(First published in the Airdrie City View on March 3, 2016)
When metal detecting enthusiast Bill Jones, 63, is not scouring the grounds of Airdrie for lost treasure, he dedicates much of his free time helping reunite people with their lost rings.
Photographs of 20 grinning faces grace the pages of Jones’ 2015 “Book of Smiles,” with each person holding up a lost ring they, in desperation, called Jones to find.
“You see that smile, that just warms your heart,” he said. “To be able to give them something back that they thought was gone forever, it really makes you feel good.”
He was first exposed to the world of metal detecting in 1978.
One day, Jones opened a magazine and saw a photograph of a man blanketed by buckets of jewels and coins with a metal detector in hand.
It never occurred to him before that valuable items were just beneath his feet, so Jones promptly purchased a metal detector and sought out on an adventure to find a pirate’s buried treasure, long lost in landlocked Alberta.
That dream quickly diminished as he discovered the “treasure” was often pull-tabs and screw tops.
“You dig more garbage than you do treasures,” Jones said. “But if you keep it up, you do find a bunch of treasures too.”
On average, Jones said he finds about $100 of loose change, as well as an extensive array of rings each year.
He proudly displayed his treasure accrued throughout 2015 in a shadow box, but the 30 rings in it were merely the ones he absolutely could not reunite with its owner.
“Every ring has a story and I like to let that story be finished instead of being lost forever,” he said.
The photographs tell these stories, like the Airdrie man who is smiling because Jones found his wedding ring in the freezing winter snow at 1 a.m. in the morning moments before the grater passed by.
He has even coined a subsection of his work “marital discourse rings,” for instances where one partner had thrown the ring at another partner for whatever reason and the two could not find it in the grass, snow or puddle where it landed.
“Of course as soon as they throw it they want it back,” he said with a laugh.
And some situations barely even involve the use of a metal detector.
He recalled a woman phoning him with a great panic in her voice asking if he could find her $35,000 engagement ring she was given just the day before.
She had yet to leave her home so it had to still be there, but Jones did not have the confidence his equipment would work well inside the metal structured of her condominium. She pleaded and he agreed to give it a shot.
“All I could do was ask a lot of questions,” Jones said.
After confirming she had the ring on before and after a bath, he asked her about dinner. She had made two lasagnas and he waved his detector over the Tupperware container of leftovers to no avail.
He learned the couple also had a salad that night, and when he waved his detector over it, he smiled as he heard the “blip.”
“Sure enough it was in the salad,” he said. “(That situation) was more about detective work than it was about metal detecting.”
Over the years, Jones has helped hundreds of people find their rings across all of Southern Alberta, including Airdrie, Calgary, Crossfield, Irricana, Beiseker, Langdon and Chestermere.
He operates within a 100-kilometre radius of the Calgary area and charges a $25 fee to cover the cost of gas. After the ring is found, he accepts rewards based on what clients feel their ring is worth. Since Jones does not think he can tell someone what an emotion is worth, he doesn’t charge a set rate.
“I don’t do this to make a living,” he said.
Visit theringfinders.com/Bill.Jones/ to learn more about his service, or visit the Calgary Metal Detecting Club, which Jones is the treasurer of, at cmdc.org to learn more about how to get started in the hobby of metal detecting.