LIKE ALL THE BEST FADS, it began in California, where surf-bum beachcombers used the glorified mine detectors to find coins, watches, jewelry and other metal valuables lost by tourists. When the U.S.made adaptations of the army’s mine detector (painted pretty, and sold to civilians as “metal-mineral detectors”) appeared in Vancouver last fall, they spawned a revival of treasure hunting in B.C.'s gold rush ghost towns.
Within three months one firm handling the mineralmetal detectors sold more than 50 for between $124.50 and $743.00 to an assortment of commercial travellers, itinerant salesmen, camping buffs — and even a few professional prospectors. This summer the firm’s sales almost tripled, and by now other dealers were in the act. Most buyers also purchased Bruce Ramsey's book Ghost Towns of B.C. (Mitchell Press). It documents the histories of 94 communities that went from boom to bust during the past century and now are derelict or vanished.
Jennifer Davis, sales manager of Eiden Exploration Enterprises, which markets geological survey equipment, says: “Most customers are ordinary people who tuck the detectors in the trunk of the car and go prowling around the ghost towns along the old gold rush trails.
“They’re looking for nuggets and small pockets of gold missed in the gold rush. In those days there was no electronic equipment to detect small deposits in or near rivers. Many miners didn’t believe in banks and are supposed to have hidden their gold somewhere about their shacks — then died or vanished, so the story goes, leaving their pokes behind them. But you never hear anyone admit finding anything because they might have someone claim what they’d found, or have to pay taxes.”
The best ghost - towning country is between Vancouver and Harrison Hot Springs along the Fraser Valley;
around the northern tip of Harrison Lake, and along the old Dewdney Trail, which ran from Vancouver to the Alberta border. All three regions are rich in the skeletal remnants of former bonanza towns.
The detectors have other uses. Now that old lamps, pots and pans are valued as antiques, ghost-town dumps are sometimes more profitable than the abandoned gold-
fields. Most detectors have two settings: one for minerals and the other for metal. One Vancouver woman borrowed a detector to look for her wed ding ring, lost when gardening. She found it three inches deep in a seed bed.
For $75 the detectors can be waterproofed — and the dozen or so part-time treasure hunters who have had this done go scuba diving in rivers
fed by gold rush country. They seek alluvial deposits of gold a mile or two inland from the sea: along with silt, gold dust and even small nuggets are swept downstream until the river meets the ocean tide and slows down. Then the silt — and, hopefully, the gold — drops to the river bed.
The cheaper of the score or more detectors available are the least sensitive and have
headphones to transmit the beeps and buzzes that announce they’ve picked up a piece of metal or a mineral deposit.
More expensive models have built-in loudspeakers and interchangeable detector plates, called loops, for different jobs. Six-inch plates are best for finding mineral deposits; one maker claims his small loop will "usually react
to a natural gold nugget, as small as a pinhead, just under the surface of a piece of quartz.” The biggest loops — the biggest is 17 - inches across — have a wider range and are more valuable for ghost - towning, scavenging through old garbage dumps, or beachcombing; in each case anything worth finding is likely to contain a good sized piece of metal, which is easier
to detect than pin-head gold.
Eiden Explorations’ Jennifer Davis and friend Maureen Marten, former secretary to Beatle Ringo Starr, spent one lunchtime this fall beachcombing Vancouver’s English Bay (see photo) using machines equipped with medium sized loops. They found $15.82 in coins lost by sunbathers — plus 17 bottle tops, two beer cans and a dog tag. □
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