Sunday, April 19, 2020

Family Treasure From The Past - 1917

Unseen forces are always at work in our lives; premonition, coincidence, happenstance, and all the other words for odd things happening at odd times. Treasure hunting, in general, is full of these, and more. But what about treasures that you never recognized as a treasure...nothing a metal detector could find, even if you knew where it was buried? This happened to me, quite recently, and it all started with the recent movie "1917," a true story of two WWI soldiers on a mission to warn another British regiment inside Germany of a coming ambush that, if they don't succeed, could cost 1,600 soldiers their lives. Seeing the previews of this picture, brought back memories of my Grandfather George, my mother's father, who served throughout WWI, and eventually WWII, but his WWI adventures are what I remember most. My grandfather was a carpenter by trade, and a quiet man, who always reminded me of a movie-star. He was not a shy man by any stretch of the imagination, but he held the silent strength that most Americans of the late 19th and early 20th Century embodied. They were Americans not confused as to who they were, or what they believed in and were willing to back it up with force if need be to protect their loved ones, country and allies from evil and tyranny. Or would die trying. 

Grandpa George in France circa 1917
 Grandpa George died over 50-years ago. Living in rural Connecticut, he had a massive heart attack while making a sandwich in his kitchen. No paramedics then, only an ambulance that took over an hour to get there, by which time he had breathed his last. We attended his funeral by flying half the night on a Northeast Yellowbird 727. Strangely enough, he had visited us in Ft. Lauderdale only 3-weeks earlier, and had flown on an airplane for the very first, and very last, time in his long life! He had seen combat, and had also been General John J. Pershing's driver (or chauffer) in France. But that was long ago, and even my memories of him grow dim, but they came back with renewed clarity a few weeks ago when I opened a large brown-paper mailer from my sister in Connecticut. Opening it, a sealed plastic bag tumbled out, filled with a stack of documents and leather wallets. I carefully removed the piece of notebook paper that my sister had penned; "...I got these from our cousin Glenda...some of Grandpa George's things she thought you would like." I opened the small brown book and read my grandfather's handwriting on the inside cover, penciled in more than 100-years ago in 1917 war-torn France. A damaged photographic negative was also slipped into the inside cover. It was an unbelievable piece of family history that somehow survived reasonably intact after over a century! 

  I have no clue who the young man is in the U.S. Army automobile...probably a friend of my grandfather. A few other artifacts of the war were included in the package, German marks and French francs dated 1918, were in a surprisingly well-preserved brown leather wallet along with several tattered maps of France, probably used by Grandpa George in navigating General Pershing's staff car across the countryside.

Handling these 100-plus year old documents is difficult, as they have been stored folded, probably since 1919 or so. It seems infinitely strange I should be holding and reading documents my grandfather held and read over 100-years ago. Oddly it makes me think that perhaps events in time and space still do exist simultaneously, and that somewhere and some-when in 1917, he is just now writing the name of  Red Cross nurse Miss Alice Lee Herrick of Chicago in his small souvenir book as the artillery booms in the background. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Mordes of the 1980's - Long Before The End of the World

I was fairly active in writing treasure-hunting articles back in the 1980's. We had no digital cameras back then, and I used a 35 mm Pentax ME camera, shot Eastman Kodak Tri-X B&W, had my own darkroom, in which I was always found developing and printing the 8x10 glossies I'd send along with the manuscript. I actually wrote for a couple magazines, an in-flight mag for Delta, and a few other general interest publications. A case-in-point here, I interviewed and did an article about Jerry and Cindy Mordes in 1984, who then owned "Pot Of Gold Metal Detectors" in Ft. Lauderdale, for the now-defunct Lost Treasure Magazine.. Jerry was an animated guy, a lot like a game show host, and he told me thru a lot of hand gestures and narrative, that he and his wife Cindy were avid (read addicted) beach and water hunters and searched every single low tide, AM and PM, for usually a 3-months straight. He said they were almost dead at the end of each detecting marathon, but found some really amazing and valuable things in the process. You have got to realize this was 35 years ago, before metal detecting became the "National Pastime;" you didn't have 15 to 20 people metal detecting the beach every hour, on the hour, every quarter-mile, digging every single bottlecap and rusted tent stake, and no social media to proudly display your pile of rust. And although the finds were many, the rewards were less; you have to remember gold was around $35 an ounce then, not the $1300 or more an ounce it is today. Cindy related how her and Jerry got called out on an emotional mission looking for lost pauper graves in Ft. Lauderdale's "Evergreen Cemetery"

Jerry and Cindy Mordes circ.1984-note the "new"old machines behind them
Cindy said "Evergreen was one of the original cemeteries in Fort Lauderdale and has graves dating back to the Civil War." In particular, she also explained, that over the last century or so, Florida's watery and swampy ground had slowly but surly pulled the pauper grave caskets and their occupants deeper and deeper, until there were many scores of pauper graves lost to the caretakers. These were the graves of the poor, indigent and unclaimed people.

Cindy Mordes displays a recovered metal grave marker - note the damaged surface

She and Jerry had been recruited by the caretakers and City of Fort Lauderdale to bring their metal detecting club (Pot Of Gold Metal Detecting Club) out to see if they could locate the metal grave-tags hammered into the top of pauper caskets. The club spread out over the lonely headstone-less graveyard, scanning the grounds for a signal. Many grave-tags and subsequent grave-sites were re-discovered thanks to this group back in 1984. Cindy found a few grave-tags that were so badly damaged the information on them was not recoverable. She said "I was so sad we could not make out the information on em'." She frowned "I wanted to take some of them home to clean and see if I could read them, but the caretakers said 'No' so I left them."

Back in the shop, we talked about the grave-marker recovery project a bit more. Jerry said "You are worried about what you might find, metal detecting in a graveyard and think about the bones in the box under your feet and wonder if they mind you walking over them." A good-sized Garrette Gold Pan suddenly fell off it's perch and clattered to the floor making us all jump. Cindy looked at us and said "Maybe we shouldn't be talking about this." Jerry looked at the fallen gold-pan and just said "Hmmm" The final count was a dozen or more graves that were found by the members of Pot Of Gold Metal Detecting Club, thanks to the hobby some lost souls were found and remembered. I don't know whatever happened to Jerry and Cindy, with 37-years and hundreds of miles between us. I can only hope they are as avid about the hobby as ever...I know a dozen souls that hope so too!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Detector Depth - Deep Thoughts

It happens after every Christmas, and the beginning of 2020 was no different. It was, and still is, the season of newbie dreams and in more cases than you would think, from old-timers with misconception about their shiny new electromagnetic magic wand. And the talk was about, as usual, metal detector depth. 

More than most hobbies, metal detecting has it's roots in science, with the practical aspects of ferromagnetics and the application of electrodynamics based in the physical sciences. Now, it's complicated...and the standard hobby VLF (very low frequency) metal detector is not, as many novice people seem to believe, a toy. It is a sophisticated instrument. As such, it's sophistication varies with the quality of the device, which usually translates into the price of the machine. Higher price, higher quality...not always so, but mostly so. Of course on social-media, a place much like Alice's Wonderland, you will run into comments like "It does not matter!!! You don't need an expensive can find just a much treasure with a cheap machine!" Of course these comments are usually made by the group with the cheapest machines, while adding another two inches of flattened beer cans to their growing stack of crushed tin.
But lets not get off track...something I do better a derailed train. The subject is DEPTH as always, when newbie's and surprisingly enough, experienced users, get into an argument over whose machine will go deeper!!! And the unsaid component of that thought; whose machine is better

The fact of the matter is a machine's maximum depth varies with the metal detector's control adjustments, amount of power output to the search coil, the type of search coil (concentric, wide-scan, monoloop, etc), the size of the search coil, the conductivity of the environment it is being used it (dry soil, wet soil, magnetic soil, dry sand, wet sand, in fresh water, in salt water, et al), the expertise of the operator, proper adjustment of the audio threshold, and, importantly, wearing headphones. Another interesting conversation I caught in some group somewhere were members who gave their considered opinion on NOT wearing headphones. You gotta love em' because listening for those quiet whispers is a key aspect of squeezing out extra "depth" from a signal, the difference between stomping mindlessly over a fringe target, or releasing an 1854 Barber quarter from it's dirty little prison. The reasons for NOT wearing headphones were "They are too hot!" in the summer, they were bulky and annoying. One person said they might wear em' if there were trucks going by! Do tell?

One thing I think I can credit social media with is the amazing amount of disinformation and the spread of poor practices by people who are dispersing it from another social media group somewhere else. When I see someone mention watching YouTube videos and Face Book group conversations being the deciding factor in a metal detector purchase, I shudder a bit. A lot of cash is at stake, and for someone who has no idea how to choose a metal detector, these sources can and do offer up a lot of biased baloney. Their best bet would be to find a legitimate metal detecting club first, and/or a legitimate metal detecting dealer and get advice directly from the experts...face to face.

Several dealers I can vouch for are Phil Myer's metal detectors in Florida's Tampa area and Carolyn Harwick in the Orlando, Florida area Call em' and get the the information that will put you on track and get deep into the hobby!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Treasure Hunters - Those We've Left Behind

Once again, the end of another year in the metal detecting and treasure hunting hobby. I've been pursuing my fortune and personal treasure for 56-years in this hobby, and I've met a lot of really nice genuine people, friends and acquaintances. I've also met a few dishonest, underhanded and conniving troublemakers over the last half-century too; the type you would expect to find in any shady activity involving treasure hunting...or bank robbery for that matter. Watch the classic 1948 film Treasure  of the Sierra Madre, and you'll find pretty much the same type of character, albeit with better technology, nowadays lurking behind a high-tech machine smiling in your face, but with darker designs at your back, if the opportunity should arise. You know the drill. But this is not about them. 

Brent Petherick Photo Cir 2013

My long association in the hobby, and treasure hunting in general, like any other endeavor or pursuit, has left me with many memories of friends and acquaintances who have moved on across the great gulf of time and space; the last great adventure, sadly, we must all take eventually. But this is not about sadness or loss...this is about life and the people in this very moment. There were many times in the past where I missed a hunt, or meet-up with a good friend because of one thing or another...the body was willing, but the major complexities of modern life got in the way and I succumbed to the distractions and petty issues that I wish now I had put aside. And as many of my buddies will attest, getting older means losing more abilities, and many times losing mobility itself. But we have club members in their mid-90's still out there armed with their research and their metal detectors, using modified walkers, wheeled garden seats, and the like. Not giving up easily is an admirable human trait. And treasure hunting gets in your blood, harder than a virus to get rid of, and mostly incurable. As the new year of 2020 dawns, I think what one of my old flight instructors, Bill Thompson, used to say in the 1960's after we had landed, taxied in and shut down all the aircraft systems. As the engines spooled down, he would sign off my logbook, look at me and say "Well, we got away with it again!" Here at the brink of 2020, we all mostly did, but many did not. I raise my glass to all of you we've left behind...Kevin, Richard, Brent, are missed and well-remembered! Now go call or visit that friend you have not spent time with for a while...and talk treasure hunting and beautiful sunsets. The stuff dreams are made of.

Treasure Hunter Brent Petherick 1954-2019

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Whatcha' Doing? - Handling The Watchers

It is a fact that metal detecting in public places, and even sometimes on private permissions, tends to attract what I've always called "The Watchers," although other detectorists and treasure hunters have other names for them, mostly unprintable, but all-in-all they are members of the public, mostly bored, who have become interested in what you are doing. Some just innately curious, and others with trouble-making in mind. 

Usually the first order of business is to try and ignore them. Wearing a pair of headphones is usually a great idea, and your body-language and motions should imply "I'm Workin' He-ah!!" with your head down, gazing at that moving coil...and sometimes, just for show, press a few benign buttons, and make a bit of a deal of checking the control panel, and pretending you can't hear them. Above all, if you can help it, according to my friend Rob Hill, "DON'T MAKE EYE CONTACT!" 

Now to be fair, here in Central Florida, we have visitors literally from all over the world. And it appears that metal detecting along a public beach is not very common in some countries, and they genuinely want to know what you are doing, and why you are doing it? Many people stop me and ask "What are you looking for?" You can usually tell by their tone and body-language if they are really interested or just trying to distract you as they toss cut pennies or fake treasure coins behind your back. One middle-aged guy did that to my wife while we were hunting a park...I stay reasonably close to her most of the time, cause you never know, and she can get distracted during the hunt, so I keep my eyes scanning all the time. He was asking her questions, and while she was answering, I see the jerk tossing stuff in the grass behind her...usually these morons throw zinc pennies that they have cut in half or into quarters. That did not end well for him, as the Park Ranger I called over offered him one of two options; either pay a $200 fine for littering, or he could get down on his hands and knees and recover all those tiny bits of copper. I bet he wished he knew how to use a metal detector.

Usually, my beach hunting takes place on Cocoa Beach here in Central Florida, and just north of it, The City of Cape Canaveral Beach. These beaches are just south (about 3 or 4 miles) of Space-X's launch facility and draws people to watch space shots, so they are good to hunt after a launch. And I never know when they are going to launch...many times I'll be startled from a deep rumble then a bright lance of flame, as a Space-X Falcon 9 flares above the shoreline and vanishes into the sky. And I've been know to go back to metal detecting, forgetting that Space-X rocket boosters usually come home for a landing a few minutes later. More than once I've had to return to my car for clean underwear after the twin sonic booms of returning spacecraft have scared me half to death.

Buddy Jerry Hitson asking me if I hear a rumbling sound on Canaveral Beach 
On occasion though, someone you might view as a "...watcher" or a heckler may not be what they seem. Case in point, in the middle of one week I was having a bad day and headed for the beach for a few hours of solitude metal detecting. I was having very little tolerance for "The Watchers" and descended into my curmudgeon mode; I ignore everyone, no questions asked or accepted. While detecting along Cape Canaveral Beach, a man followed me along, parallel to the beach as I scanned the wet ocean sand. I reversed course and headed south, and the guy did the same, walking at my speed, watching me as I detected. Finally, exasperated, I kind of snapped at the guy. "Is SOMETHING wrong Sir???" 

He was a bit startled and said "Oh no, no, nothing is wrong. I'm on my lunch hour. I work for the City of Cape Canaveral and I just noticed you were metal detecting along the beach."
I looked at him, somewhat annoyed, still wondering what his angle was...I soon found out. He pointed to a certain stretch of beach I had passed and he said "I grew up here in the late-1950's and early 60's and that part used to be called 'Family Beach' back in the day. Hundreds of people would park their cars in that vacant lot over there and absolutely packed the beach until long after dark. They built bonfires, sang songs, cooked hot dogs and they left happy! " 

He smiled then and said "Those were the days!" After talking with him a bit more he had to get back to work and I back to metal detecting. I can say, his advice was on the money, literally, and I enjoyed a lot of very nice finds there until that stretch of beach was "reclaimed" with 7-feet of sand dumped on it, then the adjacent vacant lot was bulldozed into oblivion just in time for a brand new sterile high-rise to be constructed over it, entombing any further artifacts from the past forever...well, my forever anyway. Listening to what the "watcher" had to say was gold, and he unselfishly gave that information to me, hoping I would rescue some of those lost items and bring them back into the light of the 21st Century. I learned then it is better to pause and listen for a few minutes...there may be important things to be said.

Me, my metal detector and associated gear been in a lot of  photographs taken with Norwegian families, badly-sunburned English families, Japanese tourists, German and French folks on holiday, as well as Korean and Chinese tourists alike. I was as polite and informative I could possibly be and they moved on, having had an enjoyable experience that they may remember for a long time. Then again, maybe not. My point is, when you absolutely cannot avoid a conversation with the watchers on the beach, be polite, informative and friendly. I've donate fishing lures and handfuls of lead weights to beach fishermen along the shore. I can't use them and they are somewhat expensive to purchase and the fishermen are glad to get them. Several folks from out of state stopped to ask questions one day, they were very polite and friendly, and I ended up handing them a NASA medallion (costume jewelry...I'm not crazy, mind you!) I'd found as a souvenir of their visit to the Space Coast. Remember, no matter where they are from, they are still THE PUBLIC and treating the sincere ones with respect will garner respect for those of us in the hobby and the hobby in general.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Metal Detecting Tool Holster 1982

In the old days (or "the early days," for those of us who are old-er) it usually all boiled down to a garden trowel and/or a ground-off screwdriver for excavation operations, and the usual heavy-cotton carpenter's pocketed apron tied around your waist. Usually these aprons, usually unbleached cotton, were usually white or light vanilla colored, printed with the hardware store's logo, and quickly became filthy with dirt; smeared and stained after just a few days use. A lot of detector operators also wore the almost obligatory flannel shirt over a white cotton tee-shirt to complete the look of the day. Detectorists in the 60's, 70's and early 80's were not big on fashion sense...practical clothing was the rule. 

The interesting array of metal detecting tool and finds pouches available now didn't exist either, with me finally breaking down and making my own leather tool-pouch seen here below circa 1982. And dig that crazy digital watch on my 30-year-old arm! All the rage in the late 70's and early 80's, despite it being a piece of crap to use. And you will notice that the tools IN the tool pouch are all custom-made for that era of the hobby when few commercial tools existed. On the left, the coin probe is nothing more than a plastic-handled screwdriver with the slotted-blade ground down and rounded. The cleaning brush was a 1" wide enamel brush with the bristles cut in half. The thin, coin-digging tool on the right was a piece of electrical conduit pipe, hack-sawed, then metal-filed, at a 45-degree angle with a bicycle grip pounded over the end. And the tool resting in the center back of the holster is a standard wood-handled trowel, mainly used for moving quantities of dirt back into the hole you'd pulled the target from. 

Home-Made Tool-Leather Detecting Holster Circa 1982
Thanks to Tandy Leather, still in business today I might add, for providing a few tool leather scraps, a few dozen leather rivets, and a cheap rivet setting-tool. And of course, continual customization was the watchword as long as you still had a few open areas that you could rivet another leather loop onto. And it was almost indestructible; it would not rip, tear, pull apart, shrink or wear-out. And as a side benefit, leather, unlike myself, seems to get better with age! I've owned about a half-dozen modern detecting tool-holder/finds pouch arrangements, made of heavy canvas and/or synthetic materials that have finally worn out, ripped or finally came apart. Luckily, most tool and finds pouches are reasonably priced enough that replacement or having a few different ones for different types of hunts (the beach, parks, clay soil, fresh-water, rocky river bottom, etc) is not unreasonable. And they now come with an assortment of zippered pockets, water-proof mesh with Velcro-ed cubbyholes for junk, artifacts and coins...high-tech is not always the best tech, but things are improving.


Monday, July 1, 2019

Impatient Detecting - The Killer of Finds

We've all have heard the stories of newbies seen detecting along the beach. Many times they are seen with the search-coil 8" above the sand, racing along as if the Devil himself was on their tail. Some are spotted doing the "golf swing," or the "Smiley Face," or what we sometimes call the "U-boat." These maneuvers pretty much insure they are no threat to experienced detectorists, but even among experienced machine operators, we have noticed a few that have a need for speed! With the coil level, ground balanced and inch or so over nice damp, salty beach sand, there are other errors that may make the good stuff difficult to locate. Speed kills, as the saying goes, and it certainly kills your finds!
Rip-roaring up a beach or thru a park will most definitely put you at a disadvantage with other hunters who practice what has become to be known as "low and slow;" and maybe an improvement to that phrase would be "Low and slow and LISTEN!" All VLF metal detectors have something called a "re-set speed," during which the machine's circuitry re-sets itself after a target acquisition. This can be a few tenth's of a second to almost half a second, depending on the model and the frequency being used. Another aspect of this is the recommended sweep-speed, (a full sweep being an arc from one side to the other in front of the operator) which takes this constant into account. My Minelab E-Trac's manual recommends a 4-sec sweep speed. If you exceed this, or get a bit jiggy in your sweep, you can detect piece of iron, and if you are exceeding the sweep-speed, may miss the silver coin just to the left, while the machine is doing a reset, and not looking into the ground during the process.
The first guy I noticed employing a "low and slow and LISTEN" approach was friend of mine, Gary Dover. Gary is kind of a quiet guy and is usually nose down, eyes locked, and ears up. I thought he'd hurt his foot at an Orlando hunt we were participating in because he was practically tip-toeing along, with his head cocked side-wise. But he said, "Naw, I'm slowin' down and listening for the good stuff!"

A few people have accused Gary in in the past of having a somehow "better" machine than anyone else. Using a stock AT-Pro, he killed it time and again with old coins no one else could even come close to. I saw him dig a silver 1857 Barber Quarter right in front of me one day, where several dozen others had passed over earlier. He moved up to a Minelab E-Trac and the same thing; V-Nickles Barber coins from the middle of the 19th Century. But it was not the machine, it was the technique!

So, slow down a bit and listen close; those coins have been waiting for over a hundred years for you to bring them back into the light...a little more time is not going to matter!