LANDO -- Drive to Lando on a warm spring Saturday and look for the little white Mazda.
Near the car, in the woods or a field around this mill village, stands Ellen Allen, 5 feet 3 inches tall, but seeming a bit taller when she's wearing her headphones and swinging her White's Prizm IV metal detector, the machine beeping and blipping to tell her if treasure lies below.
"Every minute I have free, I'm out metal detecting," Allen, 59, said. "It's like an addiction. Every time you find something, you want to go more and more."
But the Edgemoor resident isn't looking for wealth. Since her brother gave her the small black detector for her birthday a few years ago, she has been searching for items that reflect the history of Lando, the community she has called home since she was 14.
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"This little village is important to the people who grew up here," she said.
During the past year, Allen unearthed what she considers her greatest find: a World War I victory medal. Like many of the other items she digs up, she donated the medal to the Manetta Mills History Center, the Lando museum housed in the same building as the post office.
The museum was so grateful for Allen's contributions that a small glass case was devoted to her discoveries. Some of them, such as the medal, have historical interest. Others, such as the small metal cars and marbles, are just fun additions.
"It's meant a lot to us," said museum employee Joe Polk. "I'm just glad she's the type of person that's willing to share stuff with us."
For Allen, giving is natural. Her father spent years toiling in Manetta Mills, the old textile anchor of the tiny village along S.C. 901. Her mother also worked in the mill when she was young, staying home after having her children.
The youngest of four children, Allen loved her tiny hometown. After she graduated from Lewisville High in May 1966, she went to work in the mill. She was happy, she said, even though it got so hot that you couldn't let your arms fall because of the chance of getting heat rash.
"It was hard work, but it was good work," she said. She spent seven years at mills in Lando and Rock Hill. For the last 21 years, she's been employed by the Rock Hill police department, and she now works as a clerk in the records office.
Allen first thought about metal detecting some 10 years ago when she saw a commercial for White's detectors.
"I thought, 'I'd love to do that'," Allen said. "But I never wanted to spend the money. It was a lot of money to spend for a toy."
Then she came home one night and found her brother had bought her one.
"I found my first penny in my front yard, and I was hooked," she said.
She learned her way around the machine, how to listen for the consistent pattern of beeps that tells her when she's close to something. The metal detector also indicates what the item might be and how far below the surface she'll have to dig to get it.
Because she works afternoons and nights, Allen can go searching on weekday mornings. Then there are Saturdays when, if the weather's right, she'll grab a bottle of water and a granola bar and search the hills of Lando until dark.
She has a wooden-handled digging tool that once was forked but has since been worn to a nub. Along with that, she carries two other gardening tools and blue gloves. She has a small rag to hold the dirt she removes until she finds what she's looking for and can pour it back into the ground.
A friend in the field
Although she often goes searching alone, last March she got some company when Lt. Dart Raymes began tagging along.
Raymes, who has spent nearly 25 years with the Rock Hill police, said he'd been interested in metal detecting for years and told Allen after she got hers that one day he'd buy a machine and go with her. When his daughter's boyfriend told him his family had one gathering dust, Raymes gladly accepted it and started joining Allen on her searches, learning the ropes.
Like Allen, Raymes gets joy in searching for items with historical value to local folks, people with memories of the mill who visit the history center.
"When you can find something and put it in that history center and somebody else can get some enjoyment out of it, that makes it all worth the find," he said. "For either one of us, it's not about things that are necessarily of monetary value."
Allen does keep a few items for herself. She places her treasures in a small wooden chest at her home. That's where she stores her wheat pennies, her silver dimes, game tokens and her oldest piece -- an 1865 2-cent coin.
When asked why she gives away the items she values most, Allen talks about Lando and coming to this post office to check the mail as a child. She remembers shooting marbles here, breaking her arm at age 6 and wrecking the bicycle she'd had for three days when she was 12. She recalls crying when her family moved to Edgemoor and crying again decades later when her old home was finally torn down.
That's why she offers so many of her earth-stained treasures. "My whole life was right here," she said, "in this little village."