A walk through the lower level of longtime Columbus resident Bob Filkin’s home is like a tour through a history museum.
On display are dozens of various relics, ranging from coins and other forms of currency, Indian heads, copper points, military buttons, a padlock and a dog tag, that, in a way, chronicle the rich history of Nebraska. It all has value and different meaning, though Filkin acquired it the same way: Metal detecting.
“You never know what’s going to come out of the ground,” Filkin said, with a big smile. “You name it, I’ve found it.”
For almost 40 years now, Filkin has spent significant time around Columbus and surrounding areas using his electronic instrument to find unique artifacts in the ground. It started as a part-time hobby back in 1972, when he saw an advertisement for metal detectors in a treasure publication while he and his wife were living in Lexington.
“I just thought it would be a great hobby – going out and finding treasure and old coins,” Filkin recalled, adding that it resulted in him making an impromptu purchase of his first metal detector for $189.
Admittedly, it wasn’t as easy as Filkin thought it would be when he got started. Detectors weren’t as user-friendly as they are today, he noted.
“Detectors back then didn’t have discrimination – a person dug up everything, mostly bottle caps,” he said. “It took me over a month to find my first penny. I didn’t know where to go hunt, so it took me a while to start finding the good stuff.”
Filkin, a former construction worker, joined the Nebraska State Patrol in 1988 as an officer. In 1992, he transferred to the agency’s Columbus office and in the early 2000s was promoted to investigator. He continued to metal detect, but it became a full-time affair when he retired from the force at age 62 back in 2010.
His passion has taken him all over Columbus over the years, including to Frankfort Square and Pawnee Park, as well as to other surrounding communities on occasion.
“I’m out there almost every other day,” he said. “I would like to go every day, but it just depends on the weather. Sometimes, it’s too hot or too cold.”
Besides the weather, nothing seems to get in the way of the seasoned pro. Filkin has a fleet of metal detectors: a Garrett AT Pro, a Minelab E-Trac, a Minelab CTX 3030 and XP Deus. He mostly uses the CTX, as it gives a lot of information on what is below the coil (which is good for use in parks, schools and yards) and the XP, which weighs less than 2 pounds and is easy to use in fields for relics.
His massive collection is impressive. Some of his prized items are a 1934 Union Pacific railroad token (circa 1890); a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad padlock; a Chinese coin from 1500 AD; 1812 military buttons; and an 1834 Pioneer Wagon Works token.
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There are two specific items from his collection that are his favorite, though. The first is a Notary seal for Gus Falbaum, who was the Platte County clerk from 1888-1891.
“I found it on a private residence with permission. The metal detector gave me a strange reading and sound I wasn’t used to when I came across it,” he said. “Luckily, I dug it up and saved it, so people can come to look at it and appreciate the history of Columbus and Platte County.”
The second item is a dog tag issued in 1888 for Holdrege, which Filkin called “a nice find.”
The detecting has become only half of the job for Filkin. When he’s not out looking for and finding items, he’s researching and working with history buffs to learn more about those he has collected.
“I was for it,” Filkin’s wife, Nancy, said of her husband’s hobby. “As long as it makes him happy and he stays out of trouble, that’s good. He meets new people doing it.”
Filkin goes out on his own to hunt, but often enjoys doing it with the company of his wife or friends who have an interest in the activity. Actually, he said there are many people in the Columbus area who metal detect for fun.
“Two years ago I found 59 silver coins – that’s about one per week, which is hard to do in this day and age because so many places have been hunted out,” he said.
Still, he has no plans to hang up his equipment any time soon. The 71-year-old Columbus man enjoys it too much to quit.
“Sometimes I’ll find something good like an old coin or piece of history,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going – finding stuff that connects me to the history of Nebraska.”
Plus, he’s still holding out hope for what got him into the hobby roughly 40 years ago.
“And I’m still trying to find that treasure the advertisement mentioned,” he said, with a laugh. “One of these days I’ll find it. You’re always hoping to find that big find.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.