After the House Comes Down, the Treasure Hunters Come Knocking

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Yesterday, we had planned to offer a sort of follow-up on the still-occupied house demolished on city's orders at Greenville Avenue and Vickery Boulevard in late January. Of course, Wednesday had much bigger news in store for that stretch of Lower Greenville -- and it will continue to do so for some time to come. (Here, for instance, is what council member Angela Hunt posted this afternoon about the "great loss to Lower Greenville on so many levels.")

But over the weekend what caught our eye was the pair of guys strolling across the empty lot with headphones and metal detectors, hunting for buried treasure.

The two, Dave Totzke and Floyd Caldwell, are part of a group of hobbyists around North Texas who see good weather and, instead of heading out to the lake or going for a drive, daydream about waving a wand over a dirt patch and digging up coins.

In a coastal town, they might have been Jimmy Buffett-looking beach-combers in flip flops, but in North Texas they look to fresh demolition sites for unexplored dirt -- a pack of stubborn optimists drawn into the wake of destruction.

Notwithstanding the rough times that have befallen that Greenville Avenue block, Totzke says that since the economy tanked, it's been tougher to find good treasure-hunting spots around Dallas. Fewer lots are being cleared out out for new construction.

"This lot here on Greenville, everybody'll hit this," Totzke told us Saturday. In fact, after recounting his take from the day so far, he guessed that maybe everyone already had.

"Two wheatie pennies," he said, were about the only notable old relics he'd found by mid-afternoon. "In Dallas, 'old' is relative because it's just not that old of a city. We're still lucky to find an 1800 coin."

With his son asleep in the back seat of his pickup, and three empty kitty litter buckets in the truck bed waiting for treasure, Totzke kept working the lot. Sweeping the metal detector coil just over the ground, he stopped every few steps to turn over some dirt with the trowel in his other hand.

Totzke was a kid himself when he first got into metal detecting, and after years away from the hobby, rekindled his interest about ten years ago. His best find so far?

"'My wife,' I'm supposed to say" -- the two met at a treasure hunters meeting -- "but otherwise, some coins and jewelry," he said. It's really not about the street value of whatever he finds, though -- it's all about the moment of discovery. "Once you find something good, you're ready to go onto the next one," Totzke said. "It's kind of an obsession."

After years listening to the sound of buried metal through his headphones, Totzke can read the dirt like a fly fisherman watching the water's surface, recognizing the familiar short beep of a coin as easily as he can pick out the long, irregular signature of a twisted soda can.

Caldwell recalled searching through a dump and finding a stash of World War II-era carnival toys, discarded en masse from the State Fair of Texas because they were marked "Made in Japan."

Like other treasure hunters, Caldwell and Totzke said they both keep their best finds on display around the house, and bring their newest finds in for meetings of local clubs like the Irving-based Lone Star Treasure Hunter's Club, but the biggest day of the year for grown-up show-and-tell is March 13, when the annual Texas Treasure Show opens in Longview.

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