Ten years ago Bobby DiPalo experienced a tragic accident when he fell twenty feet from a tree stand and broke his back leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. I did not know Bobby back then. I only recently became acquainted with him through his daughter-in-law Toni, a secretary for one of our local police chiefs and a burgeoning metal detecting fanatic herself. While I was talking to her, Toni excitedly exclaimed, “You have to meet my father-in-law Bobby who loves history and wants to learn how to metal detect!” Shortly thereafter I received an email from Bobby. I quickly picked up on his energy and enthusiasm about history and metal detecting. After that we exchanged several emails and finally one day spoke on the phone as we were planning a treasure hunt. In that conversation Bobby dropped a bomb on me when he asked, "You do know that I am paralyzed, don't you?" I did not know until that moment, but with Bobby's will to live and excel in life, it was not an important fact to share as “handicapped” is not a word in his vocabulary.
Before long we were taking long jaunts deep into the woods on roads less traveled in search of suitable hunting sites for treasurers. I quickly developed an appreciation for the obstacles that he faced just traveling to suitable detecting sites let alone detecting, digging and recovering objects from the ground. I let him borrow my Garrett ProPointer one day, and he soon surprised me as he sat on the ground recovering one artifact after another after I cleared away the topsoil and miscellaneous debris.
Bobby DiPalo using the Garrett Pro-Pointer to find targets in some debris.
Bobby and his family have a beautiful home on an island in Narragansett Bay that is steeped in Native American and colonial history, and one day he suggested that we catch the ferry on a Friday afternoon and spend the weekend metal detecting. Bobby insisted driving to the ferry in his specially equipped van that was loaded with our equipment and food supplies. As we prepared to make our way to the ferry landing, Bobby took the lead with his wheelchair loaded with supplies and disappeared up a driveway to the main street. I looked like a soldier preparing for war with my digging tools, detector, and other supplies. As I rounded the corner I was startled to behold Bobby lying on the ground in a rut between two buildings laughing, telling me to upright the wheelchair. Satisfied that he was not hurt, we both started laughing and he stated, "Boy, are you in for a long weekend!" Little did I know just how true that statement would be. We boarded the ferry and within twenty minutes we were on the island with enough supplies for a family of eight.
Bobby keeps a second vehicle on the island, and soon we were off to the family retreat to unpack and hit the trail. He mentioned that he had a brand new electric wheelchair in the basement that he had never used. We charged it right up and were on our way to a 17th century farm. Well approximately 100 yards up a muddied dirt path, the electric chair went dead and guess who had to push Bobby in the chair through the woods and puddles and back to the house? You guessed it, me!
This is a brass World War II Medical Corps button that Bobby located with his Garrett Pro Pointer pinpointer metal detector.
When we got there, Bobby exclaimed that he had a better idea: a huge John Deere tractor in the basement with a full tank of gas. As he drove it out of the basement, we realized that the front tire was flat. Do you think that stopped him from driving it into the woods behind his home? No, he was dead set on showing me an old bottle dump that he had discovered the previous fall. The week prior had seen a deluge of rain and the woods were full of mud puddles and bugs. The way Bobby drove you would think he was behind the wheel of a D-9 bulldozer! Half way into the woods his chair bogged down in a quicksand-like pool, requiring me to pick up the back end of the tractor to free him. As the wheels lifted off the ground, I was splattered with mud and brush from head to toe but I was able to free him, flat tire and all. Shortly after that, we arrived at the Turn of the Century bottle dump. Before the tractor could even come to a halt, there was Bobby sliding off the seat onto the ground reaching up for his digging tools. He looked up at me and said, “You probably won't forget this weekend, will ya?” and guessed that I would probably not want to go out with him again. Well, that was several months ago and despite the fact that I fractured my right foot on that digging adventure, we have treasure hunted together several times since and have additional trips in the making.
Bobby DiPalo riding his tractor to the next site.
The rest is history and Bobby is now able to participate rather than watch. Upon hearing of Bobby's love of the hobby, Garrett was touched by the story and was generous enough to donate a ProPointer and a magnetic pick which he uses religiously during hunts. Soon after spending time with this man, God revealed many things to me about Bobby, myself and about humanity. I have learned more from him than what I thought I would give. Isn't life great!