Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ring-ing in his ears

Metal-detecting enthusiast turns hobby into a small business for misplaced jewels

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Here's something they don't cover in What to Expect When You're Expecting.

Three Sundays ago, Randall Fedeluk got a phone call from a pregnant woman named Julie.

Julie told Fedeluk she had just gotten home from a family picnic where, because her fingers are swollen thanks to her fast-approaching due date, she had transferred her wedding band to her pinkie for safe-keeping. Except later, as she was preparing to go home, Julie realized her ring was AWOL.

And how does Fedeluk fit into the picture, you ask?

Well, besides being the president of a band of treasure hunters called the Manitoba Metal Detecting Group, Fedeluk is also the founder of Lost Jewelry Recovery, a two-year-old business that tries to keep up with the Indiana Joneses by retrieving missing valuables such as bracelets, pendants and rings.

An hour after their conversation, Fedeluk met Julie at Kildonan Park. He spent the next 120 minutes combing the area she recalled being in. But aside from a couple of loonies and a slew of soda can tabs, he and his mix of professional-grade machinery turned up zilch.

"Don't worry," Fedeluk assured her as he packed up for the night; he'd come back tomorrow and try, try again.

"I'd already looked everywhere she said she'd been so the next day I figured I'd start a little further afoot, hoping she forgot about a place or two," Fedeluk says. Sure enough, within a matter of moments, Fedeluk found the ring on the side of the road directly opposite from where its owner had parked her vehicle.

So two nights later, just before Fedeluk was scheduled to show a newspaper scribe the metal detecting ropes, Julie rolled up in her car at to reclaim her wayward ring.

"I swear we didn't stage this," Fedeluk said, as he posed for a picture with his latest, satisfied customer. "I live in Lorette so it was a lot easier to meet here and kill two birds with one stone."

Speaking of stones, it was a long-lost gem that got the 57-year-old truck driver hooked on metal detecting in the first place.

When Fedeluk was growing up in Transcona, one of his mother's oft-repeated, dinner-time stories was about a ring she had misplaced in the backyard in the early 1970s. It was a wedding ring, she'd say, with a turquoise in the centre and to heck if she knew how or when it went astray.

Twelve years ago, after listening to his mom discuss the missing bauble yet again, Fedeluk decided to put an end to the mystery, once and for all. He borrowed a metal detector from one of his buddies -- he's mechanically-inclined, he says, so it didn't him take long to figure out how the contraption worked -- then slowly began pacing around his parents' backyard, listening for a telltale beep.

It took four full sweeps of the terrain but finally, about an hour after he'd started, Fedeluk found the ring buried 10 centimetres underground.

"The stone wasn't in it anymore, unfortunately, but my mother kept it just the same and eventually passed it down to my sister," he says.

Buoyed by his success, Fedeluk went online to see if there were any used metal detectors for sale in the Winnipeg area. He posted a couple of wanted ads and one of his first responses was from a fellow looking to start a hobby group.

The Winnipeg Treasure Hunting Club was together for two years. After that group disbanded in 2009, Fedeluk decided he wasn't ready to hang up his metal detector just yet, so he began advertising his services, offering to do free searches for people who had mislaid this or that.

"The idea was I'd get some much-needed practise by looking for specific stuff," says Fedeluk, whose equipment also allows him to rummage around in water up to his neck. "But I was getting so many calls that it got kind of crazy. I wasn't charging a thing -- all the money I spent on gas, etc., was coming out of my pocket -- so I decided maybe it was time to change things up and go into business for myself."

When pressed for a laundry list of items he's recovered since striking out on his own, Fedeluk ticks off hearing aids, cellphones, car keys and the odd set of dentures. He has also done ring searches for couples who, in the, err, heat of an argument, take off their bands, chuck them as far as they can, then regret that decision the day after.

Fedeluk formed the Manitoba Metal Detecting Group in 2013. The 29-member club hooks up at least once a month -- either for a bite at their unofficial headquarters, Charlee's Restaurant & Lounge, or at a park or beach, where they catch up briefly before everyone divides and conquers.

Fedeluk laughs when he is asked how social an activity metal detecting can be, what with a bunch of people walking around wearing headphones, seemingly oblivious to their clubmates a few metres away.

"Yeah it might look that way but after all is said and done, we usually go for coffee and show off whatever it is we find that night." (Like golfers and their divots, Fedeluk says group members always leave their surroundings exactly the way they found it, replacing any sod they dig up in their quest for booty.)

Newbies are welcome to give the activity a shot, Fedeluk says. He usually has a couple of "loaners" in the back of his truck for those who show up without a detector of their own.

"There are some machines on the market that only cost $200 but honestly, you can't expect too much at that price: you're going to be turning up a lot of pennies, nails and bottle caps," he says. "Then there are ones that go for as much $3,000. That might sound like a lot but because you can set the controls to only look for specific things like gold or silver, they tend to pay for themselves fairly quickly."

With that, Fedeluk pulls out a box of his "greatest hits."

"This is a Napoleon 10-franc coin, circa 1857, that I found in the mud at Netley Creek. This is a chauffeur's badge I found in Assiniboine Park; it's what guys were required to wear when they took prominent people for horse-and-buggy rides through the park, in the '30s and '40s," he says.

"And this is something I found in Elm Park; it's a pendant commemorating the 1969 lunar landing with a picture of Neil Armstrong on one side and the 'one small step for mankind' quote on the other. I saw one in way worse shape than this go for $150 on eBay, but mine's not for sale. I'm saving it for my grandchildren."

Besides any monetary gain, Fedeluk says the best thing about metal detecting is how it clears one's mind, after a long day at work.

"It's absolute heaven when I'm doing this," he says. "I don't know how many times I've lost complete track of time and looked up and realized the sun's been down for an hour already. Plus it's like a kids' Christmas-thing every time you hear that beep. You never, ever know what you're going to dig up."

Oh, one more thing: readers will pleased to know that Fedeluk is just like the rest of us when it comes to forgetfulness.

"I lost my keys about a week ago and I still haven't figured out where I left them," he says with a chuckle. "The only difference is when it comes to finding needles in haystacks, I have the proper equipment to find that needle."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 28, 2014 D11

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