‘American Pickers’ features back roads, hidden treasures and compelling storiesWritten by Keith Bergman | | email@example.com
Think of any one-of-a-kind piece of history at an antique shop. Now imagine that same object, forgotten and cobwebbed in some barn or attic. How did it get to the store shelf? Chances are, it was rescued by a picker.
Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are inarguably the two most famous pickers in America. Their reality show, “American Pickers,” debuted last year on the History cable station, quickly amassing 3-5 million viewers per episode. Wolfe and Fritz travel the back roads in their trusty van, knocking on doors, interacting with real folks far outside the realm of blow-dried TV glitterati, haggling with them over the worth of everything from rusty bicycles to old signs to jukeboxes. It’s addictive and successful — after a ten-show first season, History renewed “American Pickers” for a whopping 26 episodes.
Wolfe and Fritz, friends since eighth grade, have been scavenging and dealing since childhood, turning their hobby into a career as adults.
“Frank and I would run ads in these small towns, put up flyers, and no one would ever call us,” Wolfe recalled in a recent interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “So we started hitting gravel roads and knocking on doors. ‘Got any old bicycles? Got any old motorcycles?’ It just kinda snowballed from there into a business.”
Wolfe continued, “We’d come across these people with incredible stories, and their connection with the piece. And the way we were finding things was different from what anyone else was doing … I’d come home with all these stories, and my friends would tell me ‘you really need to start documenting some of this stuff.’ I started filming myself, traveling around and digging in barns, and when Frank and I would travel together, we’d film each other. Say I was on a back road, buying something from someone, I’d give them the camera and have them filming me talking about the item. Believe me, I got some really weird reactions!”
While the show is popular, some take exception to the duo and their tactics, accusing them of preying on elderly victims for their heirlooms.
“I think the biggest criticism is that we’re out deliberately searching for old people,” Wolfe said. “We’re not searching for old people, we’re searching for old stuff, and the thing is, we want to discover the back roads of America and these stories. The older people in this country — they’re a wealth of knowledge … when you can actually talk to somebody like that, and have [their] stories unfold, it makes me wonder sometimes if [the critics are] watching the same show that we are. Another thing people should be aware of is that when we go to someone’s property, a lot of times there are other family members there, there’s nine people in our crew there … it’s not as intimate as it looks on television.”
Fritz chimed in: “Nobody sells anything they don’t want to. We don’t strong-arm anybody. A lot of these people have stuff that’s just going to waste. They don’t know where to get rid of it, they don’t have the customer base, don’t know what it’s worth … a lot of times, we’re recycling things, we’re putting things back into people’s hands — they’re living a new life.”
Wolfe’s goal for the show, beyond the day-to-day search for the next great pick, is the celebration of collecting, of forgotten objects, unsung people and their stories.
“Some of the stuff we buy is dirty and rusty, but the people at the swap meets where we grew up, the people who taught us what we know, that was the kind of stuff they were buying and selling, and making a living at,” he said. “Everything that’s antique doesn’t have to be Victorian. You don’t have to have a blue blazer and ten cats to be an antique dealer. [People] need to know that antiques are fun, and cool and an adventure. I think that’s what young people like about the show, is that these places still exist, and these items still exist. These stories are still there. Get out of your own door sometime and take a look around you, and you’ll be amazed at some of the things you can find.”
Season 2 of “American Pickers” began June 7 on History. Want to let the American Pickers know about your barn full of “rusty gold”? Drop their team a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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