Thursday, January 17, 2008

How To Find Old Dumps #2

Much like a Kung Fu sensei reminds an acolyte, ‘only by evolving beyond your greed will you ever become rich’, I used to feel the same truism applied to treasure hunters.

The Dumpdiggers Handbook instructs each reader that 'only by fostering a genuine passion for local history can you ever hope to uncover lost historical relics'. That’s a nice idea and I imagine that such a sincere passion for learning would be manifest in numerous and protracted visits to the archives, extensive copying and scrutinizing of old maps, and a great many trips spent probing forgotten heritage sites, etc. And only by eagerly learning and adopting new technologies and highly professional practices would anyone ever be able to find anything of any value… Do you believe that?

It’s not true. When I asked some veteran Diggers on a particular niche discussion forum their secrets to find old dumps, myersdigger replied that it’s as easy as walking along small creeks just outside of town searching for rusty bits of metal in the shoreline. In the same thread, tigue710, a super member added that, ‘every 1/2 mile of town will have a different dumping area... a town with a population of 10,000 at the turn of the century will usually have at least 5 dumps, all the same period, and 5 is on the low end... one other thing, dont waste your time on the poor side town unless your getting older then 1890... go for the rich guy dumps

Just as obvious as rusty junk sticking up out of the grass on the surface of the land, metal detectors with big search coils will sometimes get deep iron hits in gulches and bogs below the surface of the earth. Iron is a good historic dump indicator, and iron tools are of course present in both colonial age, and industrial age dumps.

Depending on their collecting habits, some metal detectorists might also carry a five foot long ¾ inch steel rod that’s known as a privy rod. This simple probe is usually just a spring steel rod wielded to a short piece of grid pipe (which serves as a handle). The tip of the probe has a ball bearing with a girth slightly wider than the shaft. When users push this five foot long metal finger down into the earth they can feel the objects below – an experienced digger can recognize the feel of rusty metal cans or glass bottles or stones. Veterans will first puncture the earth with the probe, and then dig test pits to inspect the soil for ash and broken bits of pottery and glass.

Here is an 1878 Map of Warkworth Ontario, which happens to be my home town. When I look at the area and contemplate the locations of any would-be historic dumps, my eyes and experience lead me to the marshlands south of the letters R and T in the word Warkworth, on the bend in the river. That particular spot would fit all of the criteria for the first town dump.

Warkworth was founded in the 1850’s and settled primarily by Scottish immigrants throughout the 1860s. These people didn't make much garbage and most adults in this time period would have dumped medicine bottles and whiskey flasks in private - probably down their latrine holes.

I sometimes let my eyes wander about the farms all around the side of this old map. This is where I get real passionate about history. Right here it’s personal; these are my neighbor's fields, and the fence rows of my childhood. This is where I fomented what has become the foundation of my knowledge on the subject of farm dumps, and that will be my next topic in this series.


Neil Richard said...

While digging in the wet and cold of winter doesn't sound like fun, I'm seriously considering adding this to my list of things to do this summer on the family farm. I even know of one location (a ravine) that was used to dump items in, including a car.

I'll keep reading to learn more.

Unknown said...

I have heard that where there are bramble or black berry bushes there is a dump.