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Using your internal metal detector - The Echoing Hoof Beats

By Dan Breitenstein

Most of us who take up metal detecting as a hobby have only a mild interest in history. This interest grows in time as our finds get older and we graduate to machines that go deeper. We realize that knowing more about history helps us locate better sites to hunt and greatly enhances the hobby.

I've found that old maps are great sources of information. Last year I downloaded a map from the Internet of our county from 1895. From this map, I was able to locate two towns that no longer exist. I was aware of one of them, but the other was a total surprise. A quick trip ten miles down the road revealed that today it still stands, represented by a few small houses clustered along the railroad tracks.

I stopped at the one house that caught my eye and had a nice chat with the owner who had a vast knowledge of what was once there. He invited me to detect the woods behind his house where and old cattle yard was and the foundation remains of an old smelter. My initial finds were not much. The area has been heavily littered over the years as buildings were torn down and trash piles gathered. But he did point out where the big timber now stands, across the road, was once the home of the old brick train station that was torn down over 50 years ago. This town was once the primary farmer's market that serviced the bigger cities to the West. His grandparents told of how the city folks would take the 1/2-hour train ride to buy their fresh eggs, milk and poultry from the local farmers. The house just to the South was the trading post and general store.

As I stood on the corner of his property and looked down the railroad tracks, I could only imagine what it looked like over a hundred years ago. Those of us who have a love for history would understand when I say that in my mind, I could hear the echo of hoof beats and sense the excitement of a train arrival. I could imagine the bustling train station and the smell of the coal-burning stoker. Down through the draw along the winding road, I could envision the rickety wagons arriving with their precious cargo and the sound of bartering that took place here.

These are the visions that inspire me. They take me to places in my mind that existed for others long ago that I was never a part of. I have found through my hobby that I can be a part of the past. I can find little pieces of it that were left behind and paint a picture in my mind of what it was like. Every time I dig an old horseshoe, I can hear those echoing hoof beats. Every time I dig an old coin, I can imagine what the person was like that dropped it there long ago. It had to be a big loss for them because it was worth so much more than it would be today. How could they have been so careless?

I plan to continue my hunt of the old town soon. Hopefully it will bear the pieces of the past that I've talked and dreamed about, as a matter of fact, I'm sure it will. My advice to you is the next time you explore an old site, let your imagination run with it and listen for the train that hasn't run in decades. Listen for the sounds of the children playing their simple games and the bartering of their parents. Imagine the smell of the horses and listen for the echoing hoof beats. You'll get so much more out of the experience than merely finding treasure.