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American Pickers: Of Mice & Motorcycles

Monday, May 24, 2010
American Pickers
Mike Wolfe and his partner Frank Fritz seek to uncover fogotten pieces of Americana in their new show American Pickers on the History Channel. 
Barn Diving for Bikes and Bric-a-Brac

As we roll around this wandering and beautiful country, riding hill and dale and every wavy road we can find, it’s inevitable that at one time or another curiosity will get the best of our good sense, if we had any to begin with.

Being an adventurous, motorcycling soul comes with a little daring do, so it’s not unnatural to answer the irresistible beckoning of a dilapidated barn, or a field overgrown with rust, or even a suspicious yet somehow inviting basement. This sinister urge, more of a psychotic compulsion really, to forage for lost or forgotten treasure is somehow built into biker DNA.

Somewhere in the dark garage of our motoring minds is the enduring idea that tucked behind one of those clapboard walls and buried under decades of dust and neglect, is an ancient motorcycle of great worth. All it needs is a fresh battery, maybe a little oil and a good, solid kick and it will roar back to life.

Some even make a living at it. The History Channel’s new hit show, American Pickers, stars zealous motorcyclists Mike Wolfe and his picking partner, Frank Fritz. Their mission: find junk no matter where it is, how well it’s hidden, or how rat poop-encrusted it might be without regard to life, limb or mental health.

American Pickers
Having both owned motorcycles as kids, Wolfe and Fritz's biggest interest in the show is discovering two-wheeled relics of the past.
“I’ll buy anything I can sell,” said Wolfe, an engaging kind of guy who bubbles with enthusiasm for the quest. “The treasure hunt only begins with uncovering what we call ‘rusty gold.’ I’ve been doing this a long time, long before it became a TV show, and before Frank joined me and there was a camera crew following around,” added Wolfe. “I’ve found it’s not so much about the rare pieces we return to the light of day as it is about the people.”
 
To Wolfe, each dig reveals a precious piece of Americana and an untold story. He and Fritz are spreading the word one tale at a time, creating a tangible chronicle of how we lived and who we are, a kind of Mark Twain meets Antiques Road Show.
 
Crawling through creepy barns, basements, underground bunkers and bat caves, Wolfe and Fritz cross the nation, plucking booty from the grasp of oblivion. From old steel signs to Depression-era soda fountains and glass gas pumps to rare and endangered motorcycle parts and unidentifiable pieces, they climb up and over heaps of discarded history, and sometimes when they’re really lucky, they unearth the proverbial bike in a barn, complete and rusted solid.
 
“Our biggest passion is old motorcycles,” said Wolfe, whose daily ride is a 1934 Harley-Davidson VL. His garage is also home to a 1913 Indian Twin, a ’41 Knucklehead and a ’48 Chief, among other bikes most of us would sell our mothers for. But he looks to his barn diving partner for real hardcore: “Frank, man, he had a full beard and a Harley by the time he was in the 9th grade.”
 
American Pickers
Wolfe currently restores motorcycles and other recovered treasures out of his shop Antique Archeology, which serves as his office, warehouse and command center.
Wolfe restores motorcycles and other recovered relics and bric-a-brac out of sleepy LeClaire, Iowa, operating Antique Archeology out of a two-story building that serves as office, warehouse, and strategic command center. He was born to pick, having bought his first motorcycle at the age of 13, a deal that involved barter and secrets.
 
“My mother would not have let me live to tell the tale if she found out I bought a bike,” laughed Wolfe, “I had a few other motorcycles after that, but didn’t bother to get my license until I was 18. Collected a lot of tickets during that spell.”
 
Wolfe got the bug, stockpiling rocks, beer cans, tin signs and whatever caught his eye, later spending two years working for the National Motorcycle Museum, hunting for early American motorcycles. He would go on to barnstorm the nation’s countryside, searching for his own crusty Eldorado, and the unexpected pleasure of meeting some very peculiar people.
 
“Once, a guy led me down into his basement—cobwebs, stairs creaking, the whole Stephen King deal—and
American Pickers
Wolfe spent years picking the country alone before his current partner joined him.
American Pickers has been a success for the History Channel because everybody has that romantic notion of finding a treasure at a local garage sale or thrift store.
introduced me to a real human skeleton,” said Wolfe. “Yeah, that was creepy. It was a medical piece, of course, at least I think it was.”
 
Wolfe said people who watch the show, which he said has nearly five million viewers, don’t know about the years he spent picking alone, no crew, no Frank, and no way out. Dueling Banjos was his theme song.
 
“Descending some 23 feet underground into somebody’s rickety burrow just to check out what he might have squirreled away down there could be considered a little unwell,” said Wolfe, “but that’s where you sometimes find the good stuff.”
 
“Man, I was out there, you know, where nobody could hear you scream, with no backup. It’s scary and sketchy, but most of the time these guys are just happy to meet someone who gets it, who appreciates collecting as much as they do.”
 
To be sure, friends, families and sometimes the local constabulary often don’t consider barns, basements, forests and fields of iron, glass and porcelain toilets a healthy hobby. They’re cast as mad hoarders, stacking up eyesores and fire and environmental hazards while creating cozy nests for new breeds of bugs and rodent life.
 
American Pickers
Although they're often labeled as mad hoarders, Wolfe and Fritz like to think of the people they encounter as collectors of an artform.
“Most of the time, they don’t have anybody in their lives who thinks this is cool. And then I come along, and I love it.”
Wolfe offers acceptance in an outcast world and trades, quite fairly, in its unique currency. Among the museum, interior decorator and private collectors he deals with, Wolfe has sold moto artifacts to the likes of Billy Lane, Jesse James and a NASCAR driver he could not yet name.
 
“We’re recyclers, really,” said Wolfe, “some of the things we see and some of the things we buy are almost an art form. We are not antique experts, but I can tell you why it’s important and if there’s a market for it.”
 
Wolfe is still searching for his Holy Grail, a pre-1915 Blackhawk or Hornecker Torpedo motorcycle. If you will sell it, he will come.
 
Visit www.history.com/shows/american-pickers.comwww.antiquearcheology.com and www.frankfritzfinds.com
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The Salvation Army has a Hold on Me
American Pickers
On some uncanny, inexplicable level, American Pickers appeals to the primal picker in all of us. I'm a bit of an amateur myself, having been recruited, in a way, as a mounted soldier in the Salvation Army.

It all starts innocently enough—a yard sale here, a thrift shop on a rainy day there, just recreational shopping really, but before you know it you’re digging through every pawn shop and hand-me-down store you can find like a big man through the all-you-can-eat buffet.
 
It could be hereditary, so if you feel heaps of crap speaking to you, it might be a good idea to get tested. My grandpa was an inventor, bootlegger, master machinist and as the family would quietly say—quite mad. He would collect everything, somehow seeing purpose in things the sane citizen could not imagine, even scooping up whole barrels of broken glass and used plaster. Thing was, he was right.

He accumulated several properties in and around New York City, properly filling each from floor to ceiling with corridors of the discarded and unloved. More impressively, he not only knew at any given moment what was in his massive inventory, but exactly where it was. This produced much awe in my 11-year-old head. Grandpa’s forts of junk and trash were more fun than damn Disneyland.

My collection, despite my best efforts, remains far more humble. It’s a work in progress, but as I look around, I realize nearly every single thing I own, from flatware to furniture, clothes, leathers, motorcycles, bicycles, appliances and the house I stuffed it all in was bought secondhand. Hell, I even found my girlfriend on Craigslist.
 
Joshua Placa
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Comments
Swanksride   March 2, 2012 06:41 AM
Hey guy's< I have an older bike that might appeal to you. It's a 1978 Honda, " Twin Star" 180cm. It is currently in great running condition and really just needs a little TLC. I ride this bike on occasion , but as of recently have discovered I need some very intense medical care to correct some previously done medical procedures. The care I'm about to undergo requires several medical procedures over the next 9 months with the hopes that at that point I'll have beaten cancer,and will be able to live out my life in a somewhat normal way. ( Whatever Normal is.) I think Mike knowing what you said on air, this bike and you are a good fix. Get back to me at the address below, and I have several pictures I can forward to you. Contact me at : strangeract1@hotmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from some one soon. As much as I like the bike I really need the money to help towards my medical care. My daughters would be greatfull as well as my granddaughter. You won't find one like this anywhere, so come get it before someone else does. Thanks Ed.
RSHorses   January 23, 2012 01:51 PM
I have an old Indian Motorcycle hood ornament? made of Amber. It has the number 3 on one side of it. Good condition with the original screw to hold it on. Have pictures. Wish to sell. Email me at ShadowNine@att.net
LUIS -HELLO  December 20, 2010 12:54 PM
WE LIVE IN THE CITY OXNARD CA... MY WIFE ANA AN I LOVE YOUR SHOW
WE LIKE YOUR IDEA OF TURNING AROUND JUNK INTO LUMP SUMS...KEEP THE SHOWS COMING WE LOVE YOU PEOPLE.

PS IF I EVER FIND ANYTHING YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN I PROMISE I WONT HAGGLE.

LUIS.
frank messina from cosmo motoers -vintage parts for sale npchoopers42@yahoo.com  December 13, 2010 11:42 PM
the largest stock of parts in the world benelli river side
Diane Kinnard -Indian Motorcycle Furniture  November 13, 2010 08:42 AM
Is anyone looking for a unique set of furniture. I have a leather couch,2 chairs with the Indian Motorcycle on it. Purchased them from the Indian Motorcycle Bar/Cafe in Toronto, Canada. We live in Mpls, MN. Email: dianekinnard@gmail.com
Gary Kinnard -Indian Motorcycle Furniture  November 13, 2010 08:22 AM
Am looking for someone needing a unique set of furniture. I have a leather couch, 2 chairs and ottoman with the Indian Motorcycle Logo on them. Purchased them from the Indian Motorcycle Bar/Cafe in Toronto, Candada. Live in Mineapolis, MN. No other set around. email: dpkinnard@gmail.com
Ken -Hop Rod Gas Powered Pogo Stick  November 7, 2010 09:46 AM
Have a Hop Rod gas powered pogo stick manufactured by Chance Man. in Wichita, Kansas in the 60s. It's complete & in good condition. Looking to sell it. Are you interested?
BRIAN -OLD BIKE IN MY BASEMENT!!  September 7, 2010 05:03 PM
HI, I HAVE AN OLD BIKE IN MY BASEMENT IT'S COMPLETE 100% I'M A BIKE GUY MYSELF BUT JUST DONT KNOW WHAT THIS THING IS.. THERES AN OVAL EMBLEM ON THE FUEL TANK AND IN THE EMBLEM IS THE LETTER'S "BS" AND THE CARB'S ARE MOUNTED THE ENGINE SIDE COVERS I CAN SEE THEM IN THERE ALSO THE CHOKE CABLE LEADS IN THERE TOO!! ANY IDEA WHAT THIS THING IS LOOKS LIKE ITS FROM THE 60'S OR 70'S I PUT FRESH FUEL IN IT ONE DAY AND KICK THE CRAP OUT OF IF AFTER THE 30TH KICK IT WANTED TO RUN!! BEEN IN MY BASEMENT PROB 22YEARS NOW!!!
Timothy Elliott -Fraks Yellow Chopper  September 1, 2010 11:52 AM
The yellow choper frank purchased in eldorado ks was not for sale. Mike nail the guy that sold it had no right to sell it. That bike belonged to my father, Jon Elliott. i would like to speak to one of you please contact me at 405-921-8304
Mary -old 1940's motorcycles  August 30, 2010 05:24 PM
Hi my name is Mary and my dad has 3 old motorcycles that we just dont have to heart to junk. We r looking to sell them to someone who wants to fix them up. My mom said she saw you guys on tv. soo i looked you up.. if you are interrested in seein pics or finding out more my email is momof5childs@gmail.com . We live in NJ
Hope to hear from you ,
Mary
Raymond Cuppett -I have vintage items for sell  August 29, 2010 05:06 PM
I have vintage items for sell. I'm in Long Beach California and I have a veriaty of glass items such as early china vintage carival ware alot of vintage costume jewlery silver navijo jewlery dolls nick nacks. I'm on dyaliss and all of this has been on my shelfs since bebore 1980s and I have to release it. I was wondering if you guys are interested in looking at my things. My vintage costume jewlery was from my mom and my grandmother from the 1940's to the early 1960's and theres some nice pieces. I hope you'll at least tell me if your interested or not in my offer. Ray
skillet s. swindle -young picker n seller  August 2, 2010 10:43 AM
i need to no how to get ahold of dannelle or frank n mike ive got alot of old stuff they should look threw old old car parts signs n cans etc etc dirt bikes hodoka
Donna Atwood Nottingham New Hampshire -old motorcycles , old cars, trucks and all kinds of antiques a house full  June 15, 2010 10:14 AM
Would love to sell them no room love your show would love to know when you come to New Hampshire come see what we have. Stuff out side and in buildings. phone 603-2342210
angelia mixon -TV SHOW  May 30, 2010 05:14 AM
I love american pickers
Carter -pickin' in ky  May 27, 2010 08:10 PM
just got the word you guys were in here my hometown of Richmond Ky. I hope you guys hit the jackpot and am looking forward to seeing the episode.
sam woodyatt -1948 indian motorcycle road master chjef  May 26, 2010 05:34 PM
its a basket case im looking to sell please contact me at swoodyatt@gmail.com
Debbie Soth -Lover of your show  May 26, 2010 03:59 PM
1200 HD Custom Sporster for sale 2001 model
Great condition
lots of chrome
extra's
selling for under market value $3900. firm
Del -Great show  May 26, 2010 07:29 AM
This is one show that interest my kids too. Can't wait to see new ones!

scott -nj motocross  May 25, 2010 06:19 PM
Great Story. I can't seem to turn the show off whenever it is on.
Drunkula -Good write-up  May 25, 2010 06:37 AM
I like that show!