Treasure Hunter Hits Pay Dirt

Treasure Hunter Hits Pay Dirt
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Some people don't see below the surface. That can't be said of Gearhart's Ryan Wolslagel.

Wolslagel is a hunter -- treasure hunter, that is -- wielding a metal detector and swinging it for whatever he might find.

Last week he hit pay dirt.

When Seaside's historic North Holladay Drive was opened by bulldozers for the first time in almost a century, he collected his gear and hit the streets.

He hit the jackpot: an 1857 $5 Liberty head half eagle in very fine condition, San Francisco mint.

For the tight-knit club of treasure hunters, gold coins are rare. Very rare. Pre-Civil War coins are even rarer.

Wolslagel's prospecting friend Tim Sillett, who came up to Portland from Arizona for the Portland Gold Show and detoured to Seaside, was openly envious.

"That's the No. 1 thing on everybody's list, a gold coin," Sillett sniffed. "He's in the gold coin club and he's only been hunting for how long?"

"Four years," Wolslagel admitted.

"Four stinking years!" Sillett snorted. "I've been doing this 25 years and never found a gold coin. He's been doing it four years and he finds one."

The coin could be worth between $350 and $1,000 "to the right person," Wolslagel said.

A passion begins

Wolslagel, who at 38 is considered "very young" in the world of diggers, began his hobby in Southern California.

When he moved to Oregon about four years ago, his interest became more serious as he explored the state's many beaches and parks and emerged with Native American artifacts, beads and treasures washed ashore.

On a neighboring property in Gearhart -- at the homeowner's request -- Wolslagel found an assortment of items: an old St. Patrick's pendant, wheat pennies (featuring amber waves of grain) and a Tootsie car, produced by the historic TootsieToy Co.

On Gearhart beach, he found a glass buoy that floated from Japan, similar to others found in cleanups in Cannon Beach.

Buried treasure

The opening of North Holladay Drive to renovation was a treasure hunter's dream.

When bulldozers ripped up the street earlier this year, a secret city was revealed, "like it must have been in the early days," is how Seaside City Manager Mark Winstanley described it.

For a treasure hunter, it was fertile soil.

"Immediately I was like, 'Oh my God!'" Wolslagel said.

Employees advised him the street was off limits during work hours for his safety and the safety of others, but he was welcome to return after 6 p.m. and weekends.

"I started swinging," Wolslagel said, referring to the use of his Garrett AT Pro Detector, the same one used on the National Geographic Channel's "Diggers."

Wolslagel quickly found -- well, nothing is quick for hunters -- buffalo head nickels and Mercury dimes.

He scraped through dirt and uncovered Indian war buttons, a 1903 Barber quarter.

"I kept swinging, Indian heads -- Indian heads all over the place," he said.

Wolslagel worked "as much as he could" his first time out, and came back again the next day.

"I'm walking up the streets and kept walking and pulling all kinds of dimes out," he said.

His big catch was the gold coin, a shiny glint about an inch in the dirt that set the detector singing.

Last call

In the next few days, the city of Seaside will asphalt North Holladay Drive and the street will be sealed up once again.

In the meantime, Wolslagel and Sillett are out hitting the street.

They won't have much time, as the city expects to be laying down curbs this week and paving the streets by Memorial Day weekend.

They'd prefer the North Holladay Drive renovation to remain on the down low.

"I don't want anyone to know -- people would go crazy," Wolslagel said. "People from Portland and everywhere."

As for the gold piece, "There will be a lot of hunters wanting to see it," Sillett said. "Finding it is better than keeping it."

Although Wolslagel beat him this time, the two treasure hunters plan to compare year-end tallies.

"He got me on this one," Sillett said. "But I'm rocking on the gold rings."

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