He’s a real gold digger

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PITTSBURGH – Neil Baney is a gold-digging barbarian.

Just ask him. He will tell you all about it.

Baney, vice president of AGI Visual Concepts in Pittsburgh, was recently named Pennsylvania state director of the Gold Prospectors Association of America, which prospects for gold throughout the country.

He is also a member (and barbarian) of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that recreates the Middle Ages.

Most people haven’t heard of either group, Baney said.

“It’s very hard for me to realize that the rest of the world doesn’t know about these things,” he said. “I’ve been doing them my whole life.”

Looking for gold. Baney first heard about the gold prospecting association when he was a teenager. He was watching the Merv Griffin Show when George “Buzzard” Massie, founder of the association, was telling Griffin about gold prospecting.

Twenty years later, Baney was watching the Outdoor television network and Massie was pitching the same association. He has been hunting for gold ever since.

Baney, now president of the 150-member Allegheny chapter, has found gold in 12 states, with the streams in the northwest and northeast corners of Pennsylvania being the gold belts in his home state.

“Glaciers brought gold here like big bulldozers,” he said.

No money. He is not searching for his fortune in the streams of the Keystone State. It’s just a hobby.

“It gives me another excuse to get out of the house,” the avid hunter and fisherman said.

The most memorable gold prospecting trip for Baney was in Nome, Alaska. Baney spent a week there one July during the 10 to 12 weeks out of the year the waters are not frozen. The association has 2,000 acres near Nome, which can only be reached by plane, boat and dog sled.

During his seven days there, Baney ate salmon for breakfast and walked among grizzly bears and caribou, and between 20- to 30-foot snow drifts. It was paradise for this outdoorsman. The only difficulty was the 24-hours-a-day sunlight.

“You had to bury yourself under blankets to sleep,” he said.

He returned home with $300 in gold, which doesn’t cover the bottom of his panning dish.

Middle ages. To understand why Baney is a barbarian, you must first understand the Society for Creative Anachronism. The society formed in 1966 in Berkeley, Calif. Just like Civil War reenactors, this group reenacts anything that interests them during the Middle Ages.

Worldwide kingdom. Seventeen kingdoms spread throughout the world compose the association. Each kingdom has a king, queen, prince, princess and a council to run the kingdom.

The nearly quarter-million members worldwide learn almost anything about the Middle Ages – stretching from 600 to 1600 A.D.

Events are held throughout the year where members meet, eat and do medieval activities like glass-blowing, basketry, masonry, archery, poetry, leather-working and combat.

The biggest event is the Pennsic War, which ran Aug. 2 to Aug. 18 this year at Coopers Lake campground in Slippery Rock, Pa. The 2001 war drew more than 12,000 members.

Battle rages. The war is a battle between the Kingdom of the East – which stretches from Pennsylvania through the New England states and ends in Newfoundland – against the Kingdom of the Middle – which stretches from Ohio to Minnesota to Manitoba.

Each member of the association develops a persona – a person they would have liked to been during the Middle Ages. The only rule is that the person could not have actually existed.

“You could be King George’s bastard nephew if you wanted,” Baney said.

Baney is a member the Tuchux tribe; the name is devised for his group of 6th century German barbarians, who recreate medieval foot combat at the association’s events.

From the movies. The tribe traveled to the Pennsic War to participate in various battles throughout the two-week event, which also features food, dances and contests. The main event is the Grand Melee, in which combatants are divided into two sides and then charge each other.

“Think of the movie Braveheart. That’s exactly what it is,” Baney said, admitting his tribe has even mooned the other team just like Mel Gibson’s tribe did in the movie.

In the war. Dressed in leather armor, Baney’s tribe clash rattan swords wrapped with duct tape with other fighters. The Tuchux, who other members seriously fear and even spread rumors about, will use their formations and strategies to slice and stab their opponents while trying to remain unscathed themselves.

Fighters take their hobby seriously. Some of the metal armor can take more than 40 hours to build.

Just like in actual wars, there are “deaths,” but they are based on honor. If a fighter receives a blow that would have been life-threatening, then he is “killed.” Nobody is seriously injured, the worst you could get is a bruise or welt, Baney said.

At the end of the event, the fighters go home and life gets back to normal with their 9 to 5 jobs during the week. Baney works one of those, too. He just has a different way of spending his weekends.

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