The sound of the ground

Veteran treasure hunter turns up good finds in local soil

Nov. 16, 2006

Dave Le Gros is a hunter of sorts - a treasure hunter. And he's an impassioned conversationalist when it comes to his hobby. While telling his tales, his eyes sparkle more than the diamonds and silver pieces he's collected.

Le Gros, a Muskego resident for 15 years, lives in Woodcrest Heights next to Muskego High School. Braving the bitter cold to go on a hunt with him proved exceptionally prosperous. With chirps, bells, whines and hums, the detector sang its song to Le Gros in a language he knows well. Within 40 minutes, and in less than 40 square feet, he found a token, several coins - including silver - and a 1925 dog tag.

He said he's a "firm believer in history and in giving back to the community." His passion of nearly 30 years fulfills both of those convictions.

Le Gros says he's "hooked on it. Just driving in the country - old farm sites for example - my radar goes up." He wonders, "How can I get in there to hunt?"

In Le Gros' case, being laid off from his employment decades ago was auspicious. He saw a Channel 12 special on some men from the East Coast who actually made a living treasure seeking. The two - Bob Trevillian and Frank Carter, who penned "Diamonds in the Surf" - inspired Le Gros to use a tax refund to buy a wet suit, make some of the tools of the trade and hit the sea. Today he does more searching on land than in water, much of it in Muskego - but a bit across the ocean, too.

Finding hunting grounds

While most of us complain and lose our patience with the road construction around town, Le Gros says, "All construction is good for prospecting." This was just a glimmer of his contagious optimism.

When the Janesville Road widening project was going on, Le Gros was hunting. He found a turn-of-the-century pair of handcuffs in the road, along with coins and tokens. Common finds are knickknacks and historical items.

While he's equipped himself with a "good unit" as far as metal detectors go, Le Gros said he gets the bulk of his ideas on where to search through tips.

"The biggest source of information is talking to people," he said.

When the Muskego Fire Department control-burned the old roadhouse, built during Prohibition, to construct the Muskego Moose Lodge at S86 W21693 Janesville Road, Le Gros met some lodge members who recognized the possible history on the land and gave him permission to explore.

"I started hunting right after they broke ground," he said.

His detector helped him locate metal objects such as silverware, silver coins and Civil War-era items, but turning the soil also allowed him to come across old bottles and some pottery shards.

Right now he has a pre-1900s iron lock - complete with key - soaking in olive oil. It was dug up at the Moose lodge site on Crowbar and Janesville. Le Gros said the oil "penetrates the rust and prevents further rust." Not for the impatient hobbyist, some in his collection soak for years.

In addition to the quality of forbearance, this pastime is also similar to archaeology in that Le Gros keeps "a lot of notes" and stores each site's discoveries separately. "It's important to actually know where it came from," he said.

Sharing his discoveries

While he loves to collect, Le Gros also wants to share his finds.

"I promote this hobby. I'm a big believer in preserving history. As our elderly are passing on, we are losing a lot of history," he said.

Le Gros plans on starting a loan program with the Muskego Historical Society to put his souvenirs on display at the Old Muskego Settlement Centre, W184S8074 Racine Ave.

"What's so exciting about it is the thrill of the hunt," he said, the stories behind the pieces that keep him fascinated. When asked about his most treasured find, Le Gros didn't hesitate: "My wife." Even though, he admitted, "She thinks I'm obsessive."

"It's a personal thing for me," Le Gros said of some of his treasure. An example is a World War II era, handmade silver ring. Even with an inscribed date and place, Le Gros was disappointed that he had no way to locate the ring's owner's family.

Other times he can donate pieces. The town of Merton is the recipient of one such memento of history. He found a printing block in a park there, an advertisement for barn painting from an 1800s newspaper. The words "Property of Western Newspaper Union" were revealed after some cleaning.

Le Gros has some tips for those who might be interested in pursuing the pastime. County parks require permits, and Indian burial ground locations are protected. He also practices common courtesy by asking permission to search, always refilling the holes and disposing of any trash that he comes upon.

Le Gros' own amazement at what people consider garbage recently took a twist on him. He had a relic in what he calls his "rusty junk pile," but later found out it was a flange off the shoulder of a suit of armor.

But don't rush out to try to find that type of prize in your Muskego backyard. Le Gros came across it while treasure hunting in England.

Belinda Ricco welcomes comments and column ideas. She can be reached at bricco@wi.rr.com or at Belinda Ricco, c/o Muskego Sun, P.O. Box 510210, New Berlin, WI 53151.

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