Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bottle Dumps on Country Roads

The autumn landscape is bright yellow, orange and red in Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada. The fall colours excite me and my fellow history hunters; the end of summer ignites a burning desire to explore crimson forests in search of old stories.

On October 12th, 2008 Dumpdiggers had another outdoor adventure. Armed with a small spade shovel and a garden fork, I wandered the country roads around Dartford Ontario in search of old bottle dumps. I’ll be sure to post more information on this historic village later in this series, including an 1878 survey map.

How To Find Bottle Dumps on Country Roads. The township roads are usually the lot and concession lines on the first local maps. These are the second oldest roads in most areas; the oldest roads in North America are the Indian trails. When veteran dumpdiggers hunt for bottles and relics in roadways and farm lanes they are of course scanning the ditch, looking for any signs of century old trash buried below the surface.

Look for surface tins and rusty cans Even though these objects are worthless, they can sometimes mark the spots where older material is buried. Even if the surface tins themselves are not very old, the places they gather along fencerows and in gulleys are natural collection spots and should be excavated in shallow test pits - look for rust coloured earth and bits of glass and pottery.

The Dumpdiggers Handbook holds that there are six different types of old dumps; we are hunting deserted ditch dumps and these are places near roads where farmers and townspeople emptied wagons filled with rubbish. The best country roads are near busy towns, but still lonely strips of gravel that bisect overgrown swamps and scrub brush pasture, and the best bottle dump roads are still deserted today.

Study gates in fences. The gates in farm fields are the best place to look for bottles and coins and that’s because the gate is where all the action happens. Beyond the everyday spillage that might occur in the simple act of opening and closing the portal, there’s also the jumping and climbing of gates and this activity temporarily inverts pockets. Let’s also remember the workers who once gathered in the breach to wait for instructions or equipment, and to celebrate a job well done with some cold drinks. The bottles are seldom taken away and usually deposited in fencerow on both sides of the aperture with the intention of an eventual recovery, someday.

Look around the stumps and trunks of the oldest trees. The fence near the largest tree trunk is always a good place to swing a metal detector, or fork the tree leaves out of the grass, and move small rocks in order to look for signs of inhabitation. The shade of a thick tree is precious on a hot summer day, and it's right here that relaxing labourers would often idle about for lunch or a relaxing break. Depending on their customs, its right here that would have enjoyed a refreshing soda, or a cold beer, or even a dram of rum, or a swallow of whisky. Here's an amber whisky flask that I unearthed in a deep test pit beside a decaying tree stump. I spent an hour digging there before I found that, and I'll be sure and visit this site again in the spring to look for more specimans when the foilage is more manageable.

Inspect over-turned tree roots. When walking at the side of the road, keep a careful eye out for overturned trees and inspect the dirt on their roots. Are there any pottery shards hanging from the tentacles? Bottle caps? Is there bottle glass or glass of any kind? This is a sure sign of a dump.

Tree roots are like fingers and they often inch down into the morass and clutch buried objects which they wrench out of the mud when the wind blows the tree over. Cedar trees are particularly susceptible to strong winds . They have shallow roots that find the trash below the mud and grass of the forest ditch. This Wampole bottle exists like an ominous marker on the upturned horns of these roots - here there be old bottles and trash.

Go off road. Good century old trash can be found as far as the arm can throw, and the forest paths that meet farm lanes are likely places for wagon dumps.

On the October 12th county roads expedition I uncovered a jade teacup from the 1930's, a small amber whiskey flask from the early 1900s, and a square druggist bottle embossed CANADIAN KODAK.


Pam Walter said...

Really a fascinating article with great tips. I'll never take a walk and look at things the same way again. Who knows what's hidden just below the surface?

Unknown said...

Great article. We found our first bottle dump today, and I have to say WOW I am addicted now. Can't wait to find more. :D

Beth said...

Growing up in the New York Catskills, my sister's and I spent a lot of time digging up old dumping grounds. Much of the farmland in the mountains was, and still is, sectioned off by stone walls. It didn't take us long to realize that most of the buried dumps were located in the corners, where one man's property ended and the other's began. I'm guessing the very corner of one's property was the ideal place to bury garbage. I still have some of the treasures dug up twenty-five years old iron that had to be heated on a stove, many wagon wheels and jars. As a child, these things were treasures because I knew they were a part of history, but it never occurred to me that they held monetary value. Now I wish I knew what happened to the green, flask-shaped bottles, the tiny medicinal glass bottles and that flat-like blue bottles I'd found as a child. I'm sure they were slowly discarded as my interests changed from hunting treasure, to chasing boys. Now that I'm an adult, and the novelty of chasing boys has worn off, I think it's time to start visiting those old farm dumps.