A Quarter Century of Metal Detecting with my Metal Detector!
(or how I spent my last 25 years tied to a Metal Detector)!
By: J.R. Hoff
The Early Years from 1974 to 1976.
It all started back in December of 1974. I was on vacation at my grand-mothers in Remington, Virginia. A close friend of the family, Willie Corbin, kept a room at my grand-mothers diner and in return kept an eye on things when the diner was closed. Willie was well known throughout Faquier county as a civil war relic hunter. He had found enough relics to pay for a home across the street from the diner. Willie introduced me to metal detecting during this vacation. He had an old metal detector, of which I can't remember the manufacturer, but you had to use headphones with it as it did not have a speaker. He took me up to the local high school, built in 1931 but the grounds were also used by Union troops as an encampment during the war. He would locate the targets and I would dig them up. We found railroad spikes that the soldiers used to peg their tents with, bullets and a few buttons. Pretty soon silver coins started popping up. A Mercury dime and then a silver Washington quarter with a few wheats mixed in. Willie mentioned that the grounds were used for parking cars during the 40's and 50's whenever a fair came to town. This was all the convincing I needed to know that metal detecting was a great hobby. Willie passed away during the '80's. I didn't get to see much of him after those first initial lessons, my being in the Army and always stationed so far away. Now, after 25 years it is still my number one hobby.
Back in Pennsylvania I bought my first metal detector. It was a White's Coinmaster III, a TR unit with no discrimination. I dug up every target detected and learned a lot in those early years. One of my favorite areas to hunt was Noxamixon High School in Revere, Pennsylvania. It has since been converted into an apartment building (but still looks like a school). My mother used to go to this high school and from the stories she would tell me of where they "hung out" helped me to recover a lot of coins. I know I pulled up over 100 silver dimes, all Mercury or Roosevelt's, a handful of silver quarters and two walking Liberty half dollars. One of the halves was in a tire rut pushed up in the mud from a recent rain. I remember finding one half of a cheap ring and years later found the other half. I still have it to this day. I found silver rings, religious medallions, and a silver over "200" bowling pin at Noxamixon. All of the local churches and ball fields got a good going over during those initial years. Across the river in Milford, NJ was a ball field behind the town church. What a lot of people didn't know was this was the old fair grounds in the 30's and 40's. Here, I found Mercury dimes and silver quarters. Nothing unusual, but one can still pull up silver there today!
Before leaving Pennsylvania for the beginning of my Army career, I visited my grand-mother down in Remington one more time. I found out what "hot" ground was with the Coinmaster III. The ground was so mineralized that I could not detect a bullet on top of the ground. I finally found some ground that I could hunt, a cow pasture. I was digging up parts of what looked like an iron kettle...one that had taken an artillery round. I received a signal that sounded like the others but instead was rewarded with a 1796 Liberty Cap large cent. It is still my oldest U.S. coin with a date on it. I was so excited about finding it that I stopped metal detecting and went home to show off my new found treasure.
Utah from 1976 to 1978.
In February of 1976 we moved out to Tooele, Utah. Actually, 17 miles south of Tooele at a place they called the South Area. There was about 20 duplexes left from an old military housing area first built during WW2. This was just too good to be true. During the war it was quite a happening place. There was a main Post Exchange, a movie theater and commissary (grocery store), a school and street after street of nothing but foundations of houses where people had once lived and played. The area has been deserted since around 1958. Oh yeah, I was the first to hit it with a metal detector! One of the first things I did was go to the post engineers and get a map of the old area that indicated where everything was. I was still using the old Coinmaster III and digging all of the targets. I can't remember everything I dug up but I can tell you this: it was better than Noxamixon high school. This was the first time that I ever found silver coins on top of the ground. I can still remember finding Mercury dimes and buffalo nickels on top of the ground. Lead toys, knives, rings, you name it and I found it. This is also where I found one of my silver dollars. I was walking over to a barracks foundation and running the coil on top of the ground, not swinging it but just walking with it when I got a signal that would knock your socks off. Up popped a 1927-S silver dollar and a buffalo nickel to boot. I remember calling my buddy and telling him that I just found $1.05 in coins, but only had two coins!
About a year later, Jeff Herke joined our ranks. We were Army Meteorologist in Research and Development when we were not metal detecting. Our job was to service environmental stations surrounding a chemical area. Trouble was, (at least for the Army) most of the stations were built right on part of the housing area, so half the time was spent working and the other half looking for treasures. I introduced Jeff to metal detecting and he really caught on fast. Soon, he purchased his first detector, a Compass Relic Magnum 6. We were inseparable after this. We spent every weekend metal detecting the South Area and the North Area. Did I forget to mention the North Area? It was a clone of the South Area only larger, as it was right outside of Tooele. Salt Lake City was 30 some miles away and we practically lived there on the weekends. Back in those days you could hunt almost anywhere. Would you believe the state capital's front lawn? How about Brigham Young's front yard? I found a silver Roosevelt dime there.
Sometime in 1977 I purchased a White's 5000-D metal detector. I bought it from Chuck Morris, a dealer in Salt Lake City. He was featured in one of the treasure magazines popular at the time. His method of extracting coins from the ground was very noteworthy. He used only probes, some of them between 6 and 8 inches in length. He was quite good at it. We hunted on occasion several times. The one thing I remember about his shop was the huge display case filled with coins and all kinds of other items that are dug up when metal detecting. It was quite inspirational!
A very memorable day on February 18, 1978, (thanks to my diary) was a trip that Jeff and I had taken south toward Delta Junction, Utah. On this day I had found 7 clad quarters, 5 clad dimes, 16 new pennies, 1 Standing Liberty Quarter, 9 Mercury dimes, 4 silver Roosevelt's and 10 wheat pennies. The memories are fading but hunting the grounds around a pool comes to mind. During March of 1978, Jeff and I hunted 15 times. I found a total of 46 silver coins. I remember one particular day that we were coin shooting. I was staying at a "guest house" which meant that I had moved out of my permanent house prior to leaving Tooele Army Depot. The guest house was once an old Army barracks. We hunted around the barracks and I came up with 2 clad quarters, 1 clad dime, 6 pennies, 1 1942 10 centavos from Mexico, 1 W.L. Half dollar, 1 Franklin half dollar, 3 silver Roosevelt's, 1 Mercury dime and 26 wheat pennies. I still remember this day because I thought the Franklin half was a sprinkler head and was surprised when it popped up. Not even 10 feet from this I got another sprinkler head reading and up popped the W.L. half. I think Jeff was ready to hit me over the head with his detector!
Alaska from 1978 to 1980.
Before my journey to Alaska, we took a vacation back to Pennsylvania to visit all of our relatives. While talking with my grand-mother one day she happened to mention an old picnic grounds that she used to frequent when she was just a little girl. The time period was probably around 1908 to 1911. She remembered a stand where you could buy ice cream and there was a band shell to listen to music. I knew exactly where it was from her description of the place and I easily located the site. It was all woods now with no indication of any type of activity. At the time I was still using the White's 5000-D metal detector. I can tell you right off the "newest" coins I found were a couple of 1911 and 1912 wheat pennies. Now for the good stuff. I hunted the site for two days. Some of the coins were just underneath the leaves with no digging required and some were three inches deep. One 1857 Flying Eagle cent, thirteen Indian head pennies, two shield nickels (1 an 1879), one Liberty V nickel, one Barber dime and two Barber quarters.
I was stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska for two years. I did not do a whole lot of metal detecting up there because there were just too many other interesting activities to keep an outdoorsman like myself busy. Gold panning, salmon fishing, hunting and exploring the arctic tundra occupied most of my free time. I can remember finding a couple of silver dimes at an old barracks site and hunting around an old football field and an M48 tank that was on permanent display there. I found a High School ring dated 1961 and the story made the post newspaper "The Buffalo".
And Now She Learns The Truth
She didn't believe him when he told her he lost it, but 16 years later, she is once again wearing it. Sgt. J.R. Hoff, Met Team, who does metal detecting for a hobby, was browsing around the tank that sits near the football field, when his detector signaled something beneath the ground surface.
Digging down three inches, Hoff unearthed a gold, female class ring, dating 1961, with the initials engraved on it. It read MacAdoo, so I looked it up in an atlas where I found the only MacAdoo was located in my home state, Pennsylvania, explained Hoff. I wrote the school, giving the ring description and initials. About two weeks later, they wrote back, notifying me of the owner. Apparently she had given the ring to a boyfriend in the service who lost it in 1963 up here. She said she never did believe him, but was glad to have it back!
I received a nice thank you letter from Jean Ann Radnic explaining how hard she had worked during school to save up enough money to buy her ring. She also enclosed a nice silver cross as a special "thank you".
Another Alaska story that comes to mind is when my army buddy got married. On the way to the wedding reception he got a flat tire. When he took his gloves off to retrieve some tools his "just placed on his finger" wedding ring went flying out in the snow along side of the road. Frantically searching for it produced zero results. He knew that I had a detector and I was immediately on the scene. Keep in mind it was 40°F below zero! Luck was with us as I found it in the snow in record time. I don't remember if he ever told his new bride this story. Don't worry Jim, your story is safe with me.
Alabama from 1980 to 1982.
Alabama is where I got started writing articles for the various treasure magazines. Most of you that are reading this now have read those stories and I will not repeat them here. Instead, I will pick some highlights from the diary and reminisce about the good old times! On March 22, 1980 I had been in Huntsville about a month. I wish now I would written down where I was coin hunting at because it was a terrific day. Two Walking Liberty halves, one silver quarter, one Mercury dime, one silver Roosevelt dime, 8 wheat pennies, one Kennedy half dollar, four quarters, four dimes, 2 nickels, and 24 pennies. It almost sounds like I was in Optimist Park.
Another vacation back to Pennsylvania in 1981 produced some good coins and jewelry. Hunting Durham School 1881 which is now a private residence, turned up some pretty good finds. A Barber quarter, two Mercury dimes, six wheat pennies and a nice sterling silver Roy Rogers ring. I saw the ring in Western and Eastern Treasures ask Mark Parker and it is valued at $200. Not bad for a school yard find.
Blossomwood Elementary School in Huntsville was a school with many surprises. It was built in 1956. Here, I dug up quite a bit of silver coins and jewelry. Far more than I would expect for a school built in the fifties. Some notable jewelry finds is the beautiful sterling silver charm bracelet from the depths of about three inches. The charms are highly detailed and I'm sure the little girl that lost it was devastated. Also from Blossomwood, a sterling silver statue of Liberty, a miniature that stands one and a half inches high. A sterling silver pin I found reads S. S. Reward, 1926. Of course, my being military, I immediately associated it with a navy ship. Years later I learned about Sunday School medals and pins.
Hunting an athletic field on Redstone Arsenal produced a large sterling silver United States Army ring. It was probably a size 14 or 15 as I wear a 12 and it slid right off my finger. I had it for a number of years before giving in and selling it to an army buddy.
Another find that comes to mind is an 1833 Large Cent. I found it at a depth of only 1/2 inch. We were hunting an old school on the side yard that had been landscaped with fresh dirt. I don't know if the penny was brought in or just dug up and relocated closer to the surface. It still amazes me that you can dig up a Mercury dime at two inches and a few feet further dig up a memorial penny at four inches. I have no explanation for this, but it has happened on many occasions!
The city of Athens is where I found the civil war identification badge. There was a rumor that a small skirmish was fought on the grounds of Athens State College. We hunted the large front yard of the main campus and found a lot of nice coins but no relics. This is where I found my first half dime, 1840-O. It looked like it had been run over by a wagon wheel but it was still a good find. Just down the street from the campus I found a nice U.S. bridal rosette. I knew it was military but wasn't sure what it was used for until I sent in a rubbing of it to Treasure magazine. Another block down the road is Athens High School. Hunting under the buttonwood (sycamore to you rebels) trees that lined the street I received a signal that I thought was a silver quarter. Digging down four inches produced the badge. It still had the pin clasp on the back but it crumbled to dust almost immediately. I knew this was a civil war relic but did not find out until recently how valuable it is.
Reading, Pennsylvania 1982 to 1985.
By 1982 I moved up to a White's 6000Di which I still have. I bought it from a dealer in Leesport by the name of Adams. He had a really nice shop and we even went out a couple of times coinshooting. This is where I learned that churches have the really old coins.
There is one church that really has me puzzled. It sits along the side of the highway surrounded on three sides by a corn field. A gravel driveway circles the church. There is quite a bit of grass to search but I never found any old coins in the grass. The driveway is where they were at! I found lots of Indian head pennies. They were from the good years of 1860's and 1870's. I also found a pewter medallion (1897) commemorating how the one room schoolhouse was the "Bulwark of Society". I hunted the place recently with the XLT and still dug up two Indian head pennies in the driveway.
A beautiful white church with a bell tower had a nice lawn in the front which produced a 1921 Mercury dime. This is the second best coin in the series. The 16-D still eludes me. I have found about four 1916's though. I was also rewarded with a nice gold tie tack in the same lawn.
By hunting only church yards my Barber coin collection was really increasing. Almost every church before 1900 had either Barber or at least an Indian head penny. Hunting an old church in New Jerusalem I received a dime signal at four inches. Digging down to four inches I hit solid rock! I ran the detector head back over the hole and still got a solid signal. I pried the rock up with a screwdriver and there lay a Barber dime. Also at the same church I dug up my first Barber half dollar. I don't remember the date of the church but it was built in the 1800's.
Hunting a school in Wernersville produced some nice coins. There was a hill out back of it and we just knew that it was used for sledding in the winter. We must have been right because we dug up quite a bit of silver. In the front yard I dug up a colonial coin at a depth of seven inches. It was a 1787 Connecticut colonial. It was probably lost by a hunter or maybe it was an old homestead before it was a school.
A church in Myerstown is where I found the standing Liberty quarter that graded MS-61 by a grading company. It was around three inches deep and I could see the fine detail through the dirt. I immediately placed it in the car on the floor mat. When I got home that night I cleaned it up with just water and a toothbrush. I'm glad that is all I did to it because now it is a $125 coin. I enjoyed hunting coins at this church. Down at the three inch level was a layer of clam and oyster shells. The dirt was black and if you have been coin shooting just for a little while you know that silver looks so nice on a black background. Indian head pennies and V-nickels were pretty common and I did manage to pull up a piece of gold. The detector gave off a pull tab reading at three inches so I dug it up. It was a heart shaped pendant with a small diamond!
An old folks home in Myerstown also gave up some nice coins and tokens. The home was brand new but we could tell from the size of the trees (which were large) that the area was old. Two items I remember digging up is a token good for one cigar and the James Ritty 2 1/2 cent token.
El Paso, Texas 1985 to 1987.
During this time I was going to PATRIOT missile school and did not get out as often as I would have liked. School took up a lot of my time but I did manage to get out on a few weekends.
Hunting a school in the downtown area produced my first Morgan silver dollar. It was only three inches deep and was right beside the sidewalk leading up to the front of the school. The school was built in the 40's.
I also started hunting the old movie theater on Fort Bliss that I used to go to when I was just a youngster. My father was stationed there in the late 50's. Behind the theater was the post flag. There was a cannon there that they would fire off every evening at 5:00pm. That cannon was a kid magnet. I found a lot of silver dimes around that old cannon. I was also rewarded with a gold wedding band out by the flag pole. Cavalry relics were pretty common just about anywhere on Fort Bliss. Lots of brass saddle pieces and collar insignia from WW1. One day out in front of what used to be an old mess hall in the 1920's I found a nice silver ring at a depth of six inches. It was missing the stone but it looked so nice that I took it to a jeweler who cleaned it up and put a nice red garnet in it. I still wear it.
Germany 1987 to 1990.
In my opinion Germany is the best place ever to go coin shooting. You never knew what you are going to dig up. A modern coin or a coin as far back as the Roman days. We found out real quick that the farm fields were full of coins. Unlike the fields in U.S., these fields were plowed on, walked on, marched through and had wars fought on them for thousands of years. We always said if someone dropped one coin per year each field should be littered with coins. Usually we were right. I always found coins at every field I searched in. I memorized in German how to ask the farmer if I could search his fields for coins with a metal detector (peep machine to them). I was never turned down.
One of my goals in Germany was to find a silver Roman coin. I was finally rewarded with one in 1989 while search a just plowed hay field. It was from the Roman emperor Nerva which dates it from 96 to 98 AD. I entered it in Western and Eastern Treasures first top ten best finds of the year and made it.
I will tell you that I probably dug up a dump truck load of shrapnel from WW2. It was every where over there. Fields, school yards, housing areas, churches and parks. Mostly .50 caliber type with a mix of bomb and mortar parts. They were just too big to discriminate out.
I found a lot of 17th and 18th century military buttons out in the fields. I need to research these buttons and find out what military units wore them. A lot of mother of pearl buttons were found right on top of the ground (no detector required). Musket balls were also common finds in the fields.
An unusual find out in the middle of a field was a silver Roosevelt dime from the 50's. Perhaps the KING dropped it while he was stationed there.
My oldest silver coin with a date was also found in the fields. It is dated 1705 and is from a German republic. My buddy found a silver coin from the 1650's. I never could top that one! I found a coin one day right on top of the ground. It is about the size of a half dime, on the obverse is a man with a rather large nose with a type of braiding in his hair. On the reverse is a cross. I cannot make out the wording on the coin but it appears to be 12th century. Coins were usually hand stamped in those days and it is a little off center which is why you can't make out the letters. It was a nice find none the less and there was no digging required.
Another field find was a nazi ring, the type with a swastika on it. It is a small size leading me to believe it may have belonged to a member of the Hitler youth party. I think it is gold because in ten years it has not tarnished. I thought it was brass at first. When brass is cleaned it usually starts to tarnish soon after.
I have to mention my coin shooting buddy Ron Mayes' two experiences. The first we were hunting an old church. Ron went out behind to search and I started in the front. After no more than ten minutes Ron came running back and said, "J.R. we got to leave now". I thought someone had told him we were not allowed to hunt so we piled in the car and left. Just down the road Ron pulls out this plastic baggy with dirt and coins in it. The coins were in 2x2 holders. Ron explained that he had gotten a coin signal and dug down only to find the plastic bag. After tugging on it, up popped the small cache of about 30 coins. We went back a few hours later and could see two small depressions in the ground where other caches had been. Was it a young lads hidden treasure or stolen booty. I guess we will never know.
The other experience was when we were hunting a field in front of Landstuhl hospital. Ron was already having a great day with a 1944 W.L. half dollar and a 1957 silver quarter when he pops up a 1964 five Deutsche Mark commemorative coin with a value of $100.
I could go on and on about coin shooting in Germany. It was without a doubt, the best area I have ever hunted in.
El Paso, Texas 1990 to 1993.
My last three years in the army were spent at Fort Bliss, Texas. Here I could go coin shooting, search for Indian relics or explore the desert. We lived off post and I could open my garage door and ride right out into the desert for miles on my dirt bike. Old mining towns, Indian camps, and military encampments were all within riding distance.
One area that comes to mind is an old firing range used by the troops during WW1. Searching around the sand dunes one day (sans metal detector) I found a Barber dime right on top of the ground. I came back later and found a few wheat pennies but no more silver.
I don't remember how but I found an old cavalry dump from WW1. It covered about one acre of ground and was on the outskirts of the main post area. Just walking around and looking for relics produced some nice finds. Collar insignia brass were quite common along with brass saddle pieces. I also found a silver cavalry ring right on top of the ground. It has the old style eagle on it. Hunting with the metal detector produced quite a bit of brass cavalry relics. In the coin department I found wheats from the teens, one Indian head penny and half of a Barber dime! Most of the coins were in bad shape.
Searching some old maps in a book from the post library revealed where an old WW2 motor pool was once located. What made it even easier was the fact that the fence was still there outlining the perimeter. I made some good finds here. A Mercury dime right on top of the ground, wheat pennies by the handful, numerous silver Roosevelt's and one noteworthy find. A 1921 Alabama commemorative half dollar. This was probably carried by a soldier as a lucky coin. Fifty years later it made another soldier lucky (me).
I also located some old barracks areas. The parking lots were still visible and the cement foundations were all that was left of the buildings. It is all sand and tumbleweeds now. At this particular location I remember pulling up a standing Liberty quarter and lots of Mercury dimes along with wheat pennies. (I actually located this area the first time I was stationed at Fort Bliss). Somehow I missed a 1922 silver dollar back in 1986. Six years later I was really surprised when it popped up.
Pennsylvania 1993 to present.
After retiring from the army we moved back to Pennsylvania to be near our families. One of the first areas I hit was the Delaware Canal. The water was drained so that repairs could be made to some of the locks. Using a technique I learned in Germany, I did quite well finding some of the older coins from the early days of the canal. Two Spanish colonial coins were recovered along with a couple of seated coins, a half dime and a dime. Also, two 2 cent pieces were dug up but being copper they were in bad shape.
Hunting under some football bleachers proved very worthwhile on a recent hunt. Mercury and silver Roosevelt dimes were in abundance along with two silver quarters. I missed one on the first hunt because the large coil prevented me from getting close to a cement piling. On the next trip I used a six inch coil and found the silver quarter about an inch from the piling and four inches down. I also found a human tooth under the bleachers.
Most recently I dug up an 1874 seated Liberty dime at a depth of seven inches. It is by far the deepest dime I ever dug, the deepest coin for that matter!
This pretty much sums up my last twenty five years of coin shooting. If I had to do it all over again I would. I've had a most enjoyable time coin shooting and making many friends along the way. It is the greatest hobby!
See you in the field!