Cooperative News

A diamond in the rough

PEC mechanic finds treasure in unexpected places

As piles of overflowing trash bags pour out of a 10-by-15-foot storage unit, PEC Mechanic Allan Hunt shouts, “Ten dollars!” placing the highest bid. Then the countdown begins: Hunt has only a few hours to rummage through the bags’ contents and clear out the storage unit entirely. He starts to doubt whether he’ll discover anything of value an hour in, but then he spots one lone, white bag in the corner — a potential diamond in the rough.

Gold jewelry on black velvet.
A display of gold jewelry Hunt has found during his expeditions with his metal detector.

One day 30 years ago, Hunt’s initial interest in treasure hunting was sparked when he felt a sudden, random urge to purchase a metal detector. Since then, he’s worn out several metal detectors hunting for buried treasures near Canyon Lake, where he resides. His secret to finding valuable knick-knacks and collectables is always keeping an ear open for historical and unique local stories.

“I listen for where people gather, and what they are doing and why they are there,” Hunt said. “Through my experience, my best go-to places to take along my metal detector are parks, fields and the shores of lakes and rivers.”

You name it; Hunt’s found it. From buffalo nickels, mercury dimes and liberty half dollars to gold-nugget rings and sterling silver necklaces, he finds the thrill of the hunt in an object’s unknown story, not its monetary value. As Hunt sifts through old, upscale trinkets he finds buried under the earth, he always asks himself the question, “What’s its story?”

“You have to think of this stuff this way to make something out of it; otherwise, it’s just meaningless junk,” Hunt said.

Hunt delved deeper into his hobby 10 years ago, when his brother introduced him to bidding at auctions for the contents of unpaid storage units. Because the storage facility wants to lease out the units the same day they’re auctioned, participants get a quick look in the unit and must bid without knowing everything inside. If they win, they have a couple of hours to completely empty the unit and decide what to trash and what’s worth keeping. It’s a “you get whatcha get” type of situation, Hunt explained.

Turquoise jewelry on black velvet.
Turquoise is used in many antique necklaces, bracelets and rings. Hunt has spent countless hours repurposing and refining these pieces. ​He also engraves turquoise detailing into other antique items.

Hunt’s storage unit bids have led him to several big scores. His biggest profit — $700 — came when he found bags of brand-new clothes with the tags still on them, but Hunt said storage bidding isn’t just about the luck of the draw. There’s an art to it, and he has a unique technique that he swears by when he scours units.

“The first thing I look for is all of the bathroom stuff, especially the toothpaste,” Hunt said. “Most people remove their jewelry when they are in the bathroom, and I almost always find something valuable with the toothpaste.”

After collecting jewelry from metal detecting and unit auctions, Hunt started using silver beads he’d found to make rust-proof fishing lures. Looking for more, he began to attend flea markets around the Hill Country, but instead, he left the markets inspired and has been repurposing and creating jewelry pieces for the past seven years.

“I don’t really look for the high price jewelry; I’m looking for the more basic stuff, more like the costume pieces,” Hunt said. “I would say I spend most of my free time doing this now because I like finding these kinds of things and making them new again.”

Turquoise, Navajo sandstone and the occasional diamonds can be found in Hunt’s stash. His oldest piece of jewelry dates back to the 1800s, and it’s made with one of his favorite stones, squash blossom. Expensive pieces aren’t his style, but Hunt’s stockpile of gold and silver is substantial: One year, Hunt sold nearly $1,400 worth of gold from his antiquing trips.

But Hunt’s greatest treasures haven’t necessarily been the most valuable. On that fateful day he bid $10 for a storage unit, Hunt carefully opened the lone white plastic bag to find a portrait of Babe Ruth, autographed by the baseball legend himself.

“I ended up selling the picture for a decent profit,” Hunt said. “I was just happy I found something like that, period.”

Hunt admits he has entertained the idea of making his hobbies a full-time affair, but for now, he’s happy being a PEC mechanic by day and a treasure hunter in his free time. It’s all work, but Hunt has never seen it that way.

“I believe in the saying, ‘If you enjoy your work, you’ll never work a day in your life,'” Hunt said. “I love my work [at PEC], the work I do with my jewelry and with my other interests, so I guess I’ve never worked a day in my life. How lucky am I?”