James Evans Credit: Matthew Avignone

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Jim Evans, 76, the metal detectorist.

I get paid to find people’s jewelry. I got a call to look for a guy’s high school ring that he lost 42 years ago in his grandfather’s backyard. He told me, “I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I had just bought my first brand-new car, a green Pinto, and I was washing it. I got soap on my hand, and I flipped my hand, and the ring went sailing. I looked for that ring for three days and couldn’t find it.” The grandfather’s house ended up being sold, and the new owner wouldn’t allow him to look. Forty-two years later, the house comes up for sale again. He calls the new owner. She gives him permission. I found it for him in 15 minutes. It was about six inches down in the soil, and there was a little root starting to grow on it.

Seventy percent of my calls are what I refer to as “ring tosses.” That’s where the spouse throws a ring in anger. It’s amazing to me. Why not throw a plate? Why a ring? I never ask why the ring was tossed. It might be adultery. I don’t know, and I don’t really care.

Sometimes they lie about it. I had a lady call me and say, “I dropped my ring on my porch.” Well, I found her ring 35 feet off the porch, so it must have been a little windy when she dropped it. Another lady called me a couple of weeks ago saying, “I lost my diamond stud earring.” I told her, “Bring me the other one, ’cause I’m gonna need to figure out if my detector can even pick it up, since there’s not much metal on it.” She said, “Actually, I threw that one too.”

Fall is a prime season, because people will be raking leaves, throwing leaves. Winter, when there’s snow, that becomes busy. Guys wiping snow off their car, their fingers shrink, they lose their rings. And then in the summertime, people go to the beach and lose their rings. They go in the water, their fingers shrink. Or they put the ring in their shoe, and it starts to rain, and they grab their stuff and start running, and they drop the ring.

If you know where you lost something, the odds are probably 85 percent or better that I’ll find it. But time is of the essence. If you lose it along a sidewalk, someone else may pick it up. Or at the beach. There are a lot of guys with metal detectors out there, plus the beach gets raked every day in the summer. I had a guy the other night who called me from Oak Street Beach. He was wiping sand off his arm and lost his diamond wedding band. He googled “how to find ring in the sand,” and he found me on Ringfinders.com and called me. I found his ring for him in 30 seconds, because he had not left.

I charge a show-up fee of $25 to $100, depending on how far I have to travel. That’s all they owe me unless I find their item. And after I find their item, when they’re on an emotional high, they determine the reward. I make sometimes $500 for ten minutes. And if it’s a ring toss, it’s almost guaranteed it’s in cash.   v