A Salute To Women In Metal Detecting
By: Amy Maruso
They are grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. They are homemakers, professionals, caregivers, and in many cases they are the backbone of metal detecting clubs across the nation. They serve as club presidents, vice presidents, secretaries, treasurers, newsletter editors, hunt organizers, raffle ticket sellers, and hostesses who set up, bring refreshments, and clean up after the meetings. Their contributions to the hobby are extensive, and their finds reflect their serious devotion to metal detecting. Not only do they find time in their busy schedules to pursue the hobby, they excel in all facets of it, from relic hunting to coinshooting to beach hunting, to competition hunting to prospecting. These are the women of metal detecting, and they love diggin'!
During the course of over two decades of metal detecting, I've met many women for whom I have much respect and admiration. While I'm profiling but a few for this article, this salute goes out to all women who share a great love and enthusiasm for the hobby, and through their many contributions have made it better for all of us. Even if they don't actively detect, many still show up in droves to help out at club meetings and hunts to support their partners. Here are just a few who deserve recognition:
When describing Lucile Bowen, the word icon comes to mind. Metal detecting has been her life for more than 40 years, and when she and her husband, Harry, opened Bowen's Hideout in 1966, selling TH'ing and prospecting equipment, it thrived beyond store status and became an institution in the Northwest. Their success can be attributed to Lucile's unwavering love and devotion to the hobby, and her selfless drive and enthusiasm to help others.
The length of Lucile's bio rivals War and Peace, but some of the highlights include starting and running Bowen's Hideout, writing the "Travels of the Gals" column for this magazine for the past three decades, working on both the Custer Battlefield and Chief Joseph archaeological digs, teaching beginning prospecting for both the Institute for Extended Learning and North Idaho College for a span of 20 years, and taking groups to Alaska to prospect for gold. She did the Alaska prospecting trip for ten years, and went in by bush plane to work claims in Paradise Valley, approximately 230 miles north of Fairbanks. Even though accommodations were rather crude, to Lucile that was the most fun of all!
Lucile has also performed her civic duty by working with law enforcement on everything from airplane crashes to homicides to drug busts, as well as teaching metal detecting classes to law enforcement in Montana. She and Betty Weeks were both instrumental in helping George Massey fulfill his dream of starting the Gold Prospector's Association of America - an organization that thrives today and boasts many members.
In pursuit of treasure around the world, Lucile has traveled to England, the Bahamas, the West Indies, Hawaii, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and five South Pacific Islands. If you're thinking of traveling to these places, don't expect to find much, because Lucile has probably already found it! Having rubbed elbows with the likes of Karl von Mueller, Doc Barr, Glenn and Mary Carson, and Hardrock and Faye Hendricks, Lucile reminisces about the "good old days," but continues to live life to the fullest in the present!
As you can imagine, her finds are stunning and too numerous to mention in this article, but her greatest achievement lies in the work she's done to elevate, advance, promote, and preserve the hobby for all of us. I've visited and hunted with her a number of times, and I'm deeply proud to call her a friend.
If metal detecting has a heart and soul, it would be Betty Weeks. This lady has been around the hobby for three decades, and has taken on some of the toughest jobs, such as steering the Federation of Metal Detector and Archeological Clubs through two presidencies and three vice presidencies during turbulent times, often in the face of tremendous opposition. Although her decisions weren't always popular (what official's ever are?), she faced each challenge with grace and dignity, never walking away or giving up. It wasn't an easy task, but her heart was always in the right place, and I admire her fortitude and diplomacy in tackling the job. To this day, she continues to lend her support and expertise to the Federation as well as the American Metal Detecting Association, on behalf of preserving, promoting, and protecting the hobby.
Betty's interest in things "old and gold" began as a child growing up in Sacramento, California. Her dad was an avid historian of the Gold Rush, and Sunday mornings found them meandering the back roads to explore the abandoned towns once bitten by the glory days of "gold rush fever." Betty remembers the old miners' cabins sitting undisturbed as though "waiting for a past never to return." Perhaps it was her upbringing that inspired her and her husband, Jim, to purchase their first metal detector in 1968. Back then, metal detectors only went about 3" deep, but there were plenty of good targets just below the surface, and Betty was well on her way to building her own collection to include silver and gold coins (she's found several of them, including a prized $20 gold piece), relics, and jewelry.
In 1971, Betty was instrumental in forming the Northwest Treasure Hunters Club in Spokane, Washington, which began with 18 members, has since grown to over 85, and is one of the oldest TH'ing clubs in the country. In 1975, she put on the club's first "Nightstalker" hunt, expecting approximately 30 people to show up. Instead, over 130 turned out to brave the dark and pick out targets hidden inside of rubber worms, shaving cream, cups of ice water, and balls of fur! That same year, she stared the first Halloween Trick or Treat detector check, and club members manned every fire station in Spokane. This public service continued for the next 18 years, and set an example for other clubs across the country.
When the Western Chapter of the FMDAC was being formed in 1985, Betty served as its first vice president, and then stepped up to the president's position the following term. While she was still in office, Betty's chapter organized the first big western FMDAC convention in Reno, Nevada, which was a huge success.
Other achievements to her credit include writing the "Club News Views" column for this magazine since 1987, wearing every hat from president to secretary to newsletter editor for the several clubs of which she is a member, receiving the first FMDAC President's Award in 1990, being inducted into George Streeter's Treasure Hunters Hall of Fame, and being first recipient of her namesake "Betty Weeks Woman's Achievement Award," which I had the honor to receive last year.
You would think that with all of the time she's devoted to serving the hobby, she'd have none left to detect, but Betty is a skilled and accomplished coin, relic, nugget, beach, and competition hunter with many great finds to her credit. We've been friends for a long time, and my only regret is that we live so far apart. Betty sums up her career in metal detecting by saying, "It's been a long, exciting, and rewarding hobby, with many treasured moments to remember, and a wonderful gift of many lifelong friends." I think that speaks for all of us!
You won't find Reba Swann detecting in parks and schoolyards, but you might find her searching the jungles and rugged coastlines of some exotic country or island. Reba is a hardcore relic hunter, and together she and her husband, Mark, have amassed a collection that is no less than spectacular. While Reba enjoys finding relics in foreign countries, she's just as adept at finding them in her own backyard - literally! Her first encounter with relic hunting began when she and Mark decided to do a little landscaping around their c. 1829 home. About a foot down under a forsythia bush, Reba discovered a Mason jar containing ten silver dollars dating between 1860 and 1890. Next, she searched around an old dogwood tree and uncovered an oil can filled with silver dimes and a gold coin! Needless to say, she was hooked!
Reba and Mark have explored a number of forts along the coastline of Venezuela, and have had great success in finding relics such as cannonballs, musketballs, belt plates, buttons, and coins. They've also discovered many virgin Civil War and War of 1812 sites in and around their home state of Tennessee, and within one 15-month period Reba dug six plates and numerous British and Colonial buttons, cannonballs, large coppers, old silver, and many other relics. She remembers one hole that contained over 60 bullets, and her pouch became so weighted down that she could hardly walk! Her favorite and most poignant find was a Civil War Minie ball with a wedding band wrapped around it.
Reba, a psychiatric nurse, is living her dream - a dream that many of us share. She chooses to work one or two days a week... "just enough to support my life and have time to live." She and Mark often detect several times a week and enjoy a friendly competition by naming an item they'd like to find, and often fulfilling that wish!
I first met Reba at an organized relic hunt in Virginia as she emerged from the woods with a handful of relics. It seems as though wherever she goes, Reba's reputation as a "relic magnet" follows. As of this writing, she and Mark are planning their next trip to Venezuela, and I'm sure no relic will escape the scrutiny of this dynamic duo's coils!