My Ten Year Caching Experiment, by Joe C.

Metal work has always appealed to me, so I weld as a hobby and a creative release and it brings in extra income. In so doing over the years I have welded various projects for any number of people, known and unknown. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I was referred by a friend in a nearby city to a small group of people looking for some anonymous welding. These people struck me right off as ‘survivalists’ who took OPSEC fairly seriously, so I accepted their geo-caching explanation without questioning and proceeded to cut and weld various pipe and plate to spec, creating a dozen or so rifle length 8” tubes with bolt on flanges as lids. The customers paid and left never to be seen or heard from again.

The experience got me thinking that I wanted to try it for myself. I decided to try a relatively long term (10 year) test. What follows is my experience.
Involving my then college aged daughter we undertook the task as a combination time capsule/cache. In almost all of my welding I end up with most of the scrap material, so using materials on hand I assembled a relatively small steel box with a slip fit lid. The final box dimensions were about 6” square x 16” tall all welded up from 1/8” x 6” flat steel. The slip fit lid was made of the same material which allowed a huge 6” overlap. I was undecided as to the best method of sealing the cache, so I first sealed all the weld joints with silicon and then improvised a rubber seal in the slip fit lid to be secured with 2 large stainless steel hose clamps compressing the rubber seal. It turned out to be fairly heavy stout steel box.

We filled our small cache with a small bag of desiccant, several pictures, a folded up local newspaper, my daughter’s old charm bracelet, a rap music CD, some silver eagles, some pre 64 silver coins, water proof matches, a new Bic lighter, an old small .25 automatic pistol I had purchased in the mid 70’s and rarely used with a box of ammo, toothbrushes, floss, mirror, combs, flint and steel, scissors, tweezers, 50’ of para cord, a Buck folding Hunter, Gerber Multi-tool, sharpening stone, a box knife with several spare blades and a few 9 hr candles. It was fairly full with the newspaper taking up most of the excess space. (Note, I didn’t originally make an inventory, this list comes from after cache retrieval.)

Once our cache was assembled with the slip fit lid clamped down I was still a bit worried if the cache was sealed. Being my typical overkill self, I finally hit on using candle wax. Luckily we had a large supply on hand due to our largely forgotten candle making hobby. Using a slightly oversized cardboard box, I poured about a half inch of hot wax into the bottom of a duct tape sealed cardboard box, After the wax had hardened I set the steel cache in the box and filled the annulus with hot wax until the steel cache was covered by approximately a half inch of wax and then let it harden.

We decided to bury the cache in the backyard and worked out a ‘foolproof’ system for the ideal location.  We walked straight out the back door following the edge of the house directly to the block fence and marked our spot at the base of the fence. It was the north side of the fence, so not only were we working mostly in the shade; the cache would remain in the shade for the duration of the test.

Living in the southwest we are blessed (cursed?) with an over abundance of caliche “soil”. Caliche is actually a type of sedimentary rock that passes for dirt here in the southwest. Digging our cache hole and its subsequent recovery involved specialized digging tools which some may be familiar with but I will attempt to describe them for those who aren’t. When digging holes in caliche many times we use a tool we call a ‘wonder wand’. A wonder wand usually consists of a 3’ (or longer) ½” galvanized pipe nipple coupled into a tee fitting with 6” pipe nipples on either side. One 6” nipple is capped off and the other side is fitted with a garden hose bib. Then you flatten the free end of the 3’ nipple with a hammer, which creates several small openings that work like high pressure cutting jets once a hose is connected and the water pressure is applied. Once water pressure is applied, you hold the two 6” nipples in your hands and place the flattened jets against the ground. With slight hand pressure while rotating the wand the water jets easily cut through the toughest ground. Once you get to your desired depth, you usually pull back and let the hole dry up for a day or so and the rest is relatively easy digging. It’s also useful for finding septic tanks and in general probing the ground. Messy but very useful!

Using our wonder wand, we sank our hole near the base of the fence. I sank the wonder wand the full three foot as I wanted our cache buried deep to preclude accidental discovery. The next day I dug the hole out and buried our cache with the top a full 18” below grade. At the time I wasn’t really too concerned with OPSEC, but our backyard is fairly secluded so it wasn’t really an issue.

Well that all took place in the latter part of 2001, so here it is 2011 and not quite a full ten years. I often thought about it, but had no fixed date when to dig it up. So a few weekends back my 7 year old granddaughter was visiting for the weekend and after playing every video game available and flipping through 300+ cable channels she declared herself bored.  Figuring now was as good a time as any other I broached the idea of a treasure hunt; she of course was totally unaware of the proceedings 10 years before and was quite eager!

So playing the game I broke off a ‘divining rod’ from a tree and proceeded to direct us to a ‘likely’ treasure spot, which was of course my ‘foolproof’ cache location. She, being a smart child was pretty skeptical of the whole ‘divining rod’ until I broke out the same old wonder wand and during my initial ground probe I promptly hit a hard solid object about 18” deep into the ground. I honestly thought I had found my cache in its foolproof location, which just proves there no fool like an old fool! So Papa looked more than a little foolish after digging for 20 minutes and only recovered a large rock. I made probably three more such probings and dug up three more rocks. Granddaughter was again getting bored, and Papa was confused and frustrated, scratching his head and getting fairly muddy. At that point I seriously doubted my fool proof location and was beginning to suspect my cache had been compromised. Repeated probing brought little satisfaction. Finally I decided to excavate the whole muddy mess. Twenty minutes or so later I finally found the cache. At that point I had about a 3’ diameter mud pit, and a 6” square box 18” deep is ridiculously easy to miss! It took another 10 minutes or so to extract the cache from the muck. There was nothing to grasp, it was heavy and slippery and I ended up mostly prying it out of the hole. Hindsight being 20-20, I wished I had added a handle.

We hauled our booty to the patio and hosed all the mud off, and then using a box cutter and a masonry chisel it took about 30 minutes to remove all the wax and cardboard. The steel cache was perfectly intact and exhibited no rust. The hose clamps were intact and were still functioning perfectly if a bit gummy from the wax. We used a small hammer to tap off the slip fit lid, the rubber seal still intact. My granddaughter was beside herself as we dumped our booty on the patio. She couldn’t believe we had actually found treasure! Worried that my deception may ruin her for life I confessed that her Mother and I had buried it many years before. My confession didn’t lessen her excitement at all. While I quickly secured the pistol and knives, my granddaughter pawed at all the other ‘treasure’. She proudly wore her Mother’s old charm bracelet from the booty for the rest of the weekend. And she had a great [heavily redacted] tale to share at school the next week.

Lessons Learned

I never made a real map of my cache as it seemed ridiculous at the time, but I spent quite a bit of time finding my cache in my own backyard! And while it was all fine and worked out for a time capsule, as a cache that your life may depend on, a map is better than your memory ten years later! I’m sure a metal detector would have helped but you might not be able to count on having one come SHTF. I can’t imagine trying to find a cache out in the boonies in only a slightly familiar location. A map is a must. Coordinates would be nice, but you can’t necessarily count on a GPS in SHTF. I also spent an inordinate amount of time actually opening my cache after retrieval. Not acceptable if your life is in jeopardy. And definitely some decent digging tools will be required!
I definitely should have welded/attached a handle to the top of my cache; it would have been so much easier to extract from its hole!
Next time I will attach some light cables to the handle and spread them about laterally in the hole, once you find a cable you could quickly locate your cache.
An inventory would have been nice and should probably be mandatory. I had only the vaguest idea of what I put in the cache all those years ago. I was pleasantly surprised by a US Mint container of 20 silver eagles that I had totally forgotten that I had even purchased let alone cached. An extra 20 ounces of silver at today prices is a nice surprise indeed. [JWR Adds: You did well, and your timing couldn’t have been better. From March 2001 to March 2011, spot silver has increased almost nine times!

In examining the cached items, a few lessons learned. One, the new Bic lighter didn’t work. It would spark, but it was totally empty of gas. I’m fairly sure I would have tested it before I added it to the cache. I assume something must have been jamming the lever when I buried the cache. There was no off odor in the container, and I’m not sure there would be after 10 years. Second, the hot wax I used to seal the cache while totally effective as a seal also softened and deformed the 9 hour candles. They were still usable but barely. Third, it occurred to me that all that sealing wax could be very useful in a true SHTF situation. Fourth, the cached pistol and ammo functioned perfectly later at the range, though the pistol seemed very dry and stiff, in spite of my cleaning and oiling it before caching. I’m not sure of the long term viability of caching gun oil, but it might be worth a try or at least some research. Of course you could use cosmoline, but that would preclude immediate use of the firearm as well.

Lastly, if you are caching in the southwest, find something other than caliche in which to bury your cache. You almost need power tools to get it out later.