Black Flies And Tall Grass
By: Lance W. Comfort
My brother Rick and I get together here in Vermont each spring to spend a week detecting old sites. Usually he comes in late April, but due to some late snow we have had, this year he decided to wait until late May. Now I love my brother deeply, but if he decided to come in black fly season again, he may be detecting by himself! By this time of spring, on top of the three weeks we have to share with these man-eating insects, the grass has now grown to almost a foot in height, making detecting in the meadows much more difficult. It would be another three or four weeks before the first cutting, which would reduce the fields to stubble once again and allow for another month or so of easy detecting; that is, between the fields being sprayed with liquid manure to help the grass grow.
This year my friend and fellow detectorist Dave Linck would come along with us. He and I had spent several weeks before the hunt, seeking out places that might be accessible and not totally black fly infested when my brother arrived. When we found an area where we felt the grass would be too tall to detect by the time Rick got here, we took advantage while we were there and spent some time detecting. In one likely field Dave located a beautiful 1822 large cent and an eagle "I" button. I found a great old stirrup, a pewter bell, and an old boot heel plate, along with some nice buttons. It was difficult to go to some of the sights we knew would still be detectable and just leave them without taking a peek at what might be there, but we resisted the urge, knowing that in just a few more weeks we would all be there together.
By the time my brother arrived, Dave and I had located and obtained approval to detect quite a few promising locations including fields, old homes, and cellar holes. Dave would be able to detect with us for the first four days, and the last two days Rick and I would be on our own.
When I picked Rick up at the airport on Wednesday evening, we found it difficult to contain our excitement about the great time we would be spending together in the week ahead. I told him of our plans and the various locations where we would be detecting during the next six days. Later, we checked our goal lists and set our equipment out for the next day, then got a good night's sleep.
We spent the first morning at an old farm with a small stream running through it, where an old mill had once stood. Despite the excellent location our only find of any significance was a nice sleigh bell which Rick dug. By noon we decided to move to a cellar hole we had located nearby. Unfortunately, it was loaded with black flies and heavily overgrown. We tried to put up with the pests for about an hour but soon moved on to yet another location, where Rick found a well-worn large cent which gave him bragging rights for the day. Here Dave and I had picked out all of these locations, and Rick was the one with all the finds.
The second day we hit several more previously unsearched cellar holes along an old dirt road. It was raining lightly most of the day, but we just donned our rain gear and headed out to the fields surrounding the holes. Again there was not much to be found other than a few buttons, but I was able to come up with two Mercury dimes and a silver "war" nickel most likely dropped by hunters in the mid '40s.
Day three found us on a farm that adjoins the Bayley Hazen Military Road with lots of history. This location gave up a few Indian Head cents and some buttons, but not much more; so, we moved on to some fields overlooking a beautiful lake. Dave found a pair of nice Colonial buttons, and Rick and I managed a few buttons and a musketball, but not much else.
On day four we found a pristine cellar hole, but unfortunately it only gave up a few artifacts including a thimble, a beat-up Indian Head, a small compact from the '40s, and a 1952 Vermont license plate. In the afternoon we went to another hole where Rick and I each recovered a large cent but not much else. By the end of the day, Dave would have to leave us for the rest of the hunt. He and Rick said their goodbyes, and we all promised to meet again in the fall.
On our next day out Rick and I went to an abandoned farm that I had received permission to detect. Unfortunately, it was surrounded by an electric fence, which makes the detecting a little challenging to say the least. There was only about a half-acre to search, but we decided to give it our best shot. I soon found a small, gold-plated antique ring near an old apple tree. In an area where children had once played we located a number of Tootsietoys from the '50s, along with an earlier doll's pewter cup and plate. Other finds included a 1902 Canadian large cent, a musket ramrod tip, a broken shoe buckle, and some very interesting buttons, including one with 13 stars on it which I believe to be a patriotic button from the Civil War period.
On our last full day we headed out to a field which was across the road from a site where we'd had some success a number of years ago. This was a new site to us, and I had been hesitant to search it at this time, due to the tall grass and swarms of black flies. Fortunately, the wind came up and made dealing with the flies a lot better. Almost immediately Rick yelled out from the lower half of the field. He had found an 1803 Spanish 1/2 real! Spanish silver is a rare find and one of our favorites, too.
Despite the long grass and difficulty in getting our coils close to the ground, it appeared as if this was going to be a good site. Pretty soon we were picking up lots of buttons, including two ball buttons. After an hour or so I got a strong signal and dug the top of a powder flask. By the day's end we had found about a dozen buttons between us, along with some other interesting artifacts. Research indicated an old cellar hole nearby that we will be saving until our fall hunt since it is in a very wooded area, protected by man-eating mosquitoes which hibernate after the first frost.
before and located a home built in the 1820s with a large barn attached. However, there had been extensive landscaping there over the years, and I was not sure what we would find at the site. Rick soon dug an 1891 Indian Head cent and an interesting American Waltham Watch Company tin from the 1880s. Meanwhile, I got into a burn pit area and found a beautiful lady's brass picture case with a carved blue stone or glass gem in it. I believe that it dates from the time of the Civil War or immediately thereafter. It had been burned and was quite crushed, but later I was able to restore it to its original beauty, and it is now a highly prized artifact in my collection. It was a nice way of ending our spring hunt.
On the two-hour trip to the airport we never stopped talking about what a fantastic week it had been. Rick went home with two large coppers and a 1/2 real, along with some great relics. I, too, had found a large copper and a number of nice artifacts. We both agreed that even if we hadn't found anything, just the time we spend together, doing what we love to do, is worth every moment of putting up with black flies and tall grass. And Rick, if you are reading this... please book next year for late April instead of May!