Metal Detecting Ghost Towns, Interview Phil Massie

Detectorist Phil Massie is a ghost town hunter; he researches to find towns that used to be bustling but have no buildings that are standing today. The ghost towns are mostly railroad towns, logging camps, tent cities, and vacant mines.

Metal Detecting Ghost Town Finds
Phil Massie with a Miner’s Entrance Tag

Phil swings an XP Deus II metal detector and showcases some impressive relic finds on his social media, he is a talented detectorist. Residing in Washington State, Phil focuses on detecting the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington State. Every couple of years, Phil also travels to detect in Nevada, California, and Arizona.

His passion for finding history started young. Phil grew up southwest of Detroit and would visit his grandparents during the summer in the northern part of mainland Michigan. While visiting them, he would find clay pipes in the woods. From there, his passion grew. He got his first metal detector at six years old, which was an old Whites Metal Detector that used C Batteries.  

Metal Detecting Finds Washington
A Small Sample of Phil’s Metal Detecting Finds

Phil was open to having me interview him and gain insights into finding and metal detecting ghost towns. See my questions and his answers below.

Phil’s Metal Detecting and Relic Finding Background.

Before swinging the XP Deus II, what other metal detectors did you use?
I swung a Garrett AT Pro and the Deus I 

What are some relic finds you are proud of?
That is a tough question. It’s hard for me to pick between the Haitian Phoenix button or the Winchester Model 1886 rifle.

Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle and XP Deus II
Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Rifle
Haitian Phoenix Button
Haitian Phoenix Button

I also notice you have an impressive antique bottle collection. What are your favorites you have found?
It would have to be the Osseward pharmacy bottle. They were located in downtown Seattle and made delivery to remote towns via horse and motorcycle. 

Osseward Pharmacy Bottle
Osseward Pharmacy Bottle

Metal Detecting Ghost Towns

What are your methods of finding locations to metal detect? How do you narrow down where ghost towns are?
I will read old newspapers and study old maps. Once I find a place of interest, I will spend hours researching. 

How do you locate where tent cities are? For example, logger tent cities? 
I use Lidar maps for narrowing probable spots, and then it’s boots on the ground with my detector in all metal mode.

How do you map out coordinates to have in hand on location to understand where buildings once used to stand?
My phone is my number one tool for the hobby. I will use drop pins on Google Maps to guide me to spots of interest. Old pictures help, but the terrain changes. Keep track of nails. An outline will start to appear.

When you get to a new location, a ghost town, or an old home lot, where do you start detecting, especially if you have limited time?
I start detecting as soon as I think I’m within a couple of hundred feet. Let your finds talk to you. Personal or home items tell me I’m near the house. 

How do you sort out what to dig and not to dig if the argument for relic metal detecting is to dig everything, but there could be a ton of iron and junk metal from nails to metal roofs?
I dig it all. The effort is worth the reward. Set the unwanted stuff in a pile. I’ve found silver and gold masked and under iron. Clearing a spot you will revisit will bring you the finds you want to find. 

Bottle Dump Digging Tips

Can you give the readers some tips on how to find a bottle dump? 
I look for broken glass away from and in places that you wouldn’t go if you were living there. Typically, close to the outhouse on the side of a steep hill or ravine. 

In general, from a house, camp, or mine, how far are bottle dumps away from a structure?
Out here, they are typically close. Within a hundred feet or a little more. Recently, I found the dump from a resort, and they dumped under the resort. Keeping it out of sight back then.

XP Deus II Setting and Tips

XP Deus II 1st Great Seal of Washington State
1st Great Seal of Washington State

What is your favorite setting for the Deus II for metal detecting trashy lots?
I use the Fast 40 setting. I can hear the high tones in between the iron or trash.

What VDI range do you tend to dig when metal detecting old lots and ghost towns?
All ranges and dig them all. A rifle, pick axe, an ox shoe, skeleton key padlock, and lots more would be missed. 

Do you use any aftermarket accessories for your XP Deus, and would you recommend them?
I don’t, but only because nothing aftermarket is available for the Deus II.  I will get a smaller coil when one comes out. I use the 9″ coil for now.

I would like to thank Phil Massie for sharing his tips for metal detecting ghost towns. For those who will be utilizing the tips, please always make sure you know the local metal detecting laws and have the proper permissions before entering a property or metal detecting on government land.

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