Chasing the pot ’o gold

Bob Van Camp

PHOTO BY Vic Cantu

Paradise resident Bob Van Camp (aka “Digger Bob”) loves everything about gold and silver. Especially digging for it and finding it. In fact, remember the 5-pound gold nugget found in the Butte foothills last summer? That “Butte Nugget” sold for $350,000 and was found by someone using one of the metal detectors Digger Bob sells from his Comstock Metal Detectors home shop, and that was Digger Bob holding the nugget in the photo on the front page of the daily paper announcing the find last October. Find him online at or call him at 877-9602.

How did you come into contact with the ‘Butte Nugget’?

The finder, who is anonymous, is a longtime customer of mine. He came to me immediately, speechless, to show it off and seeking advice. It was a beautiful 6 1/4 troy pounds, or 75 troy ounces, worth about $90,000 in gold, but sold at auction for $350,000 because of its rarity. I kept it out of the papers until it was out of the finder’s possession and at the auction house. I made a short video on my website introducing it to the world.

What are the biggest finds you’ve made?

My biggest find was $1.3 million in stolen gold coins I found for the DA for a case here in 1995. My biggest personal find was 44 gold coins in the garden of an old Chico-area house in 1984, worth about $50,000. I also found an 11.5 ounce gold nugget in 2001, worth about $10,000-$15,000, that I may need for retirement.

Did the ‘Butte Nugget’ publicity boost your business?

I thought it would, but for some reason it hasn’t. Many people may not have thought it was real. The finder himself has found a few small nuggets since then, but nothing major.

What got you into hunting for gold and silver?

I became interested in the history of gold when I moved to California in 1966. Then in the late ’70s silver skyrocketed in price so I started buying silver coins, then realized I could find them myself with a metal detector. I also loved the stories behind the objects I found. Then I realized I could make money selling the detectors, so I started a business selling them from my spare bedroom. But my regular job is a logistics manager for Lundberg Family Farms.

Does your business make you a lot of money?

No, it’s really just “play money” to fund my week-long, gold-hunting trips to places like the Nevada desert. I go with friends or with the Paradise Ridge Diggers club.

What’s your take on the recent gold-finding reality shows?

I wasn’t impressed with Alaska Gold Diggers. Those people are absolute idiots. They have their sluice boxes backward and don’t know how to mine. Lately, it’s gotten better and they’ve actually found gold. The Diggers show on National Geographic channel is embarrassing—the producers make them jump up and down when they find a worthless mercury dime.

Where can people hunt for surface gold themselves?

They can search in Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management areas. Also on private property with the owner’s OK. But if you’re on public land, you can’t destroy, disturb or retrieve historical things. When in doubt, ask someone.