Metal detectorists enjoy the thrill of the hunt

Jimmy Tomlin, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·3 min read

Apr. 17—HIGH POINT — More than 40 years ago, when Rodney Joslin got his first metal detector — a cheap Sears model his parents bought him for Christmas — it "didn't do very good" at detecting buried metal, he says.

The metal detector did, however, unearth something the 55-year-old High Point man has kept with him all these years: a passion for metal detecting.

"I've always been interested in history since I was young, and this is kind of like rediscovering history," says Joslin, president of the Old North State Detectorists Club.

Established in 2009, the club has about 60 members from across the Triad and beyond who enjoy searching beneath the ground for buried treasure, whether that treasure is an old coin, a Civil War artifact, a hopelessly lost class ring or just a missing key.

"One thing we do is a free service to the community," Joslin says. "If you've lost a wedding ring, a necklace, a key — anything metal — you can contact our club and we'll try to find the lost item for you at no charge."

Club members have also worked with law enforcement agencies to use their detectors at crime scenes, sometimes finding fired bullets, bullet fragments or personal items that may have belonged to a victim or suspect.

They've worked with college archaeology departments and like-minded institutions, exploring significant battlefields and other historic properties, such as Jamestown's Mendenhall Plantation, High Point's Mendenhall-Blair House and Moore County's House-in-the-Horseshoe.

In fact, one of Joslin's favorite finds happened at Mendenhall Plantation, where a club member unearthed an old Masonic pin, which the club then gave to the owner of the property adjoining the plantation.

"His house has been in his family since the 1800s," Joslin explains. "Either his grandfather or his great-grandfather was a Mason, so we believe that pin probably belonged to him. If we had not done that hunt, that pin would still be in the ground today."

At the Mendenhall-Blair House on Skeet Club Road, Joslin found an antique padlock dating to the late 1700s or early 1800s.

A club hunt at the historic Julian Price House in Greensboro turned up a monogrammed spoon from an antique silver set that belonged to the Price family.

Other artifacts in Joslin's collection of finds are antique coins — including a Spanish coin dating back to the 1770s — jewelry, Civil War bullets and musket balls.

Sometimes, though, the best finds are the ones he doesn't keep, such as the 1964 gold class ring he found in Pennsylvania. With the name of the school, the year and the owner's initials, which were engraved on the inside of the band, Joslin was able to track down the woman who'd lost it, now living in Florida.

"She had lost it in 1967, and she didn't think she'd ever see it again," Joslin recalls. "She was very happy to get it back. Her mother had saved her change to buy that ring for her."

The Old North State Detectorists get together for regular hunts, Joslin says — sometimes on public property, other times on private property with the owner's permission. The group also has "seeded hunts," in which donated items are planted in the ground for the members to find.

According to Joslin, most metal items that are detected are buried only 4 to 5 inches deep, but sometimes they're deeper, depending on the size of the item and the quality of the metal detector. That old Sears detector Joslin got as a child, for example, wouldn't find much of anything, but he has upgraded to a much nicer model these days, he says.

Joslin says the group is open to new members who want to learn more about the hobby and think they would enjoy rediscovering the past.

"It's always a lot of fun," he says. "And these things we find are just rusting away in the ground. If we don't recover them, they're not going to get recovered."

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579