Wednesday, August 8
If you visit Jacksonville Beach, keep an eye out for Max McCormick walking the beach with his metal detector, giving random kids a handful of coins or helping someone find their lost keys. McCormick is a friendly, helpful guy who is passionate about his hobby.
When I met Max he was operating a White's Pulse metal detector, maybe a $300 piece of equipment, with his headphones on, a little sweaty, a little sluggish. He was finishing up for the morning and very happy to have a seat and talk with me a little. 'Cause I had me some questions, you know.
Like: What the world? Really. Why would someone nearing 70 wander the hot beach with a metal detector picking up nickels and dimes?
“For the exercise mostly.” Max admitted. He rubbed his belly. “All this walking and bending is great exercise while doing something I enjoy....”
As we talked, though, I found out it wasn't just exercise. Max is a history buff and a people person. The beach combing is mostly for exercise and, I suspect, meeting people. “Just last Sunday there was a guy out here lost his keys. I found them for him.” But what Max is really passionate about is combing the freshly turned ground when a house or old building has been torn down. That's where he finds some old stuff, some good history, not on the beach.
“In 2005, I found a 1963 Florida Gator graduate's ring in the foundation of an old store that was razed in a lot downtown. It had the owner's initials and the engineering school on it.” Max checked with the University's archives and they matched a '63 graduate in the engineering school with those initials. They contacted him and brought the two men together. The man was thrilled to get his ring back. “He couldn't even remember why he had been in Jacksonville, but he was very happy with the ring.”
For the landlocked jobs, Max uses his Garrett GTI 1500*, a high-end detector with a discriminating meter and scale and whole computerized readout about your find before you dig for it. This baby tells him whether he is about to dig up a dime or a quarter or a tin can. The Garrett indicates what he has found and he can program it to reject that item so the next one he finds won't alert him, it'll just ignore it. The Garrett can't be used on the beach, the housing isn't waterproof. Max's White's Pulse is completely sealed, waterproof up to 20' of water, but this Garett is just for land use.
“You'll like this story,” Max leaned in. “One time I found a gun. They tore down an old house near the beach and I was able to get over there to search. I hit on the gun and dug it up. It had been buried deliberately, in a plastic bag, and was in great condition. I gave it to a friend who's a cop. One year later that gun was matched to a 5 year old crime, the cops had the matching bullet.”
Max has been doing this since the early 80's. “It's like a computer,” he told me, “the technology is always getting better and better.” There's two styles basically. A Pulse has to be moving over an object to detect it. It will detect anything that is metal, but there's no meter so you end up digging everything up, good and bad, bottle caps and gold rings. The Garrett can be held still and feeds tons of information, saving you a lot of digging time.
Through the years, Max has learned more about the hobby through clubs and magazines, and more recently, on the web. Western and Eastern Treasures magazine offers equipment tests, stories of great finds, information on what you dig up, etc. Max has boxes and boxes of things at home, well organized, and he will occasionally pull one out and look it up on the internet to learn it's history.
In Friday's post I'll write more about Max's beach finds, including the greatest thing he ever found. I think Max and I share both a cusiosity and a love for story telling. We could have stayed there all day if the sun wasn't so hot.
*Max acquired his Garrett in Orlando at Kellyco, the best place around for metal detectors. The Garett 1500 runs close to $1500. The White Pulse runs around $300 and is waterproof.