Monday, February 24, 2014

I Am an Electrical Engineer

The sadness of losing Doug Drake, combined with a hefty serving of bone-aching Tennessee winter, conspired to keep me and Cheryl from any serious digging for a week or so after his funeral.  But little by little, the shadows have been lifting along with the temperatures and we’ve been venturing out.

For our first serious excursion, we decided to revisit a tried-and-true site just west of town, a place Doug and Cheryl discovered on their own and generously invited me to after they’d explored (decimated) it. It was there I found my first CW button – nothing special, but a coup for me.

We brought along our new Junior Digger, Ruth, who has shown great initiative, doing research, buying a good machine, inviting me and Cheryl to hunt her property, joining the Middle TN Metal Detecting Club, coming to see Dirt Girl perform at the Bluebird Cafe, etc. Ruth shows great promise!

Newbie lady detectorist, poised for adventure.
We three spent a lovely afternoon sliding around on a steep hill pulling out bullets and buttons and assorted ancient items from this bona fide CW hotspot.

At one point, I was crouched in the dirt trying to locate something with my pinpointer, when I heard a faint “woof” behind me.

Unexpected, but welcome.
Ruth started her MD career with a bang, pulling out this beautiful, old key.

There's writing on it, but, sadly, not legible.

About a week later, Cheryl and I ventured back to a favorite old home site a bit north of town. We’d covered the open areas last summer but had been waiting til winter to venture into the woods. The property owner (our hero) told us to have at it. He was pretty sure there were some old foundation stones back in there.

It’s just an amazing tract of land – 100+ acres, mostly steep, forested hills and adorable streams. After a lot of tromping around, we started getting some signals and found what might be a pile of foundation stones.

We're not entirely sure what kind of structure this was, or
if it was a structure. But there was enough stuff around it
to indicate concentrated human habitation. If it's a home
site, it does not appear on the 1871 map I have of this area.

 We spent a couple of days at the site. It was hard going -- tons of shotgun shells and thick brush -- but a lot of fun. We both found a ton of harmonica reeds; these folks enjoyed their music. I'd show you the reeds, but I can't find them...  This site was also transcendently beautiful.

Thought this was another shotgun shell but
no: it's a half of a mourning brooch, found
nestled in a huge, rusted chain.

Suspender clip.

I worked very hard for this excellent prize.

Found this in a stream bed. I assume it's a bullet
but I've never seen one like it. Ideas?

The surroundings could not have been more lovely and silent. The patterns of the water beneath the melting ice were like visual melodies. I tried to sing along.

One rainy afternoon, Ruth called desperate to go somewhere, so I offered up a yard near my house that I’d been given permission to explore. The back was filled with clad pennies and a lot of gravel – not fun. But the front was more interesting.

Looks like an Enfield, which signals Confederate soldier.
Cool. Now I just have to learn to play the darn thing.

Cheryl and I went back the next day and she pulled out a Williams cleaner. So, as far as I can guess, there were both Union and Confederate soldiers marching through the area at various times. I’ve never heard of any actual fighting or skirmishes in Inglewood, but who knows… I’m sure not every hostile encounter was chronicled in the Official Records of the Civil War. And soldiers could totally have been camped around here, not fighting, necessarily, but dropping stuff.

Found this just a foot away from the Enfield and my heart skipped when I saw the eagle but instead, I find I am a member of Captain Midnight's Secret Squadron. 

Stop in the name of the law.

Thought this was a battery until I got home and cleaned it up...

The loudest whistle I have ever heard.
So that about sums up my recent digging. BUT. There is much else to tell you.

Dirt Girl has a new obsession: electrolysis. Nope, not hair removal (though I will admit to having had my eyebrows waxed on several occasions.) We’re talking rust removal.

I’d known about this technique for a couple of years, but it just seemed totally out of my league.  (SCIENCE! ELECTRICITY! DANGEROUS CURRENTS!)

But last month, I determined to make use of those bitter, cold days and do something productive with the giant pile of rusted crap outside my back door that screams, “Hoarder lady lives here!” (Disclaimer: I am not a hoarder, but do have a problem with organization…)

We must! We must! We must collect the rust!

Yes, for nigh onto three years, now, I’ve been augmenting my collection of bullets, buckles, coins, rose tags, dog tags, toy cars, rings, keys, cigarette lighters, locks, gun parts and suspender clips with big, honking pieces of heavily rusted iron that I just can’t seem to leave behind in the fields and woods.

We’re talking axe heads, log splitters, chains, horse shoes, mule shoes, hoe pieces, stove legs and hundreds of what I call “round things.”

Anyway… I decided to build my own electrolysis rig: a plastic tub, wire, rebar, water, washing soda and a battery charger. I read many articles and viewed many youtube videos and made many trips to Home Depot where the guy in the electricity aisle looked at me with many inscrutable expressions as I tried to describe what I was doing and what I needed. And you know what? I did it. I, DIRT GIRL, BUILT AN ELECTROLYSIS SYSTEM WHILE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY.

It's all attached to a manual battery charger.

I did that.

Yup. Did that too.

And it’s working great. It’s extremely fun and satisfying to turn nasty, crusty, flaking ancient iron things into clean, beautiful works of – dare I say it? – art.

This was a rusty mess. Turns out it's Colonial era, used
to suspend pots over a fire. 

I’ve pretty much always got something “cooking” in the back bathroom. On warm days, I dip the derusted pieces in lacquer and dry them outside on some rocks. I’ve been giving away some of the finished pieces and so far, people seem to really love and appreciate them. I can tell because they immediately become rather distant and leave the house in a hurry.

From top left: horse shoe, buckle, two parts of a horse bit
some kind of clip (?), part of a grating, two handles
artillery hammer (?)

Dear reader, can you imagine ANY WAY I could make a living doing electrolysis? I do so want to! Ever so much! (Too much Downton Abbey is being watched in this house.)

In other news, I’m working hard on another project: a record of metal detecting songs. The ones I have written so far are:

I Dug it Up
Can Slaw
Aluminum… Foiled Again (co-written with Butch Holcomb, publisher of American Digger Magazine)
Pull Tab Ring
The Sword

A few more and I’ll be ready to do some serious recording, so stay tuned.

Another thing: your very own Dirt Girl will be the featured guest on Relic Roundup -- an online radio show sponsored by American Digger magazine -- on Monday, February 24. I’m not sure what we’ll be talking about, but my guess is metal and music. The shows are archived and you can listen in whenever you want!

Finally, this from Cheryl:

One night recently, she was driving in her car when her cellphone rang. It was Doug!
“Hey, BUDDY!” Doug crowed.
“Doug!” said Cheryl. “How are you?”
“I feel wonderful! I can’t believe how good I feel!” said Doug Drake, from beyond the veil.

And that was it. Cheryl woke up. When she told me this story, we laughed and cried.

We do miss our buddy!