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Metal detectives.

Byline: MIKE STAHLBERG The Register-Guard

WHAT DO YOU call someone whose idea of outdoor recreation is searching for lost coins, jewelry and relics with a metal detector?

Why, a metal detective, of course.

Especially if that person happens to be anything like Allen Jacobs, a retired Oregon State Police trooper who has used metal detectors to search crime scenes - new and historic - for evidence.

Now 78 and long retired, Jacobs' first exposure to metal detectors was as tools used to help in police work.

Nowadays, though, Jacobs uses the machines for fun, searching for coins, jewelry and anything else of interest that might be hidden just below the surface of the ground.

That's what he and fellow metal-detecting buff Ben Sebastiani were doing one day last week at Alton Baker Park in Eugene. They are modern-day prospectors, using the electro-magnetic fields generated by their metal detectors to sift through the sands of beaches and the topsoil of parks and other places people have gathered in large numbers.

It's a high-tech game of "finders keepers."

That day, Jacobs and Sebastiani were sweeping the circular antennas of their metal detectors over the portion of the park where crowds had gathered a few days earlier for the annual Art and The Vineyards celebration. The more people who have been in an area, the more things that are usually dropped and lost.

Between the beeps and screeches emitted by the machines, Jacobs talked about some of his most-interesting "finds."

The most fascinating were several relics from the Eastern Oregon site where the Indian Chief Paulina is said to have been shot and killed by pioneer rancher Howard Maupin shortly after daybreak on April 25, 1867.

Jacobs said he was taken to the site - located near Trout Creek, a few miles north of Ashwood in Jefferson County - in 1977 by a man who owned the property and who told him the story of Paulina's demise as it had been passed down through several generations of his family:

This was the spot where Maupin and a "posse" of three other settlers had, after an all-night ride, caught up with several Indians who had stolen 25 head of cattle and several horses from a ranch on the John Day River. The Indians were camped next to a spring.

Maupin, armed with one of the first repeating Henry rifles in the region, opened fire. The Indians scattered, leaving one man with multiple gunshot wounds behind. As the white men approached the Indian, he took his knife, plunged it into the ground and broke off the blade - apparently to prevent being scalped with his own knife. Maupin administered the coup de grace and took the man's belongings.

Only when the Indian's headpiece was later identified by an Army officer did Maupin and his posse learn that the man they had killed was Chief Paulina, notorious for his attacks on Eastern Oregon ranches.

The spot where Paulina was shot "is real remote and rugged, you have to take four-wheel drive to get there, then walk down a thousand feet into this basin," Jacobs said. "Nobody disputes this is where he was killed, and it's so remote it's never been contaminated by a lot of people."

Jacobs remembered the Chief Paulina story and location when, 19 years later, he took up recreational metal detecting, in 1996.

"I got to thinking, `I've worked on homicide cases before and found the evidence, and this is just a homicide 129 years old, so I'm going to go see if I can find it,' ' the former state trooper said.

Jacobs contacted the acquaintance who owned the land, and the two of them returned to the spring where Chief Paulina's band had camped.

Searching between the spring and rocks that would have been the most-logical place for Maupin to position himself, Jacobs found a .44-caliber bullet before the approach of darkness forced them to leave.

"I sent the bullet to pathological investigations in Portland to have it checked for blood," he said. "Negative."

Jacobs returned to the site several weeks later to resume searching.

"I started where I found the first bullet and continued toward the spring. I went 19 feet and found another bullet. ... It had blood on it. I went another 5 feet or so and I found five bullets. ... I treated it just like a homicide," he said. "I numbered it all, measured it all, the whole works."

Some of the bullets Jacobs found were 50-caliber, some .44s - the same as used by the Henry repeating rifle.

Searching from that spot in a circular pattern, Jacobs found a broken and bent piece of metal that he believes was part of Paulina's knife.

But he was unable to find any brass cartridge cases or the broken-off knife tip.

So Jacobs contacted White's Electronics, which manufactured the metal detector, showed corporate manager Allan Holcombe what he'd found, and told him what he was still looking for.

Holcombe upgraded the metal detector and Jacobs returned to the Trout Creek site.

"I took that up to the spring and - boom, boom, boom - I found three empty .44 Henry cartridge cases."

But Jacobs didn't find the missing knife tip, until two summers ago. The jagged piece of metal "fits perfectly" to the main blade, he said, just like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Jacobs said he offered the Chief Paulina items to a museum in Jefferson County, but the people who ran the museum acted like they didn't believe the story.

Holcombe does. "I have every reason to believe every bit of it is true," he said.

People find all kinds of amazing things with the help of metal detectors, Holcombe said, and 99 percent of those are purchased by hobbyists.

"I have friends who go to the south of England every year and search old Roman civilization sites," he said "They find old Roman coins."

Most metal detectives, however, track down more mundane coins issued by the U.S. Mint.

Sebastiani, Jacobs' prospecting partner, issues a shout when he digs up two quarters that had been buried, one on top of the other, under 6 inches of soil.

Sebastiani said the oldest thing he's ever found "was an 1895 Indian Head penny."

Metal detecting "is a lot of fun," Sebastiani said. "But people who pick up this hobby thinking they are going to get rich are going to be very disappointed. I make enough to buy my cigars."

He says he's found "a lot of jewelry, but most of it is the brass-and-glass type - cheap - but I have found some nice rings."

And Sebastiani said a woman he knows found a gold ring with a 10-carat diamond attached up on Mount Hood. (Metal detectors will not detect non-metal items such as loose gemstones or pearls.)

Metal-detecting was once virtually an all-male pastime, but women now account for about 25 percent of the machines purchased, Holcombe said.

"Many people just love this hobby," he said.

How many? Well, about 150,000 metal detectors are sold every year in the United States, Holcombe said.

One reason for that popularity may be that modern metal detectors are much more accurate and easier to use than the models Jacobs worked with in his police investigations in the 1970s.

"They've come a long way," Jacobs said of the machines. "They never had these discriminators - which, not only does it tell you what you find, but pull this trigger down here and it tells you how deep it is.

"They're not perfect, because it won't tell you the date on the coin, but they're working on that."

The "discriminators" Jacobs referred to are a computerized system that filters out common trash items like pull-tabs, screw caps, and pieces of aluminum foil while targeting the characteristics of coins and rings.

Many different technologies and performance characteristics are available, including machines that are designed exclusively for gold prospecting, underwater and salt-beach searchers, and hunting for deeply buried "caches" of coins or other metals.

But general-purpose coin- and relic-hunting machines are by far the most popular, although owners of machines do get to play detective on occasion.

"We've had many of our members work with police departments and insurance companies to recover stolen goods or lost jewelry," said Mary Canaday, secretary of the Beaver State Coinshooters metal-detecting club in Albany. "We've had several members who have actually gone out with police officers and found guns and things used in crimes."

Many members also are religious readers of the "lost and found" classified, looking for clues about lost items.

"They'll go find it and return it to the owner," Canaday said.

Metal-detector clubs stress proper ethics, such as covering up all holes, and getting written permission before searching on private property and permits to look on public lands.

(The Eugene Public Works Department, for example, now has 16 outstanding permits for searching city parks.)

Many clubs also conduct competitive events, in which participants search for hidden coins and tokens that can be exchanged for prizes.

One such event will be held this weekend in conjunction with Bohemia Mining Days. The Beaver State Coinshooters will hold competitive treasure hunts at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and at 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday at the Masonic Hall, 33322 Row River Road.

Participants in each hunt pay $30 or $35 for the right to search for 37 numbered tokens, each one of which can be exchanged for a prize. The hunts are open to all comers, Canaday said, and the proceeds will be used to fund a treasure hunt for Special Olympics youngsters.

Details about the event and about other club activities are available by calling Canaday at (541) 369-2292.


How they work: Metal detectors produce an electromagnetic field. Any metallic object entering the field will produce a flow of electric current and its own magnetic field, which in turn can be detected by a receiver coil on the machine. Precise measuring of the strength of the magnetic field produced by an unseen object often indicates exactly what that object is, such as a nickel or quarter.

How deep do they detect?: Most general-purpose metal detectors are generally equipped to locate coin- and jewelry-sized metal at depths of 8 to 12 inches of soil.

How popular are they?: About 150,000 metal detectors are sold every year in the United States. Ninety-nine percent of those are recreational models.

The Atomic Age connection: Oregon-based White's Electronics (located in Sweet Home) is the largest producer of metal detectors, a product the company turned to after the market for Geiger counters (used to prospect for uranium) dried up.

How much do they cost?: Consumer models range from a few hundred to $1,100 in price, depending on quality and features.

- The Register-Guard


CHRIS PIETSCH / The Register-Guard Allen Jacobs shows off some off his booty, mostly old jewelry but also a pocket knife. CHRIS PIETSCH / The Register-Guard While Ben Sebastiani (left) cleans off a coin he found, Allen Jacobs sweeps an area during a recent visit to Alton Baker Park. Metal detectors help prospectors find coins and other old relics, such as a rusted knife and bullet (middle).
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Title Annotation:These folks enjoy high-tech version of 'finders-keepers'; Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 18, 2002
Previous Article:Outdoor Digest.
Next Article:Woman's death from sting stuns Junction City family.

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