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! 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Beach Detecting - Numbers to Hunt By

The other day while beach hunting, and viewing other people detecting at low tide, I started to wonder how much beach there was to search at low tide...I mean, how many chances to find something in the sand or tide flats are there? So I set about trying to put some scale to the problem. People, including me, always say that we have too many people metal detecting the beach. But the question that begs an answer is: do we? Do we really?
Google Map Image of Daytona Beach, Florida
Now the most popular beach in Central Florida is Daytona-Ormond Beach, and famous the world over according to the tourist literature, and certainly a favorite among the local metal detecting clubs; Daytona Dig & Find Club as well as the Central Florida Metal Detecting Club. One thing the beach certainly is, it is wide at low tide...almost 500-feet wide as a matter of fact. They used to race cars there in the old days, and cars still can drive the beach in certain places along the beach. Daytona Beach is approximately 25-miles long, (more like 23, but jeesh!) but I picked an arbitrary point from the tip of New Smyrna Beach (the most dangerous shark attack beach in the world.) to the south than up to just past Flagler Beach to the north. A distance of somewhere around 25-miles of detectable beach.

Most standard search coils usually come in at around 11" in diameter, but for this instance, I'm going to add an inch to the coil and make it 12," i.e. a "foot" in diameter. You can recalculate later for a 11" diameter coil if you want, or an 8" or a 6" but really the 12" coil size is just to make a point.

Take the distance up the coast, 25- miles, multiply it by the number of feet in a mile; 5,280' which comes to 132,000 feet. Then multiply the beach length in feet by it's width in feet, which is about 500' and you get the square footage for Daytona Beach's beach. Since you have a 12" coil in this example, it just about covers a square foot, and according to our calculations, you have exactly 66,000,000 square feet to hunt within Daytona-Ormond Beach. That's right, sixty-six million coil locations available that may have something hiding under the sand. And if you can successfully and properly sweep a square foot of beach sand in about 2-seconds time, it will take you around 2,410 years to fully hunt the beach! I guess we'd best get started!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Metal Detecting Tales of Questionable Rescue

Within the metal detecting community, as a friend of mine would say, "...we use our powers for good!"and offer our services free of charge as a public service. I know many, many hobbyists that will drop everything they are doing, drive untold miles, then spend hours in the hot sun, a snake-infested swamp, or under a porch overrun with spiders to recover a lost item for a perfect stranger. Dog-tags, car keys, wedding rings, and a veritable plethora of sometimes irreplaceable items from everyday life fall before our invisible electromagnetic waves, as they probe the dark water and through the earth. But sometimes the mission may be, to quote a southern term, snake-bit from the very start. A call came in from someone who said they could not turn on the water for their home because the valve was lost...we pictured a family with no water. When we arrived, it turned out that it was a contractor refurbishing an apartment complex! He told us they were looking for 36 valves that were buried about two feet deep, and had not been seen since they were buried in 1986...and the valves were the size of  a large marble, the rest was PVC plastic. After a futile hour with a 15" coil, digging 33-years worth of metal trash, we finally packed it in. Without so much as a "Thank you!" the contractor was back on the phone with another contractor as we packed up and left.

Another sketchy mission was to find some gold that belonged to a man who, the caller claimed, had gone senile and did not know where all his gold had been hidden.

As the call progressed, it came to light that, according to the caller, it was his father-in-law's gold but he, the caller, had actually buried it a few years ago. (Shades of the Chinese Affair, one of my earlier blog posts you might want to look up.) We were getting more and more suspicious, and the conversation went on something like this:

"Let me get this straight, you buried you father-in-laws gold?"
"Yes, out in the back-yard...we are moving and I need to dig it up."
"So why do you need a metal detector to find it if you buried it?"
"I don't remember where I buried it."
"What did you bury it in?"
"I don't remember...maybe a potato chip tube...maybe."
"How deep did you bury it?"
"I don't remember...maybe it is buried under a cinder-block."
"How long ago did you bury it?"
"I'm not sure."
"Why did you bury it specifically...did your father-in-law ask you?"
"I don't remember."

So you can see our hesitation in taking a long drive and spending hours in the hot sun...we talked it over then declined the mission...too many things the caller said made no sense.

Another mission we did take, was someone who called and said that while he was building a giant spider, he suddenly realized he had lost his hearing aid and could we come over with our metal detectors and find it? About an hour later we were on site, with our equipment powered up, ready to go. "Where were you when you lost it do you think?" He looked at us and said "Well, I spent most of the morning at the library, then I stopped at the diner and had some lunch, then I came home and mowed the lawn, then I was working on the giant spider over there when I noticed it was gone."

Patti and I glanced at each other...uh-oh...was the unsaid remark that passed between us. He assured us, however, he had gone back to all those places and searched, but the tiny device had not turned up, so it must be on his property. We were using Garrett equipment, an AT-Pro with a "super sniper" coil on it, and our usual ace-in-the-hole  machine for very small items, the ACE 250 with the four-inch "super sniper" coil that could find a nit on a knat's knuckle. Or so we thought. After almost five hours of searching his front-yard, his acre and a half back-yard, he asked if we could search the rooms in his house. Not usually, but whatever. Patti even looked under the bead, in the shower, the closets, the patio to no avail. He asked us if we would search the attic, but we decided that was enough and declined. I told him it was too bad he did not have another hearing aid we could have used for a test-scan to set a benchmark signal that would be recognizable to either machine. He looked at us and pulled a hearing aid out of his left ear "This is identical to the hearing aid I lost...they were a pair when I bought them." I looked at the tiny device and ran the most sensitive coil and machine combination we have over it and not a peep...the pin-pointer would not even go off either when passed over the top. I found out later that the wires inside, and there were not many, were about as thick as a human hair. Patti and I were about to pass out from the heat and went back to the car for some cold drinks and put our equipment away. He walked along with us and asked about our club and said he would send a "donation" but he was never heard from again. We don't ask for cash or credit cards, and our help is gratis, but a "Thank you!" would sometimes be nice in lieu of a reward, or even a cold drink. But these are rare cases and not usually the norm, and will never affect our mission to help someone find their personal lost something.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Making A Living Metal Detecting

This happens a lot lately, thinking metal detecting would be a great job, which is ironic, because at this point in time the hordes of detectorists that consider this, have made this life-choice well neigh impossible by their very existence. I'm talking about making enough revenue from your finds to eke out enough profit from that revenue to support yourself. Let me be clear here...that's not gonna happen. In the last 56-years I've been in this hobby I've seen this tiny light go on once in a while in either a newbie's head, or a casual detector operator's head, and it pains me to see it. Because it's pie-in-the sky baloney. Now there are a few hardy souls who have managed to make a living, nay, even a good living, out of treasure hunting per say, and you notice I did not mention metal detecting? And those that have, usually have a side gig or two to help keep their income afloat. Like writing a book, hosting a TV program, or paid speaking engagements while hawking t-shirts and mugs with your logo or face on it...need I go on?

As far as metal detecting goes as a job, it is right up there with being unemployed, with unemployed being at the top, at least bringing in some meager government benefits. Now I know people who have spent a year or more unemployed, putting themselves out there metal detecting every day. Occasionally they may hit the jackpot, more or less, by finding expensive jewelry. A few thousand dollars for a few months of metal detecting, once you subtract your fixed costs for your vehicle, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and your metal detecting gear and batteries costs, and the actual hours spent scanning the sand, you'll find a gig taking lunch orders at McDonald's a better all-around deal; air conditioning and $15 an hour beat the uncertainty and downright overheated plodding existence of scavenging a beach. The most I've ever seen anyone ever make from metal detecting on an average day is about $17 for the entire day...and I mean about 12 to 14-hours in the searing sun and elements. And that's a good day!

Of course, the vision shared by most who think this may be a viable option see themselves spending an enjoyable few hours at the beach...warm breezes, shady palm trees and downing a cold lemonade at the snack-bar afterward, with a pouch filled with a few thousand bucks worth of gold and silver jewelry. The cold, hard truth is you probably won't have found enough to even afford that lemonade and not even remotely your visit to the ER for dehydration and dizziness!

Now, it is possible for retirees to supplement their income by finding gold and silver occasionally, and enjoy a rare movie and maybe something other than cat food to eat for that month, but as a full-time job, probably not an option. And even if you can somehow manage to find enough month to month to afford to live in your car, you will never look at the hobby as an enjoyable pastime ever again. And that is not worth it! My opinion for what it is worth...which ain't much. Happy hunting and good luck and don't quit your day job! 

Saturday, June 8, 2019

One Digit or Two - The Perils of VDI

Sorry for my long absence...cancer, diabetes and the other several diseases I have were getting out of hand again, reducing my will to do much of anything at all. But here I am again! Anyway, I was thinking about something the other day; mostly it concerned Visual Display Indicators (or VDI) on today's advanced metal detector screens and I had an epiphany!  Between my wife and I, we use about seven different models and makes of metal detectors that utilize a VDI display, all except one machine, which is up on blocks right now awaiting a cable refit, which would be my Minelab Excalibur.

And of the six machines in use, only one machine, my multi-frequency Minelab E-Trac utilizes 28 different frequencies all scanning simultaneously from the single DD coil of choice. The five remaining detectors all use a single frequency, scanning from a single coil. The advance features of the newer machines are impressive, but they also sport what I would term a single two-digit readout on the VDI which means different things on different makes and models, of course. But, despite all the new features in the new machines, my older tech E-Trac is more accurate with it's multi-frequency ability and dual four-digit readout. The four digit readout consists of a ferrous two-digit readout, next to a conductivity two-digit readout. This creates a "matrix" where you can very accurately determine what the probable target is, what type of metal and how big it may be as a target.

The other detectors, with their single two-digit readout, are also pretty accurate to a point, and provide you with a pretty clear dig/don't dig  decision, but still with an aura of mystery for those "in-between" numbers that may or not be something good and you decide arbitrarily on whether you should burn the time and energy to recover it. 

The strange thing I have noticed, being absolutely honest in looking at my treasure hunting habits, is that using the more accurate system the E-Trac provides, I end up making a lot more "don't dig" decisions. Of course, if you are "cherry-picking" a site, who cares? But, after using some of the more advance single readout machines, target VDI's are not quite so cut and dry. Of course who wouldn't dig a 79 or an 80 on any single readout machine as long as it is not as big as a car hood? 

So my habit now seems to be I dig a lot more "iffy" signals on the single-frequency machines, and seem to be rewarded more frequently by interesting finds I would have ruled a "don't dig" scenario with the multi-frequency, multi-readout machine. Of course it is because of my habit's not because of the detector capabilities. So I have gravitated into a new realm where I use the E-Trac for hunting deep old coins and beach hunting, and the single frequency detectors for artifact and relic hunting. Of course that could change any time a new epiphany shows up, but for now, it works for me