Eilean Allen bought her husband Dennis Allen a metal detector three years ago.
Allen was an avid hunter and fisherman but his body, particularly his back and shoulders, were becoming problematic health-wise.
“She wanted me to have a nice, slow hobby. It was a nice thing to do,” Dennis Allen said.
It didn’t take him long to discover that there is an endless supply of artifacts in rivers and streams, and working in the water is a lot less taxing on his body than digging in dirt on his hands and knees.
“The buoyancy helps my body a lot,” he explained.
Allen has particularly found the Piscataquis River to be a treasure trove.
And he noted that because the water is “always moving,” you can find different artifacts in the same spot just about every day.
But he has also hunted for trinkets in ponds, lakes and streams while occasionally searching on land, which is what he is currently doing since the water is too cold now.
“Every body of water in the state of Maine has something in it. It’s just a matter of trying to get it,” he said. “I probably hunt in water 95 percent of the time.”
Allen is not picky. Virtually everything he finds is of interest to him.
And he loves history so he will often research the items he has found by going on his computer or going to the Dover-Foxcroft Historical Society, where he has displayed some of his artifacts.
“If a [finding] has a story to go with it, that makes it even better,” Allen said.
He compares notes with other collectors and watches videos streamed on his computer to see what other collectors have discovered.
He posts videos of himself hunting for artifacts and describing to his audience what he has found.
Even though a lot of collectors are reluctant to share their favorite hunting spots with others to prevent them from exploring those spots, Allen said that items in his favorite spots are so plentiful, he could never collect them all and is happy to share with other collectors.
He has learned that there have been four major floods involving the Piscataquis River and that is when a lot of items wind up embedded in sand deposits, between rocks or at the bottom of the river.
Over the years, he has found an amazing amount of pewter, he said.
“Bowls, cups, plates, cruettes,” he said. “These were things used in the home every day. And it wasn’t from one family. It was a town’s worth of stuff.”
He has pulled 97 bells of all shapes and sizes out of the Piscataquis River.
At a stream in Pittsfield, he found 150 buttons and discovered that they likely came from an 1800s clothing factory.
One of his prized possessions is a silver-plated pewter tankard with the name “James W. Tufts” engraved on it.
James W. Tufts, the founder of the Pinehurst Golf resort in North Carolina. James Tufts went on to hire Donald Ross, who is credited with designing or renovating over 400 golf courses including four Pinehurst courses.
“It’s really interesting,” said Allen, who used to play golf and still plays it online.
He hasn’t discovered a lot of coins but has found a few interesting ones including a Louis XVI liard from the 1700s and an old Russian coin.
“The liard predates the state of Maine by 33 years,” he said. Maine became a state in 1820.
Allen, who goes by DF Digger on his Facebook and YouTube pages, will occasionally sell an item, but he prefers to keep them in his “man cave” in his garage.
“I like being able to look at the stuff. They are worth more to me than their monetary value,” he said.
He has found intriguing items like nametags of people from different eras including a constable from the 1940s and Althea T. Butters, who died in the 1890s.
The Piscataquis River is 150-200 feet across, he said, and it is shallow.
He picks a spot and, wearing his hip waders, chooses a path looking for items.
The amount of time he spends hunting is often dependent upon how his body is holding up. He will go anywhere from an hour to three hours a day.
Allen has been exploring some new areas and has teamed up with another collector, Ritchie Kemp, to share information and hunt for artifacts together when it is convenient.
Allen will continue to use his metal detector on land “until I can’t get my shovel in [the frozen ground],” he said.
Allen, who is on partial disability after having served in the Army National Guard and in the sheriff’s department and worked for cable television companies, said he is looking forward to next spring and summer when he can return to the water.
“It’s a fun hobby. I hope to do it a whole lot longer,” said the 49-year-old Allen, who was raised in Charleston but has lived in Dover-Foxcroft for the past 14 years.