the depot; after all, once excavation would start, there’d be no telling what buried history would be lost.

Mr. Echelberry responded later that morning by calling me while I was at breakfast with some fellow retired cop pals, saying that, yes, I could metal detect the station’s historic grounds. The Big 4 Depot, so named because it serviced the old Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis route, was district headquarters for the line, housing their engineering department, trainmasters, clerks and stenographers. At the height of the depot’s activity just after World War I, thirty-two trains made daily stops at the facility; the depot also saw Presidential campaign ‘whistle-stops’ by Al Smith in 1928, Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and both Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, drawing large crowds each time. I told Mr. Echelberry that I would notify him of any significant finds, which I would happily turn over to the city for historical display.

I couldn’t wait!

As soon as I got home after breakfast I changed into some old clothes and a heavy pullover ‘job shirt’ left over from my police days and took off for Galion. Although only a forty-minute drive, it seemed to take hours. I arrived, geared up and took a look at the place; it’s a grand, old, towering structure seemed to fill the skyline, looming large and empty. I could just imagine the bustle of activity in its heyday, with steam engines ‘chuffing’ as they patiently dropped off/picked up passengers and freight. Families probably gathered on the lawn area for lunch before seeing off a relative or friend, horse-drawn carriages and the newly-intoduced horseless vehicles waiting nearby. I love old buildings and thinking about what life was like when they were first constructed.

After the nostalgic moment passed I set to work, shouldering my Garrett AT Pro after donning gloves,my multiple-pouched vest and waist bag on which I keep my hand trowel and pin pointer. I carried my Sampson serrated-edged shovel in my left hand.

I started out in a large grassy area northeast of the main entrance, between the parking area and the street, a spot that would take the most time. Not unexpectedly, I found that the ground was packed with iron and other metallic trash, items discarded at various times through the decades. I found a fair number of modern coins close to the gravel/asphalt lot, whose numbers thinned out the further I went towards the street.

Then I made the first significant discovery.

By the intensity of the signal, which read out at between 74-78 on my machine’s digital display, I knew it was a good-sized target. I started digging and about 5 inched down I unearthed a semi-crushed bell-shaped item which had a slot in the top of it. I turned it over and noticed it had several metal vanes, spikey-looking things arranged in a circular pattern around the center of the item. Although I wasn’t sure what it was, I now think it may be the head of an old desk lamp; the vanes were for keeping the bulb housing cool.

I spent the rest of that afternoon and two more sessions at the train depot, recovering some pretty cool targets…including silver that wasn’t coinage or jewelry. To see what else I found, be sure to watch the video on YouTube!