Reunite people with lost items for free (or maybe just for advice)

When I tell Woodrow Engle that I’ve been granted access to search for treasures at two ancient Sonoma County wineries, I feel like we’re embarking on a sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” “.

“I’ll see if I can find any old maps of the area and do some research,” he wrote.

By the time we meet on a Friday morning, as the sun rises over the Mayacmas behind the Alexander Valley vineyards, we’ve exchanged over 50 metal detecting texts, including some rumors of Spanish gold hidden in Chileno Valley. This is in addition to an hour-long telephone conversation.

To say Engle is obsessed is an understatement.

A video game artist by trade, he once moonlighted as a semi-professional poker player and appeared on the “Magic: The Gathering” pro tour.

“Anything that has a puzzle or a strategy or anything that you can really dive deep into and spend a lot of time maximizing your performance, I love all of that,” he says.

He is not alone. Engle and fellow Sonoma County metal detectorists Kevin Tobin of Sebastopol and Demian Garcia of Penngrove are all dedicated members of The Ring Finders Directory, a worldwide network of on-call metal detectorists who will literally find your ring (or rings). car keys or your cell phone) if you lose it, which happens more than you might imagine.

“When it starts to get a little warmer and people start going out again, I’ll start getting calls,” says Tobin, who estimates he answers more than a dozen questions a year, many along the way. Russian River. Its recovery rate is about 80%.

A former Navy and Graton firefighter volunteer when he was just 16, Tobin has been on the hunt the longest, having bought a cheap detector from Wal-Mart about 30 years ago. .

Garcia has worked there for 12 years. He was hooked immediately after finding a diamond ring on a San Diego beach.

Engle took the hunt just before the pandemic and has already been featured in several news stories – one for finding a class of 1927 ring in Petaluma and tracking down the owner, another for connecting a woman who lost her Tiffany wedding ring $10,000 with a metal detectorist who posted his ring on Craigslist asking if anyone had lost it — the same ring Engle spent hours looking for Stinson Beach in Marin County.

So much for the weird guy in the floppy hat and sunglasses painting the beach with an electric dowsing rod. Metal detecting is growing in popularity during the pandemic thanks to dedicated YouTube channels, a cheeky British TV series called “The Detectorists” and advancements in technology that make finding lost treasure a very real possibility.

The greatest reward

Ring Finders founder and CEO, Chris Turner, a retired football player who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, regularly updates the website (theringfinders.com) with tantalizing stories of gold discoveries and money, big paydays and the moment he saved actor Jon Cryer’s lost marriage. near a Vancouver seawall.

Sonoma County ring finders generally charge only gas and perhaps a small compensation for their time. But when they magically pull a miracle out of the dirt, customers often feel obligated to pay more. They received everything from a dozen fresh eggs to over $1,000 in cash.

“The greatest reward is the satisfaction of seeing the smile on someone’s face after finding what they thought they had lost forever,” says Tobin. “If you ever really want to see the most authentic part of a person, find something they’ve lost that really means something to them.”

He will never forget the client from Sonoma who knelt in tears after Tobin found his wedding ring – a paired set made up of his mother’s and father’s wedding bands – which was lost during a game of volleyball. He insisted that Tobin “couldn’t take less than $1,000.”

Garcia estimates he’s racked up between $5,000 and $10,000 in awards over the past decade.

“For me, it’s a hobby, not a source of income,” says Garcia, who specializes in underwater recoveries. “But it’s nice to have a hobby that pays for itself.”

The biggest reward offered to Garcia was $2,500 for a $100 ring with lots of sentimental value.

“I wish I had found it, because I could have used the money back then,” he says.

The owner asked him to search her dog, because she thought he might have eaten the ring.

“Yes, it turns out you can detect metal from a dog,” says Garcia. He often feels like a detective working a case, asking questions like, “Did you put lotion on the beach?” and “When you were gardening, did you wear gloves?”