Club Dig Treasure spring 2014
he day started with some doubt. Frost on the windshield, remnants of a snow pile in a shady spot on the driveway, coming out of the coldest winter in twenty five years and a week of freezing overnight temperatures seemed to foreshadow trouble digging.
A crew of nine met at iNET at 8am, Dan Gross caught up at our first stop. And rounding out the heavy crew, Ron Banks joined in at our final destination of the day. It was a sleepy Saturday morning in the neighborhood where the adventures started. It must have looked a parade as nine vehicles snaked through the silent streets eventually parking, blocking the curb for the length of a football field in front of the White Rock Spring Water House and up the block.
At White Rock the ground was shallow with bedrock at three feet or less. There was no privy to be found. After probing it was generally agreed, the back of the house has an elevated outhouse with a clean out space below. Only after not being able to find a privy did we look up and around thinking hard enough to figure it out.
The White Rock Resort house sits atop a substantial and steep grade. An hour into probing my cell rang. It was Jon Steiner asking if broken blob tops, including one Hutchinson, and a Cream City Glass Works bottle bottom sitting on the surface are a good sign. I said, “Yep, that would be a good sign,” spinning around I could not see Jon, I asked, “Where are you?” Jon said, “In back of the house, down the hill, across the railroad tracks and down the rail line a little. See those semi-trailers? I am right across from them.” I could see ‘right across from the semi-trailers’ and couldn’t see Jon. I asked, “Where EXACTLY are you? I can’t see you.” Jon said, “A little off the tracks in the woods.” (200 foot underestimation)
Wondering a half mile off the dig site, Jon discovered what must be an old rail side dump. Matt and Rob Glazier and I were probing together and went down the hill, over the tracks, across from the semi-trailers and into the woods to investigate. After a few minutes, with a dozen interesting pieces of old glass in hand, we headed out of the woods, over the tracks, away from the semitrailers and up the hill to get digging tools. We showed everyone at the springhouse yard a dozen or so very crude applied blob tops. After probing for an hour everyone liked the prospect of pontiled strawberry puce bitters bottles waiting patiently in the leaf litter. Shovels and rakes in hand the whole crew headed down the hill, over the tracks, across from the semi-trailers into the woods. A good half hour or more later it was apparent there was not any easily reachable whole glass. We decided to exit the woods, cross over the tracks, walk away from the semitrailers, up the hill and get back to what we set out to do… Dig privys.
Out of the woods, across the railroad, away from the semitrailers, on top of the hill the White Rock site was abandoned with hope our next stop would yield a privy. The procession rolled out in single file. Our next permission was in the middle of a block barely long enough for our cars. Everyone started probing in the yard while Matt, Jon and I walked off to check out another house hopeful to get more permissions lined up. Returning a half hour later the crew reported the house being probed was a dud. After walking it, I wasn’t excited about the entire neighborhood. Most of the club decided to pause for lunch while Rob and Matt Glazer and I went to seek permission at a few houses I AM excited about.
Those two houses had renters who could not give permission. In old, many times rundown, neighborhoods renters tend to dominate the landscape. We called the picnickers. All agreed we would meet up at an old neighborhood with an open permission. Our two car procession made the two miles even slower than our ten car procession had traveled. We got stuck waiting for a 5K road run. Eventually, we arrived on the scene of our epic first dig.
We parked down the street from the dig site. Turns out the church across the street was the starting line of the road race. Rob, Matt and I were surprised to have arrived at the house ahead of everyone else. They got caught behind the road race too. As we got out of the car I saw a man in front of a beautiful old house I knew has a Lannon stone coach house in the back yard. In the past I knocked at their doors. Even though I could see people in the house, no one answered… More than once! I went over to ask if we could dig. He saw me coming and jumped back in the house then didn’t answer. The regal old house had been converted into a two family. I decided to knock on the other door. A man answered. As fast as I could ask if we could dig in his back yard he said, “Sure have fun.” IT WAS ON!
We knew exactly where the privy or privys would be… Behind that wonderful stagecoach house. It took us about five minutes to find one privy and a potential second. We fetched shovels and tarps then starting to work as the rest of the club arrived. Ten people is a lot for one privy yet the surface mounted circle of observation is a great way to get to know and to learn from each other. Over three hours we discussed everything from proper privy digging methodology to how pontiled bottled were made to every aspect of our particular privy and the objects that were coming out. The brand newness of our club made this time especially valuable and enjoyable.
As we dug in we hit bottles. One of the first was a citrate of magnesia. It was a simple generic pint size clear glass cylinder… At least it did have a tooled lip and embossing. Next were a couple of local medicines. Then something amazing popped out… A glass test tube full of layers of what looks like crushed rock or sand with each layer separated by a leatherish plug. It is a mysterious and simply amazing thing. It must be a child’s art or a Victorian vacation trophy… Rocks from exotic vacation lands crushed to make colorful tiny pebbles as a keepsake? Jim thinks, maybe, it is a guide for teaching kids colors. I will post a picture in the, What Is It? section in our forum. Would be very cool if someone figures it out.
People took turns, the kids and new privy diggers got a chance to see how it is done by DOING. More and more treasure popped out including a second colorful banded test tube. One of our most experienced privy diggers wrapped up a turn declaring the privy completed. I wasn’t so sure and so jumped in to verify. I stuck a probe into an edge the crew had been working and determined there is at least a foot to go on one side. I wasn’t sure we cleared the bottom of the privy anywhere. Eagerness to find treasure can lead to digging post holes and then backfilling across a privy. It’s a bad way to privy dig. It’s impossible to be certain all of the treasure is recovered when you post hole. I scratched down into the area I was certain had not been covered and pulled out a broken pontiled puff bottle… The first pontil of the day… We were officially back to privy digging.
The next fifteen minutes were spent cleaning a large space to the true bottom. Then the crew got back to digging our privy. Nothing more whole came out yet he most exciting glass of the day did, including an iron pontiled pint sized ale bottle bottom, the open pontiled bottom of a big demijohn and the iron pontiled bottom of an aqua quart scroll flask, and some very colorful odd china cups. Yes, broken, STILL, how cool is that? Our two youngest club members, all of our rookie members and every club member present dug a pontiled pit! TOGETHER!! Experienced privy diggers will tell you: a pontiled privy is a bucket list accomplishment for many a seasoned privy digger.
Other highlights include the incredible disappearing permission. The forty some year old man who answered the door, graciously giving permission, turned out to be the cousin of the home owner’s son and daughter. That would make him her grandchild or he could potentially be entirely unrelated. He said “yes” then apparently left.
An hour into digging some of the crew was becoming concerned. An older lady kept looking out the window. To me it was no big deal, who wouldn’t be curious about eleven amazingly good looking men behind their garage? I was, of course, around the corner behind the stage coach house and therefore did not see her likely dreadful expression of concern. She finally worked up the courage to confront the ten ‘chip and dales’ in her yard. Complicating the matter was the fact that she is 83 years old, does not speak a word of English and suffers from mild dementia. (Son told all of that) When she came out the lads graciously fetched me to answer for our sins. I tried to talk to her, even calling my wife who is fairly fluent in Spanish to translate. Draga did not answer. Her son arrived as I tried sloooooooow and LOUD talking combined with hand gestures to break the communication gap. He asked what we were doing here. I told him we received permission from a fortyish year old man and showed them both the citrate bottle and an un-embossed medicine. They were curious. Mom seemed confused but okay with it. The dig was still on and permission was verified. Flash forward forty five minutes: A forty year old lady showed up and asked what we were doing in this yard. Once again, I explained we dig for old bottles, we are a club and received permission before we started, then again verified permission less than an hour ago. She agreed we had permission, checked out the hole and left.
Flash forward a half hour. That lady, the son and a few others showed back up. They decided they would like the two bottles we offered them. We gladly handed the slicks over and showed them more stuff. Flash forward a half hour: another woman showed up asking what we are doing in this yard. Once again permission was established. About an hour later, a roughly sixty year old gentleman showed up and asked what we are doing in the yard. He was not super enthused but was curious. Eventually agreeing to let us stay. He even asked that we put the rocks in first when we fill the hole since that would be better for his garden. He also said we can dig the second hole. It is small and we already found the privy that went from pontils to 1890 so I’m not sure it is worth it. Maybe on a day when we can’t find a privy or just feel like testing our ability to maintain permission.
Equally fun was the divvying up our finds. I ask for permission because people tend to say yes to me AND to eliminate unequal claims on ‘treasure.’ The best thing about the day, for me, was the two youngest hunter/collectors having a great time and us all learning. My hope was and is the young gentlemen both took home a treasure they love to forever aid in recalling the experience. We drew ping pong balls with numbers for a pick order. Interestingly, as the guy with the last ball, I got exactly what I wanted.
Larger crews make digging a challenge. They also make digging a lot of fun. No matter your age or core interest, i’m am absolutely certain you will love one of our club digs. If you were there or not, please consider logging into the club forum and help figure out what the tubes are and create a record of our first club dig for everyone to enjoy for many years.
A few of the treasures found will be featured forever as Spinners on our site… We taped them today.
Scuba diving, here we come!