I pulled onto a parking lot beneath the overpass by the skate park in Charleston. The heavy shade from the concrete ceiling above canceled out the Sunday sun and cut off my satellite radio.
So long sweet sounds of the 1970s.
I took a space a few places over from a shiny, black truck. A serious-looking man watched me suspiciously as I got out of my little Chevy and walked toward him.
I was pretty sure this was Corbett Perkins, my new friend.
We’d never met, but I was sure it was him. He looked like he was looking for someone, too.
Corbett opened his door.
“I wasn’t sure if it was you,” he said, smiling from behind his full beard.
“I got the batteries,” I said, holding up a fresh pack of double ‘A’s.
This was my entry fee into the leisurely world of treasure hunting.
The idea for my March project came from an old friend’s Facebook post, a local disc jockey, who’d offered to bring his metal detector out to “sweep” the property of acquaintances for stray metal bits.
There might be a few coins or other “valuables,” he said, but mostly, he expected to pick up a lot of bottle caps, bits of scrap and nails – nothing anybody would want.
It sounded interesting to me, so I reached out. My friend told me he’d really started going out with his metal detector during the pandemic lockdown. It helped take the edge off.
“Honestly, it got me through COVID and kept me sane,” he said.
But he thought it was kind of a weird hobby. He didn’t want to go too public about it and wasn’t keen to be part of one of my monthlong projects.
“I feel like a goober as is,” he said.
But he wanted to help. He gave me a few tips on diving into the hobby and some suggestions for online groups to check out, if I was interested.
This was how I found Corbett, a burly, bearded and slightly intense Army veteran who’d served in the Middle East and had some thoughts on America’s departure from Afghanistan and how the government was faring with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I’m not the politically correct one,” he said.
That always depends on the crowd, I supposed. Instead of talking politics, I asked Corbett about his masonic ring, his family, and his tattoos. He was practically dipped in ink, covered in images, text and runes.
“That’s quite an investment of time and resources,” I said.
He scoffed and said, “It’s not so expensive when you’ve got friends who own tattoo studios and bring on apprentices who need experience.”
Corbett had a lot of friends. For a few years now, he and some friends have been doing a YouTube show on the West Virginia Library Network called “Digging History.”
Hosted by another veteran, James McCormick, the show explores the metal detecting hobby, the equipment involved and best practices for digging.
In episodes, they often take viewers out with them on different expeditions.
Corbett had been kind enough to meet me at Magic Island after I’d reached out and asked about what sort of equipment I should buy.
I’d been given a couple of gift cards for Christmas, had already bought the can opener of my dreams, and thought I might be able to use the credit remaining to get an inexpensive metal detector.
Corbett told me the Amazon-recommended metal detector, while not the worst of the worst, wasn’t all that great. Instead, he told me to hold onto my money for a while longer. He offered to meet up, show me around and maybe loan me a little bit of gear.
We just had to wait for the temperature to rise.
“Frozen ground is awful,” he said.
Almost a month went by before we met under the overpass, across the road from Magic Island.
Corbett brought a pair of metal detectors for us to take to the park. They looked basically the same, a lot like weed eaters, though one model was more advanced and more powerful.
“Public places are generally fine to do this,” he explained.
State and federal lands were different.
“If you get caught with a metal detector in a state park, you can get a ticket and a fine,” he said. “Most of the time, the authorities get that you’re not there to do any harm. They might tell you to knock it off, but will let you go if you’re not making a mess.”
And private property was private property. If I wanted to go poking on someone’s land with a metal detector, I needed to have permission.
My radio friend said to get permission in writing.
We were an odd-looking pair out for a Sunday stroll, I thought – a big guy covered in tattoos, carrying a weird-looking gadget in one hand and a shovel in the other. Then there was me, the guy in the comic book t-shirt, holding the metal detector like a spear, with a hunting knife sticking out of my pocket.
The knife was for digging, too.
But no one seemed to pay us any mind. Not the guy in the brightly colored hoodie on the bench, drinking his lunch. Or the man who kept throwing a duck decoy out into the Kanawha River for his dog to fetch.
It seemed a little cold for that, but what do I know about duck hunting?
Corbett was a Civil War history buff. Some of his favorite finds came from battles and skirmishes not that far from Magic Island, including an old belt buckle.
He’d also found old bullets and a few coins. Some of them were worth a little bit of money, but altogether, what he had didn’t amount to anything like a fortune.
Corbett said he had a coin from the mid-1800s that was probably worth about $30, but it was just the one, not a 100 or 1,000. It wasn’t worth cashing out and besides the coin had other value.
It was cool.
Corbett said he had friends who’d gathered many more and older coins. Some of them had colonial era coins from Spain and England. They’d discovered jars containing old money – literally, buried treasure.
You never knew where you might find something.
“I found a Mercury dime from 1943 by the Kanawha River,” Corbett told me.
I’d have been satisfied with finding just about anything approaching treasure, but after an hour and a half, the best we came up were a couple of vintage pop tops, a mud encrusted screw-on bottle cap and a rusty, nine-inch nail.
“That’s mostly what you’re going to find,” he told me. “You always find more trash than treasure.”
But a good digger picks everything up, keeps the treasures, but disposes of the trash responsibly.
At the end of our walk, we made vague plans to go out again and Corbett loaned me one of his machines to play around with.
“If you have any questions, give me a call,” he said.
I thanked him and put the metal detector in the trunk of my car.
On the way home, I stopped in to buy beer and groceries at Smith’s Food Fair in Big Chimney.
I found two pennies in the parking lot, so the day wasn’t a complete loss.
Bill Lynch covers entertainment. He can be reached at 304-348-5195 or [email protected]. Follow @lostHwys on Twitter and @billiscap on Instagram.