Saturday, July 11, 2015

An Adventure with the Amish

We recently went on a family vacation to Lancaster, PA. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older or because I'm a parent now, but I never imagined that taking a trip to Amish country would be my idea of a good time. It turned out to be an awesome trip.

The history in the Lancaster area is unbelievable. My imagination was going wild, wondering what could lie beneath these grounds. We saw miles and miles, acres and acres of fields and farmland. All were immaculately maintained. Most had been owned by the same family for generations, dating back to when the Amish settled. The possibilities were endless.

We went for a three-day stay, with plenty on our schedule to do. On Monday, we checked into our hotel after visiting a wildlife park. We explored the hotel's playground, took a walk around the grounds and fed the koi fish and ducks, went out for an awesome dinner, and then went swimming in the hotel pool.

Tuesday morning happened to be my birthday, and I was up way too early -  wide awake at 6am. (I can never "sleep in" on vacation for some reason.)

I looked at the girls sleeping peacefully and I grabbed the keys and decided to go for an early drive through the country. 

When we were driving through town the night before, a certain house caught my eye. I could tell even from a distance that it was quite old. So of course, I headed off in that direction...

By now it was 6:45am and I figured the Amish were up. Some of the farm stands were open "from dawn 'til dusk." Sure enough, this house had a roadside stand and they were already open.

So I browsed their goods and started a casual conversation. After some small talk, I purchased some cookies. Then I asked if I could detect the property.

To my surprise, he was very open and welcome to the idea. He said, "Yeah, sure. That'd be fine."

It almost felt too easy.

He even told me to hit the neighbor's house because she goes to work from 9-4. I wasn't sure if he was joking, and I wasn't okay with trespassing without the homeowner's permission, so I sort of awkwardly laughed. 

But then I double checked. "But it's okay to detect YOUR property?"

He said, "Yes. Sure. No problem." He also mentioned that one other person had already come through and detected.

But you know I never let that deter me.

I was so excited, I cracked open a pack of snickerdoodles and headed off to the hotel.

Carissa was just getting up. When I told her what happened she said, "Go. You have to go do it. Go now. We'll meet up for lunch."

This was really turning out to be a great day already. All I could think about was getting one good old birthday coin. I loaded up my gear and headed back over to the farm.

This is another aspect you have to appreciate about this hobby. Even if I didn't find anything, I already had the experience of meeting an Amish farm owner, getting permission to detect, and actually digging on an Amish farm. You have to enjoy the experience - no matter the finds. It doesn't get any better than that.

The first thing I did when I got back to the farm was to knock on the door and introduce myself to the rest of the family. They were all very nice and welcoming and seemed interested in the hobby.

Honestly, I think it must've been my excitement. Within minutes, we were chatting and joking. The wife gave me a quick layout of the land, wished me good luck, and I went to grab my gear.

I was thinking about where on the property to start. Unfortunately the roadside stand cut off the front yard, making it inaccessible. That would've been my first choice.

So I decided to pick the side of the house. 

Which was now the pig pasture.

The only problem was the grass was pretty long and thick. I did manage a few finds, including a large bridle rosette.

I'm used to hunting around farm animals, but these had me laughing. Between the pigs snorting, the goats yelling, and the little ponies everywhere, I almost felt like I was detecting at a zoo.

I spent about an hour in the pig pasture, and wanted to move on and get back to the family. So I went back and asked if I could look through the little part of the front yard that was still remaining.

Again, they said it was no problem.

Now here is where it gets really fun and a little awkward...

By the time I made it around the house and out to the front, I had two little kids on my trail. I looked over and smiled and said hi, but they didn't react at all.

So I went back to doing my thing.. I got my first signal in the front yard and dug out an unidentifiable object.

But now when I looked up, there were 5 kids standing there. I could tell that they were all interested in what I was doing.

 (Some of the children didn't want their picture taken)

I dug a few more signals but didn't find anything good. By now, when I bent down to dig, the kids would come and surround the hole...

Again, I was trying to talk to them - but I was met with dead silence. They just looked at me.

I even offered them the clad coins that were coming out of the ground.

After about a minute of silence with me holding out these coins, the oldest kid said softly, "We don't want it."

Back home if I had 5 kids following me, they would have reached in and grabbed the coins before I could even identify them. This was definitely a different experience for me.

I was having a bit of culture shock, but still enjoying every moment.

The kids would scurry back to the sidewalk between each hole I dug. It was fascinating.

I wasn't coming up with the targets I was hoping to, so I decided to switch the coil on my MXT All-Pro.

I was currently running the D-tech Ultimate 13" because I was trying to get the most depth through the thick grass in the pig pasture. But the front yard was tightly manicured and I wanted a smaller footprint. I wanted to get a tighter signal because the larger coil was picking up a significant amount of trash.

I decided to put the D2 coil on my machine, and I was back off and running.

It only took a few swings before I got a good solid target in the area I had just gone over. I flipped the plug and lo & behold, I found what I came for... my birthday coin!

I didn't care what kind it was, but I knew I had a large copper.

Not gonna lie, I did the old fist clench and let out a couple of "yeah's" - now I noticed the kids were REALLY looking at me funny.

I was so happy to bring home a piece of local history. I wiped off the coin just enough to ID it. It turned out to be an 1838 Matron Head large cent.

I was thrilled! This one had some character to it, with a square nail hole punched dead in the center. 

 My mind was instantly racing, wondering what it could have been used for...

I know of a few reasons why they used to put holes in coins, such as:
  1. If there are two small holes in the center, it was probably used as a button.
  2. A small hole toward the top center may have been worn on a chain. The date was probably significant to the wearer.
  3. Coins were used as date markers. They were nailed above doorways to mark new construction or additions.
  4. It could have been used as a washer. Copper holds up to the elements, so it would have been a practical metal to use.
  5. Two large holes in the center of the coin could have been used in a game called A Whizzer Coin
I enjoy finding coins like this because they had a purpose beyond monetary value at the time.

I remember saying to myself, "My job is done here" and I planned on packing up to go back to the hotel. But it's never that easy to leave!

I looked around for a while longer and dug a Bud Lite beer cap. By now there were 6 kids watching me dig. I looked up and said, "This is a beer cap. Were you drinking beer?"

and FINALLY I got a laugh. The kids were all giggling but trying to maintain their composure. 

After I broke the ice, the oldest kid opened up a little and started asking questions. I was surprised and impressed at how much he knew. He told me I had a pinpointer - he said the other guy used one too. He seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing. It was really cool to talk to him.

I ended up digging one final good target. What I believe to be part of a crotal bell with the maker's mark on it.

That was it for my digging adventure. I packed up my gear, showed the family my finds, thanked them numerous times, and then headed back to spend the rest of my birthday with my true treasures, Carissa and Annelyse.

All in all, that $3 I spent on those cookies was well worth it. (And they were DELICIOUS.) I got permission to dig, I met a nice family, and I found a large cent on my birthday. The entire experience was priceless.


  1. awesome opportunity ,some nice finds and some memories you will never forget

  2. Enjoyed this D.J., good job. We used to visit that area when we lived in NJ and I've always been fascinated in the Amish way of life. Why not do another article for one of the magazines?

  3. Mark Anderson (aka) brncofanJuly 12, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    happy belated birthday dj that was a awesome story glad you had a great trip WTG!!! nice saves too