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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Treasure Ranch

    My childhood summers were unique. Instead of staying home, bored and restless, only to have that boredom interrupted by a week of vacation to some stereotypical, over-crowded, tourist trap vacation destination before heading back to bored restlessness like all my friends had to endure, my family stayed on our family ranch in Montana for up to two months at a time. Now, I’m not talking some “ranch” with a cow and a few four wheelers where we could go play Little House on the Prairie. Oh no, this is a real, working ranch. Yes we do have four wheelers and a cow. But not just one cow. Our family ranch is home to eight hundred head of cattle situated on eight thousand acres of land smack dab on the banks of the Yellowstone River. I don’t mean to brag, because that would be abrasive. Plus, it’s no bragging matter. My father inherited the land from his mother, who inherited it from her father, my great grandfather. That guy has the bragging rights, but he’s dead, so is my grandma, so now we have a ranch. One lazy summer day, my dad, my brother and I are sitting around the old TV watching John Wayne movies (my dad loves John Wayne) when we hear a knock at the front door; which is weird because we live fifteen miles from town and almost never have any unsolicited visitors.
            “Steele, can you get the door please?” My dad says.
            I say yes, get up, and open the old creaky door. The man that stands before me looks like something out of a bad movie set in the 60’s. He stands about six foot even with greasy hair falling limply down to his shoulders. The man wears khaki cargo pants and an old button down plaid t-shirt that barely covers his beer belly. He is holding an odd devise made of copper. The copper device is shaped into a 90 degree angle and is connected by wires to a battery pack in his pocket. In the man’s other arm is an old beat up metal detector.
            “Uh, hi sir, how can I help you?” I ask hesitantly.
            “Hi buddy, is your dad hear? I have reason to believe that there is a significant sum of buried gold treasure on your property and I mean to find it.” He replies in a thick mid-western accent (think Fargo).
            I say ya and go get my dad. My dad invites him in and we all sit at the kitchen table to talk. The man says he is a treasure hunter and has invented a new type of technology that can triangulate the approximate location of large sums of gold using their natural molecular frequencies. He explains that his device has pointed him to our property, which makes sense to him because, after he had done some research, he had found out that our property was home to a Crowe Indian Agency back in the 1800s (that part is actually true). He tells us how he hypothesizes that some thieving Indians had once stolen a large amount of gold from the agency and had possibly buried it in the hills of our property to hide it but had never come back to get it.
            “So . . . how much gold are we talking about here?” My dad asks skeptically.
            “Well sir . . . based upon the amount of material that is needed to allow my device to work, as well as todays gold prices per ounce, I would estimate about . . . $130 million worth.” He replies.
            Our jaws drop. My dad tells the man that he needs a minute to discuss this information with his sons and beckons my brother and I into the next room.
            “What do you boys think?” My dad asks.
            “I don’t know dad,” I say, “he seems a little weird. I’m pretty skeptical.”
            “Ya I don’t know Dad, I don’t think that he’s for real,” my brother agrees.
            “I don’t know, men, that’s a shit ton of gold! And even if he’s weird there’s a chance he could be right. Stranger things have happened. And if not, we’ll have a great story to tell! I say we give him a chance.” My dad suggests.
            It is decided. We walk back into the room and tell the odd man (named Bob it turns out) that we will give him permission to search our land for the buried gold and that we will even help him try to find it. My dad and Bob write up a make-shift contract (with my attorney grandpa on the phone to make it “official”) that says “should any gold be found, the profit will be split 50/50 between Rob (my dad) and Bob.”
            We all pile into the old ranch SUV and drive Bob to the location on our property where he thinks the buried treasure may be. We stop the vehicle in a gully in the hilly part of the ranch. Bob hops out with his weird device and starts slowly walking back and forth around the hills, holding his copper instrument directly out in front of him. Occasionally his copper piece curiously turns in towards his left hand. He stops and sticks a small red marking flag in the ground, walks a few hundred more feet, sticks another marking flag in the ground, and so on. We watch from inside of the SUV wondering what he could possibly be figuring out.  At one point, a golden eagle circles over head in the hot summer sun. Bob sees this and completely loses his shit. He runs back to the car and exclaims,
            “That is a good sign you guys, that is a really good sign!”
            “What is?” my little brother asks.
            “The Golden Eagle of course!” Bob shouts.
            My dad, brother and I exchange looks as Bob begins walking around with his weird instrument again. We sit in the hot car for another hour, bored out of our minds. Then, Bob lets out a whoop. He marks a place in the hill with a big green marking flag and runs back to the car.
            “I need a backhoe,” he informs my dad excitedly.
            “Okay I’ll go get it and drive it on over!” My dad says, “you think you found the spot?!” He adds, excitement growing in his voice despite his best attempts to keep it down.
            “Oooh yes sir!” Bob replies with a grin.
            That’s all my dad needs to hear. He starts the car, slams it into drive and floors it back to the barn to get the backhoe. Now, despite our initial skepticism, we are all getting really excited. My dad pulls into the barn, sprints to the backhoe, turns it on and speeds back to the hills, my brother and I following behind in the SUV. Now, our backhoe is only a few years younger than my dad so it takes an hour to navigate the 2 miles back to the dig sight. Finally after a couple of near tips, the backhoe makes it to the spot where Bob is waiting, more excited than a schoolboy on the first day of summer. My dad starts digging. He gets five feet down; nothing. Ten feet down; nothing. Five more feet down; nothing. Then . . .
            “STOP!” Bob screams.
            My dad stops the backhoe and hops out excitedly. Bob is already down in the hole with his beat up old metal detector. He scans the hole, mumbling to himself. The detector remains silent. He scans it again; still no sound comes forth from the detector. He scans the hole three more times; each time not a sound is heard. He climbs out of it with a defeated look in his eyes and says,
            “I think I may need to reconfigure my technology.”
            “I’m guessing there’s nothing there?” My dad asks.
            “Oh no, there could still be some gold on your property, just not right here. I’ll reconfigure my device and call you back in a week or two,” Bob assures us.
            We drive Bob back to the house. He packs his equipment up in an old Subaru Outback and drives away.
            We never did hear back from Bob The Treasure Hunter. I think it’s because he realized his “technology” was nothing more than a useless piece of copper connected to a battery pack. But my dad has a different theory. To this day he thinks that Bob actually did find something that hot summer day in July and lied to us so that he could come back later and get all the gold for himself. Seeing as he no longer lives where he said he did and we haven’t heard from him since, that theory isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility (even if  it is highly unlikely). But, who knows, maybe ole’ Bob is sitting on a beach somewhere in Mexico right now, sipping a piƱa colada, living the good life with  $130 million worth of buried treasure he stole from some suckers up north. I guess we’ll never know.

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