An old WWI artillery shell was the last thing Rich Johnson expected to dig up from his backyard on Wednesday.

Johnson, who has discovered old glass bottles and spare automobile parts in his backyard before, decided to keep the shell until a coworker advised him to call authorities.

Johnson called the police Thursday and within an hour, police, the fire department and the Ellsworth Air Force Base’s Explosive Ordnance Team were at his door in the 2700 block of West Omaha Street.

“The air force came out with their bomb suits and took it out to the landfill, and probably blew it up with a couple pounds of C4,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he had been digging up rocks for a flower bed when he stumbled upon the shell.

“I took my rake, pulled back a rock and there was the shell,” Johnson said.

Born and raised in the 60s, Johnson said his curiosity for antiques got the best of him. He said he took the shell into his basement and propped it up on his bar, amid his collection of old cans, for a conversation starter.

“You don’t find bombs in your backyard every day,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really thinking it was probably a live round.”

Steven Merrill, public affairs specialist for Ellsworth Air Force Base, said four members of the explosive ordnance team responded to the call and disposed of the shell. He said the team is trained to deal with ordnance, explosive devices and chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

“This is a dangerous job that requires a great deal of knowledge and exacting attention to detail,” Merrill said.

Finding artillery shells is a pretty random event, Merrill said. The ordnance team has extracted shells from Rapid City, Kyle, Black Hawk and Box Elder in the last few years, he said.

Tarah Heupel, a Rapid City Police spokeswoman, said the discovery is the third or fourth time in the last five years that people have found old military ammunition in Rapid City.

According to Rapid City Police, residents once found a rocket warhead in their garage from the Red Shirt Table Area on the Pine Ridge Reservation, last June. A Custer resident discovered a container of C4 explosives while clearing brush in August 2011, police said.

Merrill said it is still unclear how the shell got to be in Johnson’s backyard. Johnson said he thinks it was something someone picked up at some point, forgot about and then lost.

“These houses have been here forever. Back in the day old boys repaired everything that needed to be repaired, and they would sometimes pick up random things and then discard them,” Johnson said.

He said sometimes those discarded items may seem like junk, but sometimes it can be a live ammunition round from WWI, you just have to pay attention.

“There’s history here in Rapid City, in every little thing you find,” Johnson said.

Contact Jackson Bolstad at 394-8419 or

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