An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine

This feature is devoted each month to personalities within the meteorite community. This month we are delighted to share our interview with two personalities.  The team of Steve Arnold and Phil Mani,  Finders of the world's largest oriented pallasite.  The 1,430 pounds or 650 Kg Brenham Pallasite.

Note: The 'King of the Pallasites' will be on display during the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show this month at The Inn Suites (I-10 at St Mary/Speedway) 475 N Granada Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85701

Steve Arnold, Meteorite Hunter

Kathryn & Phil Mani, and Dr. Arthur J. Ehlmann with
the 1,000 pound Brenham found by Stockwell in 1949

Meteorite-Times (MT) - What or who got you interested in meteorites and how old were you when you got your first meteorite?

Steve Arnold (SA) - 15 years ago I bought a book on Treasure Hunting with a metal detector that reinforced the need to research strongly your potential targets. Sounded good to me so I started reading a book that had every lead story of the Topeka Journal for 25 years from 1880 to 1905 if I remember correctly. In going through the stories I ran across one about a Mrs. Kimberly of Kiowa County Kansas having sold a meteorite to the chancellor of what is now the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

The story prompted me to think that "Hey if meteorites were worth money back a hundred years ago, they probably are worth money today! And I think they are made out of metal, so maybe one could find some with a metal detector maybe?"

Steve Arnold hunting the Brenham strewnfield on his ATV

A little further research brought me to one of Nininger's early books, that knocked my socks off when I saw it because it was a book FULL of "treasure maps." There was data on each fall as to how many specimens had been found, how big they were, what type they were, often there were photos, finders names and even the quarter sections on which many had been found. And in some cases there were literal maps as to where these treasures had been located.

Geoff Notkin and Steve Arnold - Chile 1997

A little more research ran me into Blaine Reed who strongly encouraged me to pick up in field recovery where the later Glenn Huss and the late Terry Schmidt had left off.

Phil Mani (PM) - I have been interested in geology and everything related to geology from a very young age. Now, I have two degrees in geology and am a registered professional geologist in both Texas and Arkansas. I have been interested in meteorites and meteorite impacts or astroblems since the mid-80's. It was not until 2000 when I happened across a Butterfields auction I realized meteorites could be owned and collected privately. I bought my first two meteorites at age 40 in this auction

MT - What was your first meteorite?

SA - A few weeks later I found myself in the middle of the Admire strewn field with a Fisher Fero Probe in a 40 acre field. Well, I learned quickly what Nininger had learned quickly into his career and that was that it was easier to find farmers with meteorites than it was to go out and find them myself.

A day or two later, after thoroughly searching about 1/100 of an acre, I met a farmer who had recovered an Admire some 30 years before, but unfortunately, he had sold it to a family friend out of state about 10 year previous. But he had 3 plumb sized pieces still on his fire place mantel, and I was mesmerized by the rusty metal with the olivine crystals sticking out of them. When it was time for me to go he generously offered to let me have one of them.

It took me about 20 minutes to find a pay phone to tell Blaine about my score and ask him if he wanted to buy it. He said sure, and gave me his address and off I mailed it to Durango. Less than a week later there was a check in my mail box that said in the memo "for 121g Admire" and the check was made out for $121.

Wow! On one hand I was excited because my very first treasure map paid off. On the other hand, I was in shock because my calculator divided 100 pounds (the size of the mass my fragment had come off of) by 0.0022 to convert pounds to kilos which equaled 45,454 grams. It hit me like a ton bricks; if I had only found that treasure map and made it to that farm ten years sooner, I would have had a shot at getting a $45,000 rock! This was REAL. I was hooked.

PM - There were two. A beautiful, sculpted Sikhote-Alin individual from Darryl Pitts' Macovich Collection and a dazzling, translucent slice of the Albin pallasite.

MT - Do you have special areas of interest that you focus on in regards to meteorites (thin sections, photography, chemistry, age dating.. etc)?

SA - I don't have a personal collection, as the story above atests, what I get in is almost always for the purpose of getting back out and into others hands. Over the years, I have swerved all over the collecting map.

PM - I have a nice variety of meteorites in my personal collection with virtually all types represented, except for Martian meteorites. I am especially fascinated with lunar meteorites and oriented meteorites.

MT - Does your Family share in your interest in meteorites?

SA- My wife Qynne and daughters Lauren (14) and Kelsey (9) have supported me throughout all my adventures and at the Park Forest recovery effort they were able to take one of the road trips where all three of them were able to find their very first meteorites. In fact, Kelsey and I had one of our experiences published in Astronomy Magazine. This last spring my wife and I were able to take a trip to Oman where she whooped me real good. She found 101 specimens and I found 50.

PM - Yes, they naturally have an interest in meteorites, which has probably blossomed as a result of my enthusiasm. They all have an interest as a result of our recent, overwhelming success in the Brenham strewnfield.

MT - Do you have any special approaches to collecting? (Type collection, only stones, only irons, only by aesthetics, etc. or any and all that you like.)

PM - Aesthetics are extremely important to me. Also, specimens which are hand size or larger are important to me in my collecting. These meteorites provide people unfamiliar with meteorites the opportunity to handle and/or view the specimen without special magnification. I also love to show-off my collection and see the faces of both children and adults when they touch or hold their first meteorite. You can see in their eyes that a million questions are running through their head so fast that they can't begin to ask them.

MT - Do you mind saying how many locations your collection represents?

SA - I have a few dozen odds and ends that are not worth the trouble to post on Ebay, some Omani specimens still and... oh yea, this little Brenham I stumbled on a few weeks ago.

PM - Answer: My collection represents over 50 locations. I pay more attention to aesthetics so often I have more than more individual from the same fall or find.

MT - Is your collection displayed or kept in a dry box or both?

PM - Some of my collection is displayed, including some on loans to museums. Rare specimens not on museum loans are usually kept in a safe box. I prefer to display my collection as much as possible.

MT - Do you ever hunt for meteorites?

SA - Yea, I get out on average once or twice a year to hunt, although I will be doing a lot more of it over the next few years.

Steve Arnold, Gold Basin 1999

PM - Yes, but not as often as I would like. I always hunt for meteorites when I am out in the field for any purpose. I have traveled twice to hunt specifically for meteorites. One was to Park Forrest, Illinois in 2003 with Steve Arnold. I was very successful there with Steve. The other was to Brenham Township, Kansas in October, 2005. There we (Steve) did better.

MT - What is your favorite meteorite in your collection?

SA -Umm, I would have to say my favorite meteorite is that 1,430 pound specimen again.

PM - Answer: I would love to say it is the 1,430 lb. oriented Brenham pallasite Steve Arnold found on October 16, 2005. I feel extremely fortunate that I was there to share the experience with him and document the find. However, I have never considered that specimen part of my own collection or even making it a part of my collection. A meteorite of this rarity, quality and size is not for any one person to own. It is unique and should be in a special place to be enjoyed by the public forever. Until that happens, which may be soon, I will happily be its Curator.

MT - What is your favorite overall if it is not the one above?

SA - One of my favorites was a 1.1g 100% crusted oriented nose cone I found from Park Forest, but I donated it to the Charity Auction in Denver this year, so it is no long in my collection. I do have this little Imilac that I found that is about 10 grams, that has a green olivine crystal in it, the only specimen out of 13,000 or so that I found at Imilac that had a translucent crystal. It is shaped like a crab. Pretty cool. But still, I know this sounds like I am beating a dead horse, but I am quite partial to the 1,420 Brenham. :-)

Steve Arnold and Geoff Notkin - Imilac 1997

PM - Answer: I spent several minutes thinking about my answer to this question and have found it is impossible to answer. Specimens which I found myself in the field remind me of the related meteorite hunting experiences and my friendships with fellow meteorite enthusiasts; these meteorites are very special for that reason. Other specimens are wonderfully aesthetic in whole or in part as to the external and/or internal features characteristic of that particular type, whether irons, stones, or their subtypes. I also have several oriented meteorites which display some or all of the wonderful features of being oriented; each of these stones fascinates me. Lunar meteorites are simply awe-inspiring. I suppose if I could choose only one meteorite I would have a much smaller collection.

MT - What makes these of special interest?

SA - These are all ones I recovered myself.

MT - What meteorites are currently on your wish list?

PM - I don't have a wish list. Opportunities arise from time to time and I try and take advantage of them.

MT - What methods have been most successful in building your collection? (Buying at shows, from dealers by mail, auctions on the web, trading... etc)

PM - I have tried all methods for building my collection, but I find the best method is to work closely and directly with professional meteorite dealers on the specimens I acquire. I remain very happy with all of the meteorites I have acquired this way.

MT - When did the two of you meet?

PM - Steve and I first met in Dallas in 2002. I was considering purchasing a planetary meteorite specimen. Before that, I had come to know Steve though emails and phone conversations following an online purchase of a Monnig meteorite.

MT - How did the partnership form?

PM - Our partnership for recovering Brenham meteorites formed very quickly. Steve and I had several conversations in August and September 2005 regarding meteorite hunting in general. On September 28 he called me and told me of his idea to explore the Brenham strewnfield. The details surrounding his reasons for doing so and the locations which he selected are Steve’s story; he should tell it. However, I can tell you that within 10 to 15 minutes of listening to him and his answers to my questions, I was convinced Steve should undertake additional surveying within the strewnfield. I told him that the facts he presented were so compelling he should try and start as soon as possible, especially after he explained the crop fields were between crops and the weather was perfect. He asked if I was interested in partnering with him and, after we arrived at a fair trade for undertaking the additional surveying (i.e., time, equipment, expenses, etc.), he was off. He left for Kansas the next day and the day after that, in the afternoon, had begun hunting for meteorites.

Steve Arnold hunting the Brenham strewnfield on his ATV

MT - What made the two of you choose the Brenham site to start with?

PM - Steve’s prior research, familiarity with the Brenham strewnfield, and recent contacts with agreeable landowners. Also, I had very recently decided not to purchase a certain building for my oil and gas law practice and some of the money I was “saving” was burning a hole – it needed to be spent on meteorites.

MT - Your success was the fruit of well thought out planning. Tell us about your plan of attack.

PM - Actually, I believed we should have different plans of attack for Steve’s meteorite prospect, each with stages of complexity for the different, possible levels of success. Because of Steve’s incredible success very early on, I threw out all of my original plans of attack and we devised a new one. The details of the original and current plans of attack are a part of our business model for Brenham Meteorite Company and therefore, something we have opted to keep private for now.

Steve digging up a suspected meteorite in the Brenham strewnfield

MT - Christmas came early this year for the two of you. Tell us about Sunday October 16th.

PM - Sunday, October 16, 2005, was an incredible day. It was at the heart of a very interesting five days which began for me on Friday, October 14, 2005. On the 14th, I had driven from San Antonio to Carrizo Springs, Texas, for work, oil and gas title research work. I finished my work in the Carrizo County courthouse at about 4:00 p.m. and began my two hour drive back to San Antonio. At about half way back to San Antonio, I began thinking about the next several days which I would spend with Steve in Greensburg, Kansas hunting meteorites. The anticipation of this trip left me relaxed and satisfied knowing I was going to have a few days off to do some real meteorite hunting and being outdoors, something I don’t do enough of. Also, Steve had previously recovered five wonderful Brenham specimens and he was continuing his surveys identifying additional, potential targets at depth. I arrived in San Antonio in the early evening and met my wife, Kathryn, who was finishing up a meeting at The Club At Sonterra, a country club where she is the General Manager. I said to her and the others who were there that I had a really interesting feeling about my upcoming trip to Kansas. I told her that I was really looking forward to it and I told her that “everything is perfect and we (meaning Steve and Qynne, and Kathryn and I) were on the verge of greatness.” As we left for dinner the others wished me good luck in chasing down meteorites in Kansas. Later that evening after dinner, Kathryn asked me what I hoped Steve and I would accomplish while I was in Kansas and I told her that Steve’s goal was to find the Brenham main mass; he was hoping to find a meteorite that weighed 1,001 lbs., one pound more than the weight of the pallasite in the Greensburg Museum. I said I hoped we would find our first oriented Brenham pallasite; oriented meteorites have always been irresistible to me.

On-site repairs were required almost daily during the Brenham hunt

Early Saturday morning, I flew to Oklahoma City, rented a pickup truck, and made the four-plus hour drive to the strewnfield just outside of Haviland, Kansas. Steve had given me directions. When I drove up, Steve was in Allen Binford’s wheat field towing his detector behind a small tractor. He stopped the tractor, came over to me and said, “Welcome to the strewnfield.” We took the time to drive around for 30 minutes or so and Steve showed me around. He pointed-out the location where he recovered a 280 lb. iron, which I call his Brenham strewnfield rediscovery meteorite. He showed me the location where he had recovered additional meteorites, the Binford’s home and other homes in the area, as well as the approximate location of the Haviland Crater. After a quick trip into Greensburg to get a soda, we went to the business of surveying for meteorites. Steve is extremely driven and focused when he’s around meteorites and he was this way as he began surveying again. All business. I would follow behind the tractor with shovel and small metal detector in hand. He kept telling me, “Dig here,” “Dig here,” “Dig here,” and I did. We spent the next four and half to five hours digging exploratory holes and recovering metal scraps such as plow horse shoes, broken metal tools, fence staples and wire. At about 9:00 p.m., well after dark, we put the tractor and equipment up, and drove to Greensburg. We grabbed a bite to eat and I checked in to my hotel room. A bit later we shared a beer or two out by the hotel’s swimming pool and he told me his plan for Sunday.

Sunday morning we did more driving around the strewnfield. The area was perfect for pheasant hunting; birds were everywhere. At about 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, Dan Woods, the backhoe operator whom Steve had hired to dig the deeper holes, had arrived onsite for the first of the deeper targets. He drove the backhoe the 150 or so yards into the field as Steve and I walked behind, carrying a digital video camera, shovels, and a small metal detector. I began filming as Dan began digging with the backhoe. At about two feet down, Steve ran the small metal detector. No signal. Dan dug another foot or so, having to widen the hole in the process. Afterwards, Steve jumped in the hole and ran the small metal detector. Again, nothing. At this point, Dan and Steve elected to dig to between five and six feet which required Dan to substantially widen the hole, now approximately 10 feet by 10 feet. When the hole was just under six feet deep, Steve climbed down in it and ran the small metal detector. Nothing. No Brenham meteorite was reported as having been found this deep. We checked the piles of dirt to make sure that our target had not been inadvertently removed without us seeing it. Nothing here either. Steve suggested we resurvey using the deep detector. After bringing it to the site and rigging it up, which took several minutes, we ran it over the excavated hole and the detector sounded off like crazy. It appeared to be a target approximately two feet across. Dan went back to digging with the backhoe. Steve and I joked about the signal being a monster meteorite or a “bunker buster.” Dan moved a dirt pile and widened the hole even further. Now we had a hole between 12 and 15 feet wide and were well below six feet. Dan could not excavate the entire hole from one position and move the backhoe to the opposite side of the hole. Here he continued digging. After another foot and a half, Steve yelled for Dan to stop. Dan had moved some dirt which had a slight reddish brown color in it. We were close, very close.

A backhoe is called in to excavate a large Brenham meteorite

Steve climbed down in the hole and began digging with his sharpshooter shovel. An hour and a half into the dig and little did we know it would be another hour and a half before we were ready to lift and recover our meteorite. Steve carefully dug around, probing for the meteorite. At first it appears we may have found two meteorites. Steve worked away the soil and the two melded into a single, large meteorite. A pallasite. We were excited at first, but we quickly became anxious too. Steve had Dan dig a deeper trench very near the meteorite. Here Steve would remove dirt from around the meteorite, throw it in the deeper trench and Dan would scoop it out with the backhoe from time to time. After 45 minutes or so of uncovering the target, a similar trench was dug on the other side of the meteorite and Steve continued his work. Steve’s work slowly revealed the meteorite appeared to be about 10 inches thick and about three feet long. I continued to film while Steve continued to dig. I started becoming very anxious. I think the reason we were more anxious than excited was because we realized we could be very close to recovering a meteorite which might rival the weight of the Greensburg meteorite.

Steve stopped digging with the sharpshooter and began cleaning and brushing off dirt from the top of the meteorite. He uncovered what appeared to be a large, very flat specimen. It sloped away in all directions underneath, the reason we thought it was flat as it laid in situ. I climbed into the hole, took several photographs of Steve with the meteorite and then he and I wrapped and tied nylon tow straps around the meteorite preparing to lift it with the backhoe. After trying a few different ways to wrap it, we found we were ready. I climbed out of the hole as Steve connected the tow straps to the backhoe bucket. Then I helped Steve climb out of the hole.

The new main mass of the Brenham pallasite is hoisted from its hiding place

Steve and I stood on opposite sides of the hole and Steve gave Dan the “go” signal. I knew I had shot too much video of the digging effort and we had run the battery in the recorder so low we would be lucky if we had enough power to record 15 seconds or more of additional video. It was a lucky day and we had about 30 seconds or so of power.

When Steve gave Dan the go signal, I flipped the video recorder on and caught the hydraulics in the backhoe screaming as it tried to lift the meteorite. The meteorite was carefully lifted out of its resting place it enjoyed for the last 2,000 years and began to spin counterclockwise revealing its form to me. Although I didn’t recall doing it, I yelled out to Steve over the backhoe’s roaring engine “It’s oriented Steve, it’s oriented.” A few seconds later, the video recorder went dead and I grabbed my digital camera and quickly shot photographs. Dan moved the meteorite to the surface near the hole on the side away from me where Steve was standing and set it down. As Dan set the meteorite down on the ground, I ran around the hole to the other side of the hole and said to Steve, in as low of voice as possible, but with tremendous excitement, that not only had he found the main mass, but it was oriented. His response to me was “I know, I know” with gritted teeth.

Detail of an olivine crystal pocket in the big Brenham

At this point, Steve and I knew, definitely, that we had just recovered the new Brenham main mass, a beautiful oriented specimen which was not revealed to us until it was lifted from its resting place. As Steve unhooked the tow straps from the backhoe bucket and untied the straps from the meteorite, I climbed back into the hole and began taking photographs of the meteorite’s resting place, a wonderful nearly circular depression in which the nose of this oriented meteorite had rested. I also checked the hole for any fragments or smaller meteorites and recovered very few tiny fragments.

We tied the tow straps on the meteorite again so that it could be lifted by the backhoe once more and moved to Royce and Carolyn Fraziers’ yard, Allen and Mary Binfords’ daughter and son-in-law. As Steve and I drove the truck around to the Fraziers’ home on the section roads, we laughed uncontrollably at an amazing site. The backhoe was driving through the field with meteorite suspended below; a meteorite which you could see almost a half a mile away. We arrived at the Fraziers’ home well before Dan, his backhoe and the meteorite. Steve told the Fraziers that they might want to come out and see what was recovered; it was something very special. About this moment, Allen and Mary Binford drove up in their truck. Mr. Binford was laughing out loud looking at the main mass while Mrs. Binford stood back 20 feet in surprise and disbelief. Steve went to her and took her hand, led her over to the meteorite, told her it was OK and placed her hand on its surface. Then he said “Mary, make a wish; it’s a falling star.” She wished out loud for some new kitchen appliances and we all laughed with her. Lots of photos were taken and there was a long discussion and speculation on the weight of the meteorite, with people guessing weights from between 1,800 lbs. down to 1,200 lbs. No one guessed that it would not be the new main mass. Steve brushed the remaining dirt off of the meteorite for additional photographs.

Soon, Mr. Binford took his pickup truck into Haviland and weighed it on the grain scales. Then he drove it right back to the Fraziers’ farm, about two miles away, and we loaded-up the meteorite. Mr. Binford’s pickup truck with meteorite in the back then headed back to the grain scales this time with a small caravan in tow. Steve and I took several additional photos with my camera, again laughing throughout because the nose of the oriented meteorite was easy to spot rising half a foot or more above the sidewalls of the pickup truck’s bed. The truck was reweighed and the grain scale reported the meteorite weighed between 1,420 lbs. and 1,440 lbs. The 1,430 lbs. being our estimated, but actually unofficial, weight for the main mass. After weighing the new Brenham main mass, we drove back to the Fraziers and carefully off-loaded the meteorite. It was placed in some low grass several feet beyond the Frazier’s driveway. By now, it was well after sunset and beginning to get dark. We said our goodbyes to everyone and headed back to Greensburg. After getting cleaned-up a bit, we grabbed a bite to eat. Dinner was quiet as we were amazed, shocked, and in disbelief. We began to joke with each other a bit about what to do now and Steve jokingly said we should spray paint Kansas highway signs so that they read “See the World’s 2nd Largest Pallasite in Greensburg, Kansas.” Fortunately for us, we found better things to do the rest of that evening and the next day. Mostly, we were trying to make sense of this new data point on Steve’s strewnfield map. Things had quickly become very interesting surrounding our Brenham meteorite recovery ideas. We exchanged a number of ideas and concentrated our thoughts on prioritizing tasks that needed to be quickly undertaken.

Steve visits the FORMER largest mass of the Brenham pallasite in Greensburg, KS

On Monday, I was awakened by Steve; he had the video reorder in hand and was laughing. He said “You need to see this.” He played the last 30 seconds on the recorder – the new main mass being lifted by the struggling backhoe, the slow spin of the meteorite and me yelling to Steve at the top of my lungs over the engine noise – then the recording went dead as the power ran out. He told me he had already watched it about 20 or 30 times and said “Hey Phil, I thought you said you didn’t say anything out loud while it (the meteorite) was coming up.” We watched it several times more and knew how lucky we had been the afternoon before, including with catching just enough of video – amazing video.

The main mass of Brenham is loaded into the InnSuites hotel, Tucson Show 2006

The events on Sunday, October 16, 2005, and my entire, brief stay in Haviland and Greensburg has changed me forever. I appreciate your asking me this interview question because I have thought about that day and the surrounding days a lot these past few months, but this was the first good opportunity to really recall the events and all their details and to share the story from my perspective. Thank you.

MT - What are the future plans for the 'Dynamic Duo'?

PM - We are planning to have the times of our lives in Tucson. For the near term, I believe Steve will continue his efforts to search for and hopefully recover additional Brenham meteorites. We would both like to see the strewnfield fully searched or developed and a final, comprehensive strewnfield map published. I am hopeful that the strewnfield map might reveal some interesting information in the form of distribution patterns of non-oriented and oriented meteorites from the same fall. That is a lot to ask. I have made no plans beyond the Brenham strewnfield, but I am sure that when the right opportunity presents itself, we will be eager and well prepared to act.

The main mass of Brenham being unloaded at the InnSuites Hotel, Tucson Show 2006

The main mass of Brenham Pallasite as displayed at the InnSuites Hotel during the Tucson Show 2006

MT - We'd like to thank Steve and Phil for sharing their history making event here on Meteorite-Times.

For More Information See the Brenham Meteorite Company