About ten years ago I penned an article for W&ET titled, "Dan, Dan the Detector Man." It was a short piece about my detecting partner at that time, Dan Hamilton. I wrote it because we shared a great comradery, and no matter how the day turned out, we always had fun. When we weren't detecting we usually sat around a pot of coffee, discussing and planning our next outing. These moments and experiences were real treasures in and of themselves.
Eight years ago I moved from New Jersey to Texas, and almost had to start from scratch again with my detecting. I had to find my way around new areas, ascertain what treasures were to be found, and even learn new techniques to recover them. The hardest part, needless to say, was doing all this without my detecting buddy, Dan. Eventually, I did meet other detectorists here and began hunting with a few of them. We got along well, but somehow things were different. The comradery Dan I had shared was hard to replace. We stayed in touch over the years, and always talked about detecting again whenever I went back to New Jersey to visit my folks, but somehow such excursions never seemed to materialize. One time Dan and his wife Mary were on vacation...another time I did not have more than a day or two to visit, and of course wanted to spend it with my family. Something always seemed to get in the way.
Finally, last September we went detecting together again....for two hours only! Fay and I took advantage of special airfares and returned to New Jersey for a weekend. Not a long time to be sure, but the cost savings were too good to pass up. The dilemma I faced was how to squeeze in a little detecting, and still spend quality time with my parents, brother and sister, and close family friends. It was not going to be easy.
After arriving late Saturday afternoon and spending the day with Mom and Dad, I called Dan and explained my situation. I had about two hours to spend detecting...should we bother? Not to worry, he said! He had lined up a super site about five miles from his house, and we agreed to meet the next day at 11:00 a.m. and hunt hard and fast for the time allowed.
Sunday was a typical fall day in the northeast...temperatures in the 60s, a slight breeze, and lots of sun. I drove the 15 or so miles to Dan's house, and after a quick cup of coffee we put the detectors in the back of his pickup and headed out. On the way we chatted about anything and everything, and it seemed as if the past eight years were non-existent. It was like I had never left New Jersey.
Dan said the site we were to hunt was an old stagecoach stop, and one-time forge, dating back to the early 1800's, just across the road from an equally old inn in Pittstown, New Jersey. The front yard area was especially large, and the land behind the main house was terraced with a barn and assorted outbuildings. The best part? It had never been hunted before!
We arrived at the site, checked in with the owner and began detecting. I very quickly found something else I had missed...the soil of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. It was rich, loamy, and easy to work with...a far cry from the black gumbo I now faced in the Dallas area. In north Texas the soil can be like rock during the hot summer, with fissures and cracks all over. You chisel away to recover your target, and more often than not, it’s a brand new coin that has fallen 10 to 12 inches into these cracks. Quite frustrating to say the least!
During the two hour search we stopped periodically to share finds and techniques, and often merely to poke fun at one another. I had forgotten how much we shared that silly, sometimes stupid sense of humor. Maybe it was just the Yankee in me returning, or maybe it was just years and years of a close friendship. There was the time we were hunting an old picnic grove, deep in the woods, when I thought sure that a bear was about to pounce on me. Fact was, it was Dan rattling the bushes, having a little fun. He also knew that it wouldn’t be long before I'd get even. We went back and forth like that often, and could almost always find something to laugh about.
The results of our Sunday two hour hunt? One XF Indian Head cent dated 1889, found by Dan. My finds? An old lock, a rusted penknife, and an opportunity to enjoy the company of a time tested friend. Somehow I think I beat him out this time around!
I share this story with you not because you will become a better treasure hunter, but because often the best treasure is right under our nose. Friendships are too easily taken for granted, and only missed when they’re gone. I know that many of you reading this article have a friend or buddy with whom you share your hobby. You do this because it's fun, and having fun is an adjunct of this pastime we talk little about. Far too often our priorities are mixed up. We shouldn’t gauge our treasure hunting success by our finds, but rather by the hunt itself, and the people with whom we share the excitement.
Dan and I stay in touch, and we will hunt together again, hopefully many times. I also know that if we never found another thing we'd still have fun. I miss that very much. Good hunting to all of you, and remember to appreciate the intangible treasures you have in this pastime. They're quite often irreplaceable, and by the way...if you are in the field hunting, don't be afraid of that noise in the brush. It's probably just Dan, Dan the Detector Man!