In the mid-’70s, Shore’s wife, Kathy, gave her husband an unusual birthday gift: a metal detector. Ron took the gadget to a park near the couple’s Norwood Park home to give it a whirl. Along with some silver coins, he discovered a passion for treasure hunting that he turned from a hobby into a career in 1985, when he opened Windy City Metal Detector Sales & Rental(773-774-5445). Shore, 66, still runs the business out of his home when he’s not attending meetings of the Midwest Historical Research Society, a local metal-detecting club, or combing the beach with his own detector.
What are the hot spots for metal detecting in Chicago?
Forest preserves, parks, old schools. I’ve also found a lot of old stuff in my own front yard: a couple Indian Head pennies, some silver coins from the ’40s. Around this time of year, I like to hunt the water. Very tranquil. It’s just me and the seagulls, you know? [Laughs] I was at North Avenue Beach this morning. Found some coins, a few earrings—but no gold rings. It was pretty scoured. I saw four or five other guys out there.
Do you get competitive?
Oh, yeah. Guys go out in the dead of night, especially after a hot weekend after the beach crowds leave. In the last few years, the hobby has skyrocketed. I sell darn close to 1,000 metal detectors a year now.
To what do you attribute the popularity spike?
The rising cost of gold during the recession. I know guys who’ve found over a pound of gold with their detectors. Most hobbies you dump money into; this is the opposite. I found a four-and-a-half-ounce gold nugget bracelet once. So big, I thought it was fake.
Is it all about the thrill of the hunt?
Well, it’s especially rewarding when you find something someone lost and you get it back to them. A couple months ago, a woman rented a detector from me for a week. She had lost two diamond rings at a beach north of Foster. Each one was about two carats. One of the rings was her husband’s grandma’s ring. Her husband had passed away a few years before, so there was a lot of sentimental value. She asked if I’d come out and help her, and we found them. She couldn’t believe it.
It’s an intriguing thought: Valuables are scattered all around the city, but we just can’t see them.
Oh, I’ve found a lot of unique things. A Tom Mix belt buckle. He was a cowboy from the ’30s. A Captain Midnight decoder ring from the ’40s. Just outside Soldier Field, I found a knife with the date of 1915 on one side and the inscription “Islami Patrol” on the other. I found a little gold muscle man at North Avenue Beach that was probably given out by Arnold Schwarzenegger at the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding contest. A lot of toy guns, a lot of bullets. That’s part of the fun: You never know what you’re going to find.
No. [Laughs] Haven’t found him yet.