When Scott Clark was 15 and growing up in Illinois, he would explore the countryside looking for farms where he could search for historical artifacts.
It was then that he picked up a copy of Western & Eastern Treasures magazine and saw pictures of people showing off vintage coins.
"I was already a coin collector. I asked for a metal detector for my birthday, and my dad bought one," Clark said. "I started taking it to those places, and I immediately started finding old coins and tokens and stuff, and I was hooked."
Thirty-three years later, the Lexington resident takes about 15 requests a year from people who have lost rings outdoors. On average, he finds about 12 a year.
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And what does he charge for reuniting these keepsakes with their owners? Nothing.
"I have the ability to do it, and there's no reason not to help people," Clark said.
When searching for a ring, Clark follows a strategy that he says gives him a pretty high success rate. He questions the owner about the ring's size and appearance, and the area where it was lost, so he can narrow down where it might be. He then runs over the ground with his metal detector, marking his path as he goes to narrow down the location. He repeats this process several times if needed.
Clark said class rings are the easiest to find because of the large amount of metal, and men's rings are more often found than women's because of the size. The ratio of finding rings by gender is 2 to 1 in favor of men.
If Clark doesn't find the ring within the first 15 to 20 minutes of searching, the chances of finding it are slim, he says. He also said the ring is never in the exact spot the owner said it was, and the closest he's ever seen was within 10 feet of where the owner said.
"Our memories are just horrible in a grassy field like this," Clark said as he recently helped Lexington physician Dennis Williams look for his wedding ring.
Williams had been clipping hedges on the borders of a field outside his church when he realized his ring was gone. He said the sweat from working in the summer sun coupled with his recent weight loss were probably the reasons his ring slipped off while he was walking back to the parking lot.
Williams' fellow churchgoer Scott Morgan discovered Clark online, and two days later Clark was in the field, trying to help Williams retrace his steps to where the ring might have slipped off.
This time their search came up empty. Clark says people should immediately mark the area they lost their ring to increase the chances of finding it.
A buried ring makes a specific sound on a detector, unlike a tab from a soda can.
"That's why a lot of people quit the hobby — because it takes a while to learn that," Clark said. "They end up with a pocket full of tabs. That's no fun. They end up with a metal detector in the closet."
Clark turns down about 10 cases a year because the ring was lost in water, or in an area so large that recovery would be nearly impossible.
Clark said metal detecting is great for both mind and the body. "I go to the gym every time I go metal detecting," Clark said. "It's great exercise and it's really good for the mind. It's meditative."