Buried Treasure

In Features
1998 Archive Correspondent zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

My parents bought me a class ring in high school which was supposed to last forever.

I wore the keepsake religiously, every day for five months and then I lost it swimming at Newport Beach.

I could feel the ring slipping off my finger.

The 14k gold, class ring with a garnet placed in the center was slipping off my finger and drifting into the ocean and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I thought I would never find the ring, but I did three years later. Actually, it found me with the help of Ralph Stevenson.

Stevenson, 57, has been looking and searching for nothing in particular for 30 years.

He searches in parks, on beaches and in deserts to see what he can find. Mostly he finds coins, nails, keys or fishing weights.

But every once in awhile Stevenson will find his diamond in the rough, and in the summer of 1996 he did just that.

As Stevenson strolled down Newport Beach at 62nd Street with his metal detector, his machine gravitated towards a particular spot in the sand.

The beeping noise intensified. Stevenson dug through the sand and discovered a diamond in the rough. Beneath the sand laid a 14k gold class ring with a garnet in the center.

Stevenson drove down to his friend's Eastside Jewelry and Loan Pawn Shop in Anaheim intending to sell the ring and make a profit.

George Staehling, manager of the pawn shop, noticed the school's name, year and saw the initials. He decided to give the high school a call.

"Whenever we find something, we try to track the person down," Staehling said. "Sometimes we find him, sometimes we don't, but we try."

Stevenson said he found class rings before and attempted to track people down, but surprisingly not everyone wants his missing momento back.

"That's something I think you would want to keep," Stevenson said.

So in July 1996, Staehling passed the message on to a secretary at Esperanza High School that his pawn shop in Anaheim had received a ring that might belong to a student who graduated from EHS in 1995.

The secretary called the possible student who graduated in 1995 with the initials KMM.

I received the most unusual phone call in July 1996.

Someone from Esperanza said they had found my class ring and I could call this pawn shop in Anaheim to pick it up.

I thought it was a crank call – some cruel joke. After all, my ring was somewhere in the middle of the ocean in the midst of sand and fish.

I called the number though and tracked down to the pawn shop.

Sure enough, the missing ring was my ring.

Staehling originally asked $100 for the piece of metal to pay Stevenson for his finding, but changed his mind and ended up giving me the ring for free.

After three years, the missing ring was in my possession again – in perfect condition and with a treasure chest tale to tell.

Stevenson said he doesn't find many valuable items, nor has he made much money, but he enjoys the search.

Rings, of course, are one of the most valuable findings, but Stevenson has also tracked down some other interesting artifacts.

On one of his trips to the Mojave Desert, Stevenson discovered some old dog tags belonging to World War II soldiers with his metal detector.

"We dug up a whole pile of stainless steel dog tags," Stevenson said. "We think they were from General George S. Patton's troops."

Stevenson and Staehling decided to try to track down some of the people to return the war belongings. They found a surviving veteran in Illinois.

‘After a few phone calls, we found one of the guys on the tags who was living in Illinois in the same house he had been living in back in the 1940s," Staehling said.

Staehling said the man was on part of a reunion committee of World War II veterans and was able to track down the remaining former soldiers who had left their tags in the desert.

"We sent all of the tags back to him," Staehling said.

Staehling, who got into the pawn shop business two years ago, said he just started looking with a metal detector last year.

However, Staehling said the metal detecting hobby is not cheap.

The detector itself can cost hundreds of dollars, but enough treasure hunters are out there and willing to pay for the hardware.

There are several web sites specifically geared for the metal detecting searcher.

Any interested junk seekers can find out everything from how much a metal detector costs, the difference between different models and searching tips. Some detecting cyberjunkies have even gone so far as designing their own page to tell about personal stories.

E-mail addresses are listed at the bottom of the page, so detectors from all over the country can give and seek advice from the professionals.

The JB Metal Detectors site revealed that detectors can range from low end, $189, to deluxe styles that can cost up to $600.

"It”s an investment," Staehling said. "But it is a hobby I enjoy and can do all day long.

"Ralph's been searching for 30 years, so he's found a lot of stuff," Staehling said. "I've just found nails and change."

Stevenson and Staehling both agreed though that there is a certain thrill about looking for the unknown treasure.

"You never know what you are going to find," Staehling said.

So, Stevenson, the man with the metal detector and Staehling, the manager of a pawn shop, continue to search.

Sometimes they find something valuable, often times they don't, but they believe there is that diamond in the rough.

Or ring in the sand.

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