Up in the dumps

Discovering a metal detector at the Dufort Mall — and discovering a new summer pastime

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Bonner County kids of a certain vintage and/or sensibility will know what I mean when I refer to the Dufort Mall. In fact, they’ll also know that we have several “malls” in the area, though their wares cost nothing and the uncouth may describe them as dumps. 

Courtesy photo.

Yes, for decades, many Bonner County residents have made dump runs into the opportunity to score some “new” stuff, and my family members have been among them. I remember, as a Sagle kid in the ’80s and ’90s, when riding along with mom or dad (or both) to the dump was an exciting outing. One summer, my brother and I brought home some kind of stripped-down metal cart that became our favorite toy for a time — one of us pushing while the other rode at dangerous speeds down our gravel road. 

My brother, a local landscaper, still makes many trips to the dump and has kept up the tradition of “going to the mall,” not long ago snagging a perfectly usable (non-motorized) scooter, fixing it up a bit and giving it to my kids. They love it.

My mother — whose own mother was an expert Dumpster diver in the Los Angeles of the 1960s and ’70s — has also maintained a steady affection for turning other people’s trash into treasure. I’m particularly pleased that she’s brought my children into the practice. A few months ago, she took the kids to the dump and collected a pile of scrap lumber, which the three of them used to build the snappiest-looking lemonade stand I’ve ever seen. We set it up on Division Avenue for its trial run on a recent weekend, netting a respectable pile of dough in the cash box.

One of our finest finds by far has been a functioning metal detector that my mom and kids found on another recent dump run. I mention “functioning” because, to look at it, you wouldn’t think it would work. 

When I first saw it, I figured the thing had to be at least 30 years old, judging by its clunky construction; yellowed, indicator screen (which uses an old-school meter to tell you what you may have found); and, most telling, its retro avocado color. Based on a little research, I found that what my mom and kids rustled up at the dump was actually a Garrett Master Hunter CX, circa the early 1990s.

According to various metal detecting enthusiast websites, the Master Hunter CX and its successors were “the all-purpose original,” featuring “extraordinary depth and efficiency under the toughest operating and ground conditions.” Also, apparently, “for two decades [it] has led the industry in cache hunting.”

I now see what all the fuss was about. Though skeptical, when I dropped six C batteries into the Master Hunter it let out an almighty beep that more resembled a squawk — specifically, the sound one might imagine coming from a parrot getting one of its tail feathers yanked out. The needle on the meter jumped to life, exactly as if I’d awakened the machine from a 30-year slumber.

My 10-year-old son and I were immediately smitten. We ran out to the yard and immediately started scanning the grass. Practically everywhere we searched produced a hit, which I assume means the subsurface of the yard is filled with toy cars, nails and (mostly likely) old bottle caps.

I piqued my son’s curiosity when I told him the house we live in has been standing since the early 1930s, and people back then used to bury money in metal boxes and coffee cans. His acquisitive little boy eyes lit up (he’d spent the previous day repeatedly counting his share of the money from the lemonade stand), and I could see that he was about two seconds from asking me to get the shovel.

Not wanting to turn the place into a pockmarked no-man’s land, we decided to do our first detecting in the dirt alley next to the house. With a garden trowel and three-prong hand cultivator for tools, we walked along for a few feet before hitting on our first dig site.

With great excitement — my son is convinced that every time the needle jumps to any spot on the meter labeled “gold” that we’re about to get rich — we plopped down cross-legged and started hacking away at the compacted dirt and rocks.

As we chipped away, making sure to re-scan the ever-growing hole to make sure we were still on the right track, I regaled my son with stories I’d read about kids in England who went out detecting in a seemingly mundane field and ended up unearthing hoards of ancient coins, medieval swords and Tudor jewelry. 

I told him about the show Time Team and its archaeologists’ heavy reliance on geophysics (ground-penetrating sensing that can reveal the outlines of long-buried structures and artifacts), and that most modern archaeology uses some method of remote ground sensing technology to identify where to dig.

Obviously, this was going much farther afield than our Master Hunter CX, but I was getting just as excited, thinking about all those caches of forgotten treasure that we might bring up. We started thinking about all the places we could take the metal detector — City Beach being top of my son’s list, though I briefly cringed at the idea of the two of us walking along with fanny packs full of lost keys and pull tabs. Neither of us are ready to be “those guys”… yet.

We kept at it, hunched over our minor pit, with a pile of dusty gravel rising next to it. We kept getting stronger and stronger beep-squawks (squeeps? buawks?) and the tension was rising. Could it be a silver dollar? Was it a ring or one of those coffee cans full of Depression era money? (The latter possibility we reasoned was less far-fetched than it seemed. Who would look for a can of buried cash in an alley?)

Then we found it: A piece of snarled metal wire.

I had a moment when I realized that digging up any kind of wire is no good. But when it crumbled as I gently pulled on it, I reckoned we were safe from getting electrocuted and causing a citywide blackout.

Still enthused, despite the lack of luster of our find, we carefully brushed away the dirt from the knotted wire, eventually pulling out about a foot of it. 

“Wow, we found something,” we said at the same time, marveling simply at how cool it was to turn a squeep — we’re going to go with “squeep” — into something tangible in our hands.

Continuing on, we dug up an old shower curtain ring, too.

After about an hour-and-a-half, my son and I called it quits and carried our discoveries back to the house. Proud of our achievements and excited for future finds, I reckoned that’s about as much healthy fun as you can have going from a dump to an alley.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.