PERU - What started as a hobby for Dan Ferguson has grown into something much more.
The self-proclaimed "modern-day treasure hunter" has been metal detecting for the past two years, sweeping the earth for items lost, misplaced or purposely buried any number of days or even years ago.
"My favorite find was a 1833 Hard Times Token," said Ferguson, referring to a form of unofficial currency used briefly in the United States during the early 19th century. "I found it at my daughter Gillian's farm house in Massachusetts. It took some research to identify it."
Ferguson takes as much pride in his finds as he does studying the history of metal detecting. The hobby, he explained, is one dating back half a century ago.
"Early-designed metal detectors from the 1960s are fairly easy to operate," said Ferguson. "Today, they're really highly-refined computerized machines that not only indicate what the buried item may be, but also how deep it's buried. So, they're quite sophisticated in a lot of ways."
Ferguson's passion has led him to found the Champlain Valley Metal Detecting Club, which held its first meeting in October in Plattsburgh. The meeting saw nearly a dozen people turn out, each interested in sharing stories about hunts and in learning more about what has become an increasingly popular pastime.
"Metal detecting is a pretty fast-growing hobby right now," said Ferguson. "Our first meeting had pretty lively discussion. Everybody was just excited there's a club in the area for this."
The focus of the Champlain Valley Metal Detecting Club will be for members to get together to discuss their finds and coordinate outings. However, the club won't be just about finding for fun. Ferguson said members are getting together to also offer their services free of charge to those searching for items like class rings, bracelets and the like.
"Some people may go out into the backyard and push their kid on the swing and later realize they lost their wedding ring," Ferguson said, giving a common example. "Now, you could spend a lot of time on your hands and knees digging through your backyard, but one of our members could probably go over there and find it in a matter of minutes."
When warmer weather returns in the spring, Ferguson said the club will also offer training for metal detector use from some of the club's more skilled detectorists.
"I think after the holidays, we'll see more people who get metal detectors for Christmas looking for more instruction on how to use them," he said. "Some people get a manual with their metal detector and can turn it on but then think, 'Now, what?' That's where we can help."
Though starting the club this late in the year may seem strange, Ferguson admitted, as colder temperatures begin to be more common and with winter right around the corner, he said it gives the club plenty of time to plan outings for next year.
"We're really up against the snow here, so we're going to be inside doing research and planning next year's activities," said Ferguson.
"There's not too many members that are willing to go out with a pick ax and break through three feet of frozen ground to yank out a nickel, regardless of what the date is on it," Ferguson added, laughing.
The Champlain Valley Metal Detecting Club meets the first Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at the May Currier Park building, 305 Tom Miller Road, Plattsburgh. Since the building will not be available on that date in November, however, Ferguson stated the club's next meeting will be Dec. 6.
For more information about the club, contact Ferguson at 643-6603 or find the club on Facebook by searching the keywords: Champlain Valley Metal Detecting Club.
(Editor's Note: Ferguson reminds those metal detecting to always check with local and state laws before sweeping and to obtain permission from landowners when on private property.)