Vintage Wedding

Lancaster Research & Recovery members use metal detectors to recover lost wedding rings, antique coins and more | Yesteryear

Dan Pick loses wedding rings. “I have a little bit of a habit,” he says, recalling what he thinks might be the third time his band disappeared. Pick was cleaning out his family’s vegetable and flower garden in spring 2020, filling two huge bags with yard waste. “I knew I started with it on, and when I finished, it was off,” the Willow Street resident says. It’s not that the ring was that expensive; Pick’s prior bands were made from steel, while this one was tungsten. He simply refused to let this piece of jewelry stay missing.

Wife Sarah and two of their three children helped Pick search for the almost indestructible silver-colored band among asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and perennials.

The odds of finding the ring were “better than a needle in a haystack, but it was still a tough ask,” Pick says of recruiting family members. Their result: No ring.

This time, though, the Picks got lucky. Close family friend Gene Walter stopped by with his metal detector and located the ring inside one of Pick’s refuse bags.

Gene Walter, president of The Lancaster Research & Recover Club, stands with his metal detector next to Dan’s vegetable garden on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

“Everybody loses something,” says Walter, who wouldn’t accept money for the discovery. He has spent 11 years searching for missing jewelry, colonial coins, Civil War memorabilia and other shards of history buried in the ground or beneath an ocean. The Columbia resident leads The Lancaster Research & Recovery Club, which brings together metal detector enthusiasts from several counties. The group has about 80 members.

Dirt therapy

Those who practice metal detecting talk about their love for exploration, passion for history and joy when reuniting people with precious and memorable objects. It also doesn’t hurt that the hobby takes enthusiasts outside for hours as pandemic effects linger.

A recent chance meeting at a yard sale brought Shana Morrow to the Lancaster club. She discovered the hobby of watching online videos and received her first metal detector as a gift a few Christmases ago. She immediately started combing creek beds. Her finds include a metal base for an oil lamp made in 1869 and a 1-cent coin from 1848.

“I call it dirt therapy,” the Elizabethtown resident explains, because the hobby comforted her during the COVID-19 lockdowns. She tried to involve her 11-year-old son, but he soon lost interest. “This takes a lot of patience,” says Morrow, who is married and works at an early learning center.

Morrow has attended one club meeting so far and wants to meet more members. “I’m looking forward to talking with people who understand that finding a piece of history is exciting.”

Matthew Harding agrees. “I’ve always been interested in history and learning and finding new things,” says the secretary of the Lancaster Research & Recovery Club. The Mountville resident met Walter through the Nextdoor app about seven years ago.

Harding prizes the colonial buttons and shoe buckles he has found. He has cradled spoons from the 1700s in his hands, barely believing that real people ate from them almost 300 years ago.

“You wonder how these things got where they are,” the social worker marvels.

The science

Metal detection practitioners use handheld equipment to send electric currents either through the ground, water, or as in Pick’s case, an object that might be hiding metal inside. A tone heard through headphones or a needle on a dial will signal when metal is found. Sophisticated detectors use different sounds for different metals, say, so users can search for gold or silver or other metals.

Industry experts say a probe that sweeps an area can detect metals lying on or buried near the surface. Specifically detailed metal detectors, for higher prices, can find metal about five feet below a surface. Machines range from about $100 for basic equipment up to around $10,000 for the savviest edition.

This popular hobby originally started in the early 1900s as a way to find bullets inside of medical patients or soldiers. The military used detectors to locate land mines while miners used them to find ore.

Andy Snell with book

Andy Snell of Spring Grove runs the Lost Boys Rescue metal detecting company. He was featured in the book “From the Ground Up 2,” pictured here.

The search

Historical finds may wow metal detecting practitioners, but locating lost treasures also occupy club members. “We’re always interested in someone reaching out to us for help,” says Walter, who joined the research & recovery group six years ago and has been president for about 18 months. “There’s nothing better than returning a ring to someone, when you see the expression on their face,” Walter says.

Dee Thieme knows that feeling. Club member Andy Snell of Spring Grove called her several weeks ago after he heard from a mutual friend that the woman’s husband, Eric, had lost his white gold wedding band four years ago in the couple’s yard in Dover.

Thieme thought the ring was gone forever. She had offered to buy her husband another band, but Eric Thieme refused, saying a new ring wouldn’t feel the same.

Snell, who repairs motorcycles and runs Lost Boys Rescue metal detecting company, searched for more than two hours in April before he discovered the ring where water had carried it across the yard.

“He wouldn’t quit,” Thieme says of Snell. “I couldn’t believe it. The ring looked brand new, and it was missing four years.”

Andy Snell medal

An antique York Fire Co. medal recovered by Andy Snell, member of the Lancaster Research & Recovery group.

Snell also wouldn’t accept any money, Thieme recalls. Her husband promised he would never lose the ring again.

“We’re really trying to reach out to new people,” says Snell, who joined the Lancaster club even though he lives more than an hour away. “It’s a hobby that really takes a hold of you.”

Snell says he is lucky to live next door to a farmhouse built in the 1840s and to have the owner’s permission to search. His finds include a badge from the original York Fire Station No. 1, which formed in 1770.

Precious discovery

Christian Hess of Quarryville lost more than a pendant with an American flag on one side 10 days ago during gym class. The junior forgot to remove his necklace before running on the Solanco High School athletic field. Within minutes, the locket containing some of grandfather Brian Wertz’s ashes disappeared. Wertz died almost a year ago.

Christian Hess with recovered pendant

Christian Hess, 17, holds the pendant found by Lancaster Research & Recovery club member Jerry Johns. The locket contains some of the ashes of Christian’s grandfather, Brian Wertz. The flip side of the pendant bears Wertz’s nickname, Foxy.

“I was devastated,” says Jason Hess, the 17-year-old’s father. “It is something very special for us.” The elder Hess reached out to club member Jerry Johns, a family friend and fellow volunteer firefighter with the Quarryville Fire Department. Johns and 11 other metal detector practitioners divided the athletic field into grids and searched on a recent Sunday.

Johns, who works as a mechanic for JL Clark, found the pendant after about an hour. “I was really excited and honored,” he says.

John’s grandfather, who taught him about metal detecting, was a firefighter, along with Brian Wertz.

“I’d do anything for that family,” Johns says.

Club details

The Lancaster Research & Recovery Club began 41 years ago as The Lancaster Treasure Hunter & Coinshooters’ Club. Walter uses social media to increase membership and offer jewelry-finding services.

The organization meets once each month in Lancaster County Central Park and hosts several all-day events during the year that offers searchers an opportunity to delve into an area.

Lancaster Research & Recovery will host a free “Detecting Clinic 101” Sunday, June 5 from 9 am to 4 pm with beginner classes at 10 am and 1 pm at the Kiwanis Pavilion No. 22 at Lancaster County Central Park. Participants also may try out different kinds of metal detectors, learn how to properly dig a hole and win a prize in a seeded hunt, with objects hidden in the ground.

Gene Walter - 1798 coin

Gene Walter found this antique coin, dated 1798, with his metal detector.

Walter’s entry into the hobby came after he and Megan, his then 10-year-old daughter, watched a metal detecting TV show. “I wanted to get something she and I could share,” the technical service manager for JL Clark recalls.

Finds include an 1895 woman’s diamond ring designed by a jeweler who lost his life when the RMS Titanic sank in 1912. Walter gave the ring to his wife. His daughter Megan eventually lost interest in metal detecting, but Walter remains undeterred.

These days, he searches for treasure with his 3-year-old granddaughter. In fact, Grandpa just bought Madison her first metal detector.