NEWPORT - Twin brothers Nathan and Westin Ritchie, 11, and their best friend, 12-year-old Timothy Seevers of Warren Township, got more than they bargained for while treasure hunting with the Ritchies' stepfather, Aaron Chidester, on a farm in the Newport area Sunday afternoon.
The trio discovered a World War II-era aerial bomb casing buried in the woods.
"We just got a metal detector for Christmas and were out searching for stuff-usually looking for coins," Nathan said. "We even found a rifle one time."
Photo provided by Erica Chidester
Treasure hunters, from left, Timothy Seevers, Nathan Ritchie, standing, and Westin Ritchie are shown with the World War II aerial bomb casing they discovered on a farm near Newport Sunday afternoon.
But while scanning through the woods on their uncle's farm Sunday the metal detector located something very large.
"Nathan was using the metal detector and we heard a loud beep," Westin said. "He moved it around and we could tell it was something pretty big. All we could see was a fin sticking out of the ground."
Equipped with folding shovels, the boys began digging.
"At first I thought it was a rocket," Seevers said. "It was in two pieces, and the 'warhead' end weighed about 20 pounds."
The Ritchies' mother, Erica Chidester, said the boys did a little celebration dance when they saw lettering on the side of the casing that looked like "USS."
Aaron Chidester said once the shell was uncovered he could tell it had been buried for a long time.
"It was half full of water, and there were holes in the bottom with water leaking out, so there wasn't any reason to be concerned that it might be dangerous," he said. "We put the pieces together, stood it up and took a picture."
The Washington County Sheriff's Office was notified of the find and picked up the casing to check it for possible explosives.
"I didn't really expect to find anything, but we always like to check, just in case," said Deputy John Miller, who has investigated-and sometimes exploded-a variety of such devices, often kept as souvenirs by soldiers returning from past wars.
He said the five-foot empty casing found near Newport was originally designed as a World War II aerial bomb, to be dropped on enemy targets in Europe.
"Fully loaded with explosives it would have weighed about 250 pounds, but empty it's around 75 pounds," Miller said. "In addition to the explosives, they often put a charge of black powder in the nose of the bomb that would emit white smoke so pilots could tell if the bomb had hit its target on the ground far below."
He said if any dry black powder had been inside the shell it could have ignited, but the casing the boys discovered was completely empty.
Miller noted the casing had been painted blue at one time, which indicated it had probably been used for a practice dummy, possibly filled with sand for bomber training during the Vietnam War era.
How it ended up on a farm in Washington County is anybody's guess.
Miller said it was probably headed for a metal scrap pile.
But such bomb casings do have an interesting history.
After the war the Germans would steam the undetonated explosives to separate nitrogen from the rest of the material for use as fertilizer on their farmlands.
"But (the U.S.) ran low on the bomb casings at one time and bought many back from the Germans," Miller said. "The tail fins were modified from the original 'box-style' fins and some were used for practice from supersonic bombers in the Vietnam era."
He said the Washington County Sheriff's Office receives several calls every year from people who have discovered various types of explosive devices, most brought home as memorabilia from World War II, World War I and even from the Civil War.
"Those scare me the most, because they're often very unstable," Miller said.
He cautions anyone finding such a device to leave it alone and call the sheriff's office at 740-376-7070.