By Jennifer Beckwith
Metal detecting is typically seen as a hobby for retired old men who stroll leisurely down the shorelines of beaches digging up nothing but beachgoer’s bottle caps, but 34- year-old Shane “Silver Shano” LeBlanc completely buries this stereotype. LeBlanc and his friends—Diggin’ Don and Relic Ray—have been digging up tiny pieces of the past all over New England for years. Equipped with metal detectors and cameras, LeBlanc and his team travel from place to place, digging up history, and recording each of their finds.
Q. Your company’s name is “We Dig History”—is that your job or just a hobby?
A. No, it’s just a hobby. It’s something me and a couple of my friends came up with. We just thought it was a catchy little thing, and we do YouTube videos so we wanted something that was kind of catchy that people would type in their browsers and come up with our site.
Q. Since this is just for fun, what do you do for work?
A. I’m a security officer. I work for a company called Securitas; it’s a contracted security company—they’re actually the largest in the world. So companies hire us to do security for them.
Q. Does metal detecting eat into your own personal funds?
A. Oh yes, absolutely. I mean, first of all, you have to buy your machine—which, you know, can run anywhere between 150 bucks to about $4,000. My machine cost about $800 and it’ll find anything. After that it’s just a matter of preference. There are also little things here and there—repairing parts that break, you have to buy batteries all the time; you buy display cases to put your finds in, things to clean your finds with. It does add up a little bit but it’s not a constant. Well, actually, I’m forgetting gas. Traveling from place to place- that’s a lot of expense right there.
Q. How does your wife feel about your hobby?
A. She’s actually really good about it for the most part. I get usually about one day per week—that’s kind of the deal. You know, I spend evenings with her and one day during the weekend, and then I get one day to go play. It’s kind of like a way of life now. It’s all I ever think about when I’m driving by old houses and stuff and I drive my wife crazy.
Q. What sparked your interest in all this?
A. Well, I’m originally from Maine and I have a friend who’s been telling me for years to get a metal detector. And I was just kind of like, yeah, whatever. I don’t really care for beaches much and I’m not looking to get rich or anything. And then I always thought, metal detecting, you know, I’m going to be the old guy on the beach with the sun block on, and shorts and socks up to his knees. Then I was watching videos online one day and came across a couple of metal-detecting videos by chance. I was just enthralled by what they were finding. I didn’t realize they actually find history and not just jewelry and stuff. So I bought my first metal detector and on my second search I found a 1951 silver Roosevelt dime.
Q. What is the most valuable thing that you’ve found?
A. I found a 480 silver coin cache buried two feet in the ground. Its worth, depending on the price of silver on any given date, is probably between 2 and 3 grand right now. It was 62 silver half-dollars, 283 quarters, and the rest were dimes. There was also $32.30 of clad cash, which is after 1964.
Q. What, to you, is the most interesting thing you’ve found?
A. I’ve found many really cool artifacts. I found a sword guard from the 1700s; I’ve found coins from the 1700s, Civil War buttons, eagle buttons. But I would have to say my coin cache just because you’ve got to wonder about the whole story behind it. Somebody actually went and buried this thing and I came and found it. There’s definitely a story that goes behind that.
Q. What do you do with the items once you find them? Do you sell them?
A. I have never sold a single thing and neither have either of my friends that I go with. I collect everything I find and I put them in display cases. I just like to show them off and I have a lot of fun looking at them.
Q. So even if you found something highly valuable, you wouldn’t think about selling it?
A. You know, I actually probably would think about it if it was highly valuable, like tens of thousands—I could use that, but you know, hundreds here and there don’t mean too much to me.
Q. Do you ever get credibility issues, where people think you may not be qualified to do what you do: dealing with historical items?
A. Yes, yes, I actually do. It’s not always positive on YouTube. I do get negative comments sometimes, like, “Was this a war zone?” or something like that. A lot of these places are illegal to metal detect and people sneak into them, but I don’t ever do that. All my finds come from either private sites that I’ve gotten permission for, or public sites that are legal to hunt.
Q. How do you find your sites?
A. Most of what we do is door knocking. We just go to old houses that were built in the 1700s or early 1800s until we get somebody that gives us permission.
Q: You mentioned that you mostly search in people’s yards–what do you do about the holes you dig in their property afterwards?
A: I use a tool called a lesche. It’s a rugged knife-looking tool that can cut through sod like butter. I dig a round plug, usually about the size of a grapefruit, and pull it up and retrieve the target with the aid of what is called a pin pointer. Its a little probe shaped device that acts as a little metal detector. When the tip gets within a couple inches of metal it starts beeping. It’s a fast and easy way to locate a target in your hole. Once I’ve retrieved the target, I replace the dirt and piece of sod over the hole I have dug and press it down, and in most cases you can’t tell a hole was dug there. The roots to the sod are still intact and the grass lives.
Q: Have any of the homeowners asked to keep any of your finds?
A: I always tell the homeowner before I start, that if they want anything they can have it. Most tell me I can keep anything I find but I have given many things to the homeowners, sometimes even if they don’t ask. I like to keep a good reputation, and sometimes the expression on people’s faces when I find something cool on their property is priceless…and I have to give it to them. I have had one person ask for something I didn’t really want to give up. My first silver thimble I ever found- I reluctantly gave up to the homeowner who asked for it.
Q. Do you have any hobbies that you take up in the winter when you can’t metal detect?
A. Yeah, I ice fish! It’s funny because fishing was my first hobby—I loved fishing—and ever since I started metal detecting, I hardly fish at all anymore. But the other thing is, if there’s no snow on the ground or just a little snow, you can still hunt in the woods because the woods never get permafrost.
Q. What would you say to convince others that metal detecting is really a worthwhile hobby?
A. It’s just so much fun that you never know what you’re going to dig up next. It’s changed the way I look at history—it’s caused me to be more consistent in knowing what went on in the past. That’s what people don’t realize—you’re digging up history.