A RARE FIND

Digger Odell Publications © 2005

 

      "Among Life's precious jewels, Genuine and rare, The one that we call friendship Has worth beyond compare." Author unknown

 

I think I met Rick at a bottle show that he and his wife were attending.  Rick was well educated and articulate, a chemical engineer working at the Mead Paper plant.  Somehow we struck up a conversation about digging.  Chillicothe, where Rick lived, was designated capital of the “eastern section” of the Northwest Territory in 1800. After Ohio entered the Union in 1893 it became the state’s first capitol, so naturally given the history, digging there was of great interest.    Rick, Ted, my digging partner, and I dug on and off over a period of three or four years.  The hour and half drive always gave us plenty of time it imagine the coming day’s dig. We always had a great time even when going home empty handed. 

 

Rick, Me and the Box-O-Dirt about 1994

 

 I remember one hole in particular, a twelve foot deep wood-liner dug down into the Chillicothe’s sandy sub-strata.  We were throwing the dirt we dug out of the hole into a four foot square plywood box we had constructed for that purpose.  As the dirt would fill up the box, we would add another plywood piece to each side increasing the box’s capacity.  The box sat about two feet from the edge of the hole. At the box’s bottom, on the side facing the hole, there was a door which could be opened allowing the dirt to flow back into the hole supposedly without shoveling.  We were down about ten feet, just about to the glass layer and for some reason decided to take a break.  While were sitting in the grass fifteen feet from the hole eating a snack and re-hydrating our bodies, one side of the hole collapsed.  It nearly undermined the eight foot tall box of dirt which now sat precariously close to falling into the hole.  Our decision was immediate; we had to fill it in quickly before our circumstance worsened.  Providence was clearly with us that day.

 

About eleven years ago Rick moved back to the Pittsburgh area, where both his and his wife’s families lived. From time to time, I would get a letter from him about his digging adventures.  He quickly found a new partner and was consistently finding things of interest. About six or seven years ago I traveled there to dig with him.  He was well but had two children and his life was entering a different phase.  Some time after that the letters stopped coming and we simple lost contact with each other.

 

"Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction." 
Erich Fromm

 

What is it that motivates one to dig for or collect old bottles?  I know the first dump I ever discovered it was simply curiosity that motivated me to dig deeper.  Finding that “Harper’s Cuforhedake Brain Food” bottle was so foreign to anything I had seen up to that point in my life,  it opened historical vistas not imaged.  Another part of my fascination with digging is its connection with the past. After thirty years in the hobby, I am still awed by the unveiling of history as artifacts come to light for the first time since their deposition. However, it was not too long into finding my first bottle that I happened upon my first bottle book which showed me not only could they be interesting but they might be valuable as well.  That discovery changed things.  I began the search for dumps in earnest and like many collectors I was very concerned with the value of the bottles as much as anything.

 

Having watched and experienced the break up of a digging team because of arguments over things found, I know greed is an all too familiar condition of the human heart which often results in very unsatisfying and unintended results. The short term pleasure of getting what you want can easily cloak the long term discomfort of broken relationships. 

 

I am not unique in this experience.  It happens to many friends in the hobby.  I know dealers who no longer talk to each other because of real or imagined transgressions involving deals soured buying or selling bottles.  Bottle clubs too suffer similar fractures. At worst, these result in the dissolution of the organization; at best they create rifts between members .  As it is with the rest of the world, so it is with the hobby. Both are hurt by this condition. 

 

Managing one’s selfish impulses is a full-time job.  Every time I go digging and we find bottles, I struggle internally with the rightness of the outcome.  There are always items I want.  Within our digging group there is always this competing self-interest. 

 

It helps me to keep in mind that relationships are what is really important about digging.  The people I dig with are my friends.  The fellowship of a dig is an intangible indispensable and essential part of the experience.  Being on an adventure with friends provides a long-term satisfaction that no artifact could ever possibly fill. 

 

Trust also matters.  When you are twenty feet down in a hole and a man you trust is pulling 60 pound buckets over your head, it is a matter of faith that he will keep you safe.  Teamwork plays a role. What would appear to others as hours of prolonged suffering is to us a cohesive force, so managing the intricacies of a twenty-foot deep dig or teaming up to find the hole to dig adds to the experience.

 

In the long run, it is fellowship that provides the greatest satisfaction.  Because of that, it is not a crushing defeat when we dig twenty feet and find screw-top bottles.  It also makes it  easier to give up some of the things you want so that the others can have their desire. 

 

As usual I attended the Mansfield Bottle Show this Spring.  For those of you who have not been there, it is largely a time of fellowship as collectors from all over the country come to buy, sell and meet with friends.  It was there that I saw Rick again.  He had a table set up and his father with him.  We struck up a conservation as though the years of separation had never happened.  In the course of the discussion Rick invited me to come dig with him.  I vowed that when school was out we’d get together for another dig.

 

When you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees. Kenneth Kaunda

 

One of the first things Rick told me when I arrived was how involved he was now with his church.  He told me he did not dig on Sundays and that being a Christian had become a large part of his life. He took vacation days so we could dig during the week. He lined up dozens of sites where he had secured permission. The night I arrived he eagerly drove me around to view some of them.  We stopped a couple of places and probed, hoping to find a hole to start in the morning when Jeff, his regular digging partner, would arrive.  We drove by place after place but one old house in particular stirred my interest. Something about the property spoke to me. We had half a dozen other places to go and resolved to begin closer to home in the morning.

 

That night like all nights before a dig was a time of anticipation.  Rick and I talked about bottles a bit and he explained how he had gotten rid of his collection as a test of himself and his faith to see if he could give up something that he loved.  A few recently purchased Hutchison sodas sat on the empty shelves where his collection used to sit.  He was “sort of” collecting these just out of incidental interest.  I mentioned to him how I had not been buying bottles much anymore but I was “sort of” collecting ‘blood’ bottles that peaked my interest.

Did I mention it was hot?  The next morning we took the equipment and set up camp behind several houses where we had probed out a couple of holes.  The sun tarp was set up because it was to get into the mid to upper nineties by afternoon.  The three holes we opened seemed unpromising with new shards coming from two of them and little indication of any bottles in the fill in the third.  We left our stuff and moved to a house a just down the street that had been the site of an old tavern.  Rick and Jeff had been unable to find a privy on the lot and hoped I might be able to find a spot.  After much probing and one small test hole which yielded only an Indian arrowhead in the fill, we moved again to two empty lots a few doors further down the street.  The lack of existing houses added to the difficulty of finding any hole even after extensive probing.  Since the houses were on the early map there had to be privies but they were not revealing themselves.  It grew hotter and later.  Things were not looking good for the day,  There was much talk about where we could go.  We were drowning in a sea of permission.  Permission, Permission everywhere and not a hole to dig.   We discussed the possibilities.  After some time riding around in the truck, stopping at several other places, and digging yet another test hole, I remembered the property that had intrigued me the night before, 

“Let’s go to that house we saw last night.  You know that one I liked,” I suggested.

 

The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea. -- Anne Morrow Lindberg

 

It was early afternoon by the time we arrived and unloaded our gear.  Rick and Jeff had been to this property several times and probed only one hole in a odd location near the road. We set up the sun tarp and laid others on the ground around the hole.  Probing suggested the hole was full of very loose fill.  Digging revealed that much of it was ash and laboring in the blistering hot afternoon would at least be moderated by easy digging. 

 

Rick Getting Ready to Dig

 

Slowly a series of  laid up stones emerged to expose the walls of a 4 x 6 foot stone-liner.  Four feet down a layer of rock was exposed and the digging suddenly got a bit tougher.  Below the stone layer was more ash – an odd colored substance – probably coal ash.  We dug to the bottom of that layer and began to find pieces of pottery and china - not numerous but a good sign – better than we had seen all day.  There was a light breeze so contrary to the unusual situation, the man in the hole was hotter than the men up top. 

 

More probing indicated the hole was only about seven feet deep so if we were going to find anything it had to be soon.  We switched diggers. One front corner and one back corner were uncovered as we worked our way across the back of the hole when the base of a early bottle poked out of the ash. 

 

“Bottle!” 

“Colored.”

“Embossed!!”

“I can’t  tell what it is or what it says on it but it has a cross on it.”

 

A Lindsey’s comes to light

“It’s a Lindsey’s,” Jeff interjected.  As the bottle was uncovered our excitement grew.  It was whole, beautiful,  OLIVE GREEN -  embossed Lindsey’s // Blood / Searcher // Hollidaysburg.   “Wow!”

 

Suddenly revived, the heat no longer mattered.  The hole gave up another great broken bottle then another and another.  A broken Townsend’s, an odd-colored Hostetter’s Bitters, and a Vaughn’s Lithontriptic Mixture were carefully placed into the shard bucket.  Jeff was anxious to get back to digging and no sooner had he raked a few inches of ash away he uncovered an A. Stone Fruit jar.  Both Rick and I held our breath but to no avail.

 

“It’s broken”, Jeff sighed as much from the heat as from the disappointment. 

 

Once down to the bottle layer we usually just follow it around the outer perimeter of the hole.  Jeff was doing just that when he found a couple of unembossed bottles and a broken iron pontil Schnapp’s in the back corner. Digging below the ash layer, he discover an older layer containing artifacts six inches below the level we were digging. “Hope Springs Eternal.”  Broken, broken, broken everything was in pieces.  About the time Jeff had cleared two-thirds of the hole, we switched places.  Again no more than a few moments passed when the base of another bottle show itself.  I knew immediately this time what it was – another Lindsey’s and it look exactly like the first one - best of all it was whole too.  Aside from a giant pontiled cathedral pickle bottle with a large crack running through, it we found nothing else. That was it.  Two bottles – three people.

 

“We’ll just have to find another hole tomorrow”

 

"The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines." Charles Kuralt

 

That evening we washed off the bottles and shards and took some photos.  It was then that Rick stunned both Jeff and myself by saying he had given it a lot of thought and he was going to give us the bottles.

 

The next day it was closer to one hundred degrees.  Not a wisp of wind blew to offer relief from the stinging heat.  We got started early but like the plants wilted early in the mid-day heat.  We gave it a good shot; probed a number of potential sites but never got our shovels into a hole. It was just too hot and we were just too drained from the previous day’s efforts. 

 

“We can go out tomorrow morning before it gets so hot.” but Jeff said he probably couldn’t make it.

 

Rick and I rode around the third morning.  We had a serious talk about faith.  Rick’s generosity touched me deeply and made me feel both envious and ashamed.  I had not really set my heart to having anything and here I had everything – probably the best blood bottle ever.

 

 

 "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure."

- Sirach 6:14

 

As our personal connection deepened, we both agreed something greater was at work here.  Perhaps you’ll think I am preaching – make no mistake.  My trip started out as one thing and ended up something entirely different.  So many things happened the last three days we knew could not be coincidence.  The experience became a spiritual one. If you are a believer then this will make sense to you, if not then it may not.

 

It was a long six hour drive home.  My mind was swirling with all that had happened.  Clearly Providence was with us that day.  I was about to exit the Interstate on the final few miles of my journey when it struck me with a sense of awe… my first words when I uncovered the bottle.

 

“The bottle has a Cross on it!”

 

 

Freely you have received, freely give.
Matthew 10:8