COSTA MESA — There was buried treasure in the backyard just waiting to be dug up.
And the family knew it.
So one day the granddaughter decided to excavate what her grandmother, an escapee from an oppressive Russian tsarist rule, put in the dirt years ago.
Turns out it was $57,000 worth of Russian gold rubles.
That's just one story Colleen Rivera likes to tell. Witnessing such impressive finds is part of her job as a field manager for the Ohio Valley Gold & Silver Refinery's traveling roadshow.
The Springfield, Ill.-based company is in Costa Mesa through Saturday looking to buy precious metals, jewelry, historical artifacts, antiques and other collectibles.
"With cutbacks, layoffs, cutbacks against insurance … people are needing residual income boosts," Rivera said. "[Selling to us] is a great way to do it."
Rivera and her two Ohio Valley colleagues have set up shop all week in the Best Western Newport Mesa Inn, 2642 Newport Blvd. They operate from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
On Tuesday morning a trickle of the roadshow's first customers were coming in with various trinkets.
Among them was Emily Silva of Newport Beach. Like most customers, she was hoping her items — including an old weather vane that's "years and years" old, some English plates and a pitcher featuring Cutty Sark whisky and "Captain John Willis" — might be worth some cash.
But no such luck.
"The appraiser said it wasn't old enough," Silva said.
But she was smiling and still in good spirits as she left the hotel.
Fullerton resident Dave Gluhak had better luck. He brought in some scrap gold and coins, including an American 1-cent piece dated 1855.
No valuable luck with the coins, but the gold — always in demand — netted him a not-too-shabby check for $387.15.
Christina Fitzgerald's father was in the Army during World War II. After his European tour, he brought home some coins, European currency and other items.
Fitzgerald, a Costa Mesa resident, decided to bring in some of her father's coins and currency, which earlier were locked in a box that needed a locksmith's help to open.
"I don't know if they're worth anything, but I just thought I'd be interested to find out if anything had value to it," Fitzgerald said.
"For a couple of pennies, a couple of dimes and nickels and stuff," she got a check for $50.
But the antique collector — who used to refurbish barbers' chairs bought in Mexico for $20 to $30, then resell them for as much as $1,500 in the U.S. — may be back later this week. Her father also left her some Luger pistols. The guns used by Nazi Germany officers are highly sought-after.
Rivera and her team were in Salinas in Northern California last week. Next week they head north again to Camarillo.
All items bought by Ohio Valley go back to big collection warehouses in Springfield, Rivera said. Some of the metals are melted and resold. Some collectibles are resold to collectors who are in the company's database.
Because the roadshow deals with items to which customers form emotional bondscan be emotionally bound to, Rivera said some like knowing their items, once sold to Ohio Valley, are going into the hands of other interested parties.
"They like to know that their item is going to go to a collector," she said. "It's not going to go into the big fire pit."
Popular TV shows like "Pawn Stars," about a family-owned Las Vegas pawn shop, and "American Pickers," which follows two men in search of dusty antiques, are getting Americans thinking about their old stuff — and that can affect business, Rivera said.
"I think it's raised an awareness of the fact that these old pieces, which people would just donate to the thrift store, people are thinking maybe there's some value there," she said.
Rivera's team is one of dozens around the country. Last week, Rivera's roadshow had about 300 customers stop by. She hopes for a similar turnout this week.
Some of those sales might be significant, like the one Rivera remembers when a woman in great need of money brought in her sterling silver sets. She got $3,000 for them.
"That money saved her house," Rivera said. "She was about to go into foreclosure. It was enough to bring her mortgage payment current. That was a very cool moment.
"There were lots of hugs and kisses for that!"