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On June 30, 2018, Antique Archaeology hosted their 2nd ever Kid Picker Flea Market in downtown LeClaire, Iowa where the roles were flipped and the kids were the vendors and the adults were the customers. A total of 31 kids between the ages of 6 and 17 traveled with their families from all over the country to sell their antique/vintage/handmade treasures to the public—despite the sweltering heat index of 106 degrees! That didn’t stop the crowds of locals, tourists, Mike Wolfe, and his family, from coming out to support these young entrepreneurs.

Below are moments captured during Kid Picker Flea Market 2018 by LeClaire photographer, Kevin E. Schmidt/Maquoketa Studios.

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The event kicked off with a motivational speech from the American Picker himself. Holding his 6-year-old daughter, Charlie, in his arms, Mike spoke to the crowd about celebrating a child’s mind and why it’s important to encourage a kid’s interest in collecting treasures, especially in the disposable/tech-saturated generation they’re growing up in. He also spoke directly to the kids urging them to follow their picking passions because they’re the ones who will be responsible for telling the stories of American industry and history for the next generation.

063018-LeClaire-KS-051Mike declared the Flea Market open with a loud yell as the kids ran down to the levee along the Mississippi River. They assumed their positions at their booths which they had decorated themselves with homemade signs, business cards, and displays.

063018-LeClaire-KS-054Picks ranged from traditional rusty gold and vintage advertising to toys and furniture.

063018-LeClaire-NS-010During market hours, local businesses hosted events, bike races (provided by the River Valley Optimist Club), food and drinks (provided by Big Dave & Holly’s), a history exhibit of the telephone (presented by the Buffalo Bill Museum) and an upcycled craft with old keys (presented by Unique Creations and Fancy Pants Boutique) made possible by the donation of the members of Picker Nation. Even the LeClaire Fire Department fire truck came by to deliver some sweet relief from the heat with a bit of water.

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Mike stayed for the entire event walking around visiting each booth, asking questions, and buying picks.

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Flea market goers enjoyed LIVE music from Finding Home — a kids only family band.

063018-LeClaire-KS-032Even Mike’s daughter Charlie had a booth set up with a little help from her Grandma Rheta, (Mike’s mom!)

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The weather was hot, but the crowds were out in full force searching for their new favorite treasures.

063018-LeClaire-KS-050Mike added this foam gator head to his collection of oddities like Wolfe Boy, Gypsy Gramma, Oddfellows skeletal bust.

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The Twilight, a lavish Victorian riverboat and LeClaire gem, chauffered Kid Pickers and their families on cruises up and down the Mississippi River all afternoon.

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The Kid Picker class of 2018 group photo!

For details of the event and inspiration on how to host one in your town visit Antique Archeology’s Kid Picker Flea Market Page 

 

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KID-PICKERS-BLOG-TOP

 Kid Pickers Only Flea Market!

The Kid Pickers episode of American Pickers was one of the most popular shows ever, so Mike Wolfe, the original Kid Picker himself, is looking for a new class of pickers to join him in LeClaire, Iowa on June 30 for Kid Picker Flea Market 2018. Here’s a chance for kids to take their pickin’ to the next level as they gather with dozens of other young collectors, not just to show off their best finds, but to get some practice setting up their own pop-up store, creating interesting displays, polishing their pitches and negotiating sales and trades, and picking up new skills from their pickin’ peers from across the state and across the country. Plenty of fun and activity for the rest of the family too!

Here’s a taste of our VERY FIRST Kid Picker Flea Market back in 2015!

Here are all the details you need to know about for Kid Pickers Flea Market 2018:

WHEN: June 30, 2018, from 10:00am to 2:00pm

WHERE: 117 South Front Street, LeClaire, Iowa. (You’ll see us set up on the south end of the levy parking lot beside the Mighty Mississippi River!)

RUNDOWN:

The flea market will start promptly at 10:00am we ask that all of the vendors arrive by 9:00am to check in and to have your station set up. It will be located on the south end of the LeClaire Levee. (Right by the great Ole Mississippi!)

There is a Pavilion in this area with some picnic tables for the shade and seating. There will also be public restrooms available in this area. Food and music will also be here.

  • 9:00am – Kid Pickers arrive/check-in/set up
  • 9:45am-10:00am – Special meeting with Mike and Kid Picker Vendors at the pavilion
  • 10:00am – Flea Market opens!
  • 10:00am – Bouncy House (10:00am-2:00pm)
  • Upcycling Crafts (10:00am-2:00pm
  • Face Painting (10:00am-2:00pm)
  • Live Music with Finding Home Family Band (10:00am-1:00pm)
  • History of the Telephone Exhibit with Bob Schiffke, President of the Buffalo Bill  Museum (10:00am-2:00pm
  • Coloring Contest (10:00am-1:00pm), will announce winners at 1:30pm (Delicious candy prizes are from The Shameless Chocoholic)
  •  American Picker themed Photo Op station (10:00am-2:00pm
  • Meet Mikey the Medic (10:00am-2:00pm)
  • 11am-Noon – The River Valley Optimist Club hosts “The Big Wheel” races.
  • 11am-2pm – Burgers, snacks, & drinks available for purchase from Big Dave and Holly’s at the Pavilion. Happy Joe’s Ice Cream bicycle will have ice cream treats available for purchase (Listen for the bike bell!)

ACCOMMODATIONS: We have special Kid Picker Flea Market rates at the Comfort Inn and Super 8 (both in LeClaire, right off of I-80). They’re offering $100 a night per room on Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th. Give either hotel a call and let them know you’re coming!

Additional questions? Reach out directly to us via kids@antiquearcheaology.com
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Kid Pickers event in LeClaire attracts fans from far and wide

mike wolfe american pickers kid pickers
Easton Lundsteen 8, of Elgin, Ill., plays with a 1930s Pluto toy Saturday in his vendor booth at the Kid Pickers Flea Market in LeClaire. John Schultz – Quad-City Times

June 13, 2015 4:02 pm • Sean Leary newsroom@qctimes.com

LeClaire — Hundreds of little hands darted through an array of toys, antiques and knickknacks as children carefully searched for buried treasures among items decades older than themselves during the Kid Pickers Flea Market held Saturday on the LeClaire Levee.

The area stars of the popular cable TV show “American Pickers” joined the crowds from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. as vendors 7 to 13 years old from all around the country plied the sales trade, music filled the air and the “Pickers” camera crew filmed for a future episode of the History channel series that features Danielle Colby Cushman, Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe.

Dylan Wilson, 10, trekked 15 hours with his family from Vale, N.C., to lay out his discoveries for perusal.

“I really like the show. I like all the antiques and all the cool stuff they find,” he said. “I was really excited to come up here and meet them and be a part of this. I’ve had some big sales. I feel really good.”

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said fellow vendor Kendall Forrest, 11, whose parents ventured seven hours from Loveland, Ohio, with her. “It’s a really interesting show. They make it a lot of fun. The shows aren’t boring. That’s what really got me into it, and I really like picking and finding new, cool stuff.”

People of all ages came from miles around and sifted through everything from antique bottles, signs, clothes and furniture to carvings, toys, records, cameras and other miscellaneous tchotchkes… READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINE AT QUAD-CITY TIMES HERE NOW.

mike wolfe american pickers kid pickers
Dane Schneyer, left, 13, talks wtih his friend Aaron Berta, both of Cedar Rapids, at the Aaron’s Awesome Antiques booth during Saturday’s Kid Pickers Flea Market event in LeClaire. The two said they go “picking” together in Cedar Rapids, much like Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe, the stars of TV’s “American Pickers” series go looking for unusual items around the country. John Schulz Quad-City Times.
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mike wolfe, american pickers, history channel, antique archaeology, kid pickers, antiques, vintage tee, kid pickermike wolfe, american pickers, history channel, antique archaeology, kid pickers, antiques, vintage tee, kid picker

By: Donna Vissman

Posted date: September 07, 2014

We sat down with Mike Wolfe to learn more about the Kid Pickers website,  Kid Picker contest at the Tennessee State Fair and how Mike starting pickin’ at a very young age.

WS: How long has the Kid Pickers website been up and running?

Wolfe: About 18 months … the KID PICKERS book came out in the spring of 2013 and the site and national group came together just before . ..

 WS: You have said that you started picking at an early age, what is your most memorable experience pickin’ as a kid?

Wolfe: One of my most memorable picks was certainly my first. I was about 5 and it was my first bicycle. I picked it from a garage down the alley from where I lived and I was never so proud of anything in my life. That treasure set me on my path. I have loved bicycles and picking ever since.

WS: After the launch of your book Kid Pickers, it seems natural a show will follow. Is there talk of a Kid Picker show?

Wolfe: Yes, we’ve been talking about it and continue to develop the idea. Hopefully it will come together because I know from my Kid Pickers all over the country that kids are really into it. Nothing is more important than getting kids interested in family and community, which picking definitely does, and nothing is more entertaining than seeing the treasures kids find and hearing them tell their stories.

WS: Why do you think it is important to teach kids to “save” things in this disposable society where you can buythings for $1 and if it breaks, you just throw it away.

Wolfe: Our disposable society isn’t sustainable. It’s important for kids to know that things have a purpose and they can have a value. And if they’re well-made, they can serve that purpose and grow in value for years and years.

WS: Why the Tennessee State Fair for the Kid Pickers contest?

Wolfe: I’m looking forward to seeing kids at the Fair – it’s a great place for families, and it’ll be a great opportunity for them to meet other Kid Pickers, exchange ideas and stories, and make plans for more picking next year!

The Kid Pickers Pick & Sell Market will take place in the Sports Arena on Sunday, September 7. All 150 advance entries, as well as any children ages 7 – 13 bringing a pick to the fair that day, will receive space while it lasts at the Kid Pickers Pick & Sell Market, as well as the opportunity to talk about the history of their item, and a chance to sell their pick. Mike Wolfe of Antique Archaeology will appear at the Kid Pickers Pick & Sell market as well, and along with HISTORY®, will announce the winners of the national Pick & Tell contest and present them with scholarship winnings.

Thanks to Mike Wolfe for sitting down with us to share about the Kid Pickers contest.  For more information about the contest, visit here.   If you have a story you would like us to share, contact donna.vissman@williamsonsource.com.

 

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HISTORY’s American Pickers with Aerosmith
American Pickers’ Host Explains Finding Aerosmith’s Pre-Fame Tour Van – And Saving It
 
7/10/2019 by

Scouring the overgrown backyards and rusting warehouses of America for various collectibles, the hosts of American Pickers are used to digging up unexpected cultural gems (which often fetch a substantial resale price). But it’s not every day you come across something wasting away in the woods that rightfully belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But that’s what happened on the Monday (July 8) episode of History’s American Pickers. Hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz might’ve been skeptical when they received a tip-off about Aerosmith’s pre-fame van uncovered in the Massachusetts wilderness back in 2016, but after founding member Ray Tabano eventually confirmed its authenticity, they were able to manage a first for the long-running reality series: Reuniting an iconic rock act with a long-forgotten piece of their history.

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Aerosmith’s 1970s Tour Van Gets Restored on ‘American Pickers’

Taking a break from their Deuces Are Wild Las Vegas residency, the Bad Boys From Boston proved they’re actually pretty good dudes when it comes to honoring their legacy, showing some serious joy and vulnerability while sitting in a van that once served as their motel on wheels.

On a “hot as shit” Tennessee afternoon, Mike Wolfe spoke with Billboard about the experience of finding the rusted-out vehicle, preserving it without sanitizing it and how Aerosmith reacted when an old touring van rolled back into their lives.

I saw your talking head testimonial about Aerosmith in the montage at the top of their Deuces Are Wild Las Vegas residency, but I had no idea there was this much crossover with the band on your show.

I didn’t know that! (Laughs) They must have got that (clip) from the network. What is it, like a cut from the show?

Yeah, it’s you talking about how much they kick ass. Other fans are in the montage, too — Mark Wahlberg did one.

Badass. Good to be in that company.

So when you got the tip on the van, did you believe it? Were you excited?

I was skeptical because a lot of that stuff is just stories handed down from generation to generation and a lot is local folklore. So when I heard that could be it, I was like, “Why would something like that exist in that condition and be sitting on a property for that long?” Those are the questions I ask myself right away. I always imagine what something is going to be like before I even get there; it’s part of what I’ve done for the last 30 years. You hear about something and you’re already painting a picture in your mind.

When we saw it, it was really rough, man. There were parts (of the van) you could poke your finger through. It was interesting to me, but I thought it must’ve belonged to a super fan or something because of the logo on the side. But when Ray (Tabano, original Aerosmith member) came and pushed the story forward, I was like, “Okay this is the real deal, so how do we wrap our arms around this thing and buy it?” When he told the property owner it was the real deal, he was very excited about it too. So I thought, “Okay, this will be something we can’t buy.” But for us, sometimes on the show, it’s not about buying and acquiring, it’s about telling the story. So honestly, I thought that’s where the story would end for us. He had a lot of time to think about it. I know on the show they cut it to where it looks immediate, but he had to think about it a little bit, and as soon as he said yes, I said to myself, “This will be a long road as far as preservation.” Immediately, I was not thinking about restoring this van. That would’ve been ridiculous to do something like that to it. I’m always thinking okay, “Now that we own it, what’s going to be the back end of it?”

 

As far as connecting with the band, that was obviously a pipe dream, because I didn’t know they would care about it so much. That’s the cool thing about this whole thing. Once they made contact with the band, they were very interested and excited.

The band remembered it right off?

We shared photographs and they knew the van right away. But just because this was their van at one point in their lives, doesn’t mean they have a connection to it. The fact that they had such a strong connection to it says a lot about their character and honoring their past. Those guys have lived a thousand lives, ya know? That they all were interested in it was huge. It wasn’t just one of them, it was all of them as a group fucking beyond excited about it.

And that was pre-fame era for them?

Total pre-fame era. Joe (Perry) off camera was an encyclopedia of the band. He remembered all the dates they traveled in it, all the venues, he remembered people that ran the venues, he remembered every single date of anything. When he was walking around the van he had a lot of different things to say. Every one of those guys had a moment with the van, but Joe was very detailed with those things.

I’ve interviewed him before, he’s sharp.

He’s a sharp, passionate guy.

So how did it leave their lives and sit on this guy’s property for so long?

From what I was told, this guy that they all really love and consider a friend got into an argument with them, or one of them, about something. And one night he just left and took the van — because it was his van — and they never saw the van or ever heard from him again. And they didn’t know what happened to him or the van. The gentleman we bought it from, it turns out he bought the property from the guy who used to own the van and hang out with the band. If you watch the show, they all speak very highly of him and they all, I think, would like to possibly make contact with him again. It’s been years, and the van might be something that could bring them together. The van brought all of them together on that day, that’s for damn sure, man. They were supposed to spend about 45 minutes with us and they ended up spending about two and a half hours with us.

What was it like driving the van down the Las Vegas Strip to them?

(Laughs.) To be honest with you, it drives like a fast tractor. It’s rough as hell but it’s so cool. We were driving it down the Strip and all the people are yelling at us and whistling, they saw the logo on the side of the van – since the residency is in Vegas, they got all these digital billboards over the Strip and people were like “Whoa no way!” People saw it on the road and were losing their minds. For me, it was bittersweet in a way. We worked a long time on the van, made calculated decisions on how it should look and feel for everyone to see it in the future, so we got close to it too. I wanted to drive it on its maiden voyage, but who knows if it’ll ever be driven again. It’ll be rolled out of the hotel and then, probably, I think Joe mentioned maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So (some) guys might drive it off a ramp or into a building, but not drive it down the Vegas Strip.

 

Its last hurrah. So specifically with that cartoon painted on the side, how much clean-up did you have to do?

What was weird about that logo on the side was it was painted with some really thick pastel paint. So the rest of the paint on the vehicle had faded out, but those colors were still super bright. If you look at the front of the van, the grill is painted the same way, a pastel green, so whoever painted the grill painted the logo. The rest of the van, on the top, it’s amazing the paint polished out as well as it did. That’s original paint on the top of that van all the way across. So we matched the paint down below what they call the rub rail, a rail along the side, and anything below that was from the donor van and we had to match that paint. But we tried to match the rust as best as we could too. We understood the importance of the van. When the band decided to preserve the van, every detail was taken seriously, from using the original glass to the original tires to the original rims and the original interior. The seat leather is the same – we just had it fixed and repaired. I’m thinking this will be something people will appreciate for years to come, way beyond us. It’s a true historical artifact.

The great thing that happened with the band is what happens on my show; we find something and that piece becomes a story from the person who owns it. So you’ve interviewed them before, but when are they so open and candid and vulnerable and detailed about their past? And the van was the vehicle for them to do that. That was really cool. I said to my friends before the show, “I guarantee you’re going to hear these guys talk about stuff they’ve never talked about before.” They might not even remember anything until they see something and then it triggers them. When Steven (Tyler) opens the door and it makes that sound and how he absolutely loved that, simple things like that. Joe laying across the dash, Steven talking about riding on top of the amps in that tiny space, like 14 inches tall. Just cramped in there. It was interesting to see the band in the back of that vehicle — and (back then) all the equipment had to be there with them.

It must have been cramped, and not terribly safe.

Oh my God, beyond cramped. They gave us so much of their time and shared their stories; they’re just all real fucking guys who obviously honor their past. I know that now about them because of the way they felt about that van and elevated it and wanted it preserved. Now you’re telling me the van is in the beginning of their (Vegas montage)? For them to think that much of their past and history speaks volumes to where they are on their journey in life.

We were blessed to be able to document that. It’s one thing to be sitting on a barstool next to a dude and he’s telling a story, but when we’ve got four cameras on them and they’re just spilling all these incredible stories, I was like, “wow, this is more than I ever could have imagined.” Think about it. I pitched this show for five years; I’m just a guy from Iowa who had a good idea. And then 10 years into it, the band thought enough of my show to trust us to do the van. They could have said to me, “Hey man, we want the van, we’re going to buy it, and we’ll have someone handle it ourselves.” But they trusted us from the beginning to the end, which is huge.

They don’t know us. A lot of people would have restored it totally, but it was so important to Joe and Steven — although Joe was driving the bus in terms of “I want this thing to look like it did when we drove it.” To me, when he says that, he’s not thinking about himself, he’s thinking about the fans. He knows it’s going to be on display, not parked in his garage. He wants people to see their life the way it was before and not have a clean slate of a restored van.

How did this compare to other music items you’ve had on the show?

We’ve had a lot of badass musicians on the show. We had Jack White do the show, Dan Auerbach, now Aerosmith. Me living in Nashville, I’ve sold a lot of musicians stuff over the years. But this to me was one of the most authentic pieces. Usually, if I’m selling something to a musician it’s because they collect guitars, or in Jack White’s case taxidermy. Whatever it is, I’m selling them something they love but don’t have a past with. This was something we were selling to them they had a past with, and we were able to build on that story. The van was seriously, seriously a piece of shit. The frame was rotted, it was like, anything and everything that could’ve been wrong with this van was wrong with it.

Well, it’s a lot of years.

Oh my God, 40 years in the woods through all those east coast winters. For us to be able to drive that thing on the Vegas Strip and look the way it did — we recruited the right dudes to do it. Even the guy who stitched the leather on the seat, he was a huge fan of the band. Anybody who touched that thing, this is a story they’re going to tell their grandkids.

What else is on your bucket list, music-wise, in terms of picking?

I’m really into vintage clothing. I think that’s really personal and shows someone’s stature and speaks to periods of different decades. So to me, anything clothing related through the early ’60s and ’70s rock n’ roll years. Some of Hendrix’s stuff, I’d love to find those clothing pieces. That to me is the most personal. A lot of people are into the instruments, but the clothing is more personal to me.

But this van is hard to beat.

Joe and his wife, and Steven and his girlfriend, sat in the back of that van for, dude, I bet an hour and a half talking. On the floor. They did not want to get out of that van. Seriously, they were in the back of the van forever. And everybody was letting them do their thing and be alone. I kept looking over there, the backdoor was open, and was like, “That’s so fucking cool, man.” To be able to facilitate and create that space for them is pretty cool because they created so much for all of us, so it was neat to give something back to them.

 

 

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Previously published on the Des Moines Register May 16, 2019, , Des Moines Register

LeCLAIRE, Ia. — “Why am I here?”

That’s Mike Wolfe’s opening salvo at every farm, corn crib, attic and cellar he visits to sift through junk looking for gems on “American Pickers,” the mega-hit reality show he created and still stars on.

But recently, he’s been asking himself that same question: “Why am I here?”

Sometimes, he means it plainly — with his schedule of two weeks filming on the road for every two weeks at home, he jokes he can forget exactly what he’s doing sometimes — but often, it’s existential.

How did a kid from a single-parent household in Davenport, Iowa, who barely graduated high school become a millionaire and a celebrity in antique circles? Where did a listless 20-something carrying around a camera to film himself asking about other people’s trash get the gumption to believe this could be a TV show?

And what about him keeps viewers tuning in after a decade of “Pickers”?

In all that first-person thought, the answer resides decidedly in the third-person. The show has little to do with him or even with the “picks,” as fans call the objects he buys. All that, he says, waving a hand like he’s swatting a fly, is window dressing.

The essence of “Pickers” comes in the answer to his question: “Why am I here?”

“Every object has a story,” he says, holding eye contact. “And that story is reflective of a family, or of a place, or of a time, or of a moment. So it’s a show about all of us. It’s reflective of all of us.”

It’s also a show about transitions — whether people are dealing with major changes in health, family makeup, finances or even the death of a loved one, Wolfe’s job is to bring positivity and a moment of celebration within that tragedy.

He’s up to the task, but when you have hours and hours on two-lane highways to think about the weight of all of it, it gets, well, heavy.

And it gets him to thinking about his own transitions; his own answer to the question he will toss out to 45-episodes’ worth of farmers, collectors and hoarders when the new season of “American Pickers” premieres Monday: “Why am I here?”

In his case, the more specific question is: When you have achieved personal and professional success with a show that dominates ratings and has the shelf-life of a Twinkie, what else do you do? And when you love physical history and rural life in a world that prefers images and ideas carried on fiber optic cables and places where takeout is dinner more often than home cooking, how do you keep the past alive?

Walking the streets of his hometown, stopping in his packed store, Antique Archaeology, and munching tacos at his friend’s Mississippi riverfront Mexican joint, he attempted to work those questions out.

“I’m a storyteller, so is it my responsibility to tell that story?” he asks. “I think it is, like, it is big time. (And) the show is at the point now where it’s, like, I want to talk about these things that matter.”

 

Third from the bottom

If you think about life as a road trip — an apt way to describe Mike’s experience, given his time traveling on them — Wolfe knew the route from here to there wasn’t going to be smooth, brightly lit highways. From his earliest memories, he understood that his road to success would require him to machete through the overgrowth, lay his own gravel and bring enough provisions to make it through the trip.

As a thin, lanky, poor kid in Joliet, Illinois, and then LeClaire, Wolfe said he was mercilessly picked on, getting jumped to and from school and having milk poured on him in the cafeteria.

In a real-life version of Frogger, Wolfe, now 54, avoided bullies by cutting through yards and alleys to get to school.

“The alleys were safe places for me, and that’s where the garbage was, too,” Wolfe says. “And so the garbage became my toys and they became part of my imagination and they became part of who I was.”

Along the way, he made friends with the old men whose garages overflowed with rusty junk, spending hours chatting with them about bygone days. (On that front, not much has changed, he offers.)

“This old man gave me a cigar box and that was, like, everything to me, you know, because of the colors and the way it smelled and the fact he gave it to me,” Wolfe says.

In school, Wolfe couldn’t focus. He’d read textbook pages over and over as though he was interpreting an alien language. But anything he could get his hands on — autos, woodshop — that clicked.

Massive collection of 110 vintage muscle cars revealed in southwestern Iowa ahead of the auction

‘American Pickers’ comes back to Iowa in search of rusty gold

After graduating third from the bottom of his class — a great memoir title, he says — he bummed around some community colleges in the Midwest, taking a few years to realize that his success wouldn’t be tied to a degree.

He worked in a warehouse building bikes in his early 20s before being promoted to the sales floor. His garbage collecting became “picking,” and he kept it up because, he says, “it’s hard to sell a bicycle in January in Iowa.”

Before the internet, he picked in the only way he knew how — by knocking on farm doors. He’d spend hours talking to the owner and, sometimes, come away with nothing.

His life was so weird to his friends, and the stories he told were so revelatory, nearly everyone around him would say, “Wow, you should be on a TV show.”

After hearing it enough times, Wolfe decided they might be on to something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CATIECURTIS1

Catie Curtis’s most unforgettable childhood memory was exploring the Saco, Maine dump with her father, Phil Curtis, during the 1970s. To anyone else, this sounds more like punishment than paradise, but from her perspective, it was the greatest treasure hunt ever.

Show of hands: How many other picker-raised children are out there?

“We’d take regular trips to the town dump not because we were poor, but because dad appreciated the value of things and encouraged us to do the same,” says Catie. “He created the most magical childhood for our family, using discarded junk and its unique history as his props. Dad hated seeing things that have a certain charm, personality, or history thrown away.” (Reminds us of the story of how Mike used to dig in the trash as a kid.) 

Nothing about that remembrance has changed for Phil, now 79. Seven days a week you can find him in his flannel and jeans, cruising around town, headed to an auction or a sale, looking for something that captures his attention. It could be anything from a piece of art to a gym floor (and we’ll get that in just a minute). His salvage reputation put him on the fast track to being the local catch-all of the town, and it became common knowledge in Saco that whatever you needed, you could find it in Phil’s place.

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Phil would never have guessed that Catie would grow up to be a musician and that her best-known and most-loved song, Dad’s Yard, would be inspired by those childhood adventures in the town dump and her treasure hunting days sifting through piles in her father’s backyard.

The first time she ever performed Dad’s Yard was at Phil’s retirement party after more than 30 years as a high school math teacher. Needless to say, the entire room connected to the song because they too knew the humor and truth behind its lyrics.

“I remember so clearly singing it at the party,” says Catie, “and the way I felt looking at him after all those years spent spelunking through history with him. That song was the beginning of my career. I’ve toured for 35 years and Dad’s Yard is still the most requested song. I know people connect with it so strongly because they’ll come up to me and say how the song reminds them of their father, husband, even themselves. It hits a chord with people.”

“I remember sitting there with tears of humor and honor,” says Phil. “I guess I do have more apple ladders and antique hardware than the average guy.”

Ask Phil how he became a picker and he’ll tell you that while he was always a curious child, his appreciation for “junk” came shortly after marrying his college sweetheart, Catharine.

“When we bought our first apartment, the only thing we could afford to decorate it with was antique furniture,” he recounts. “During that time, I met a few collectors who taught me to appreciate the dovetailing and the marks under the drawers. I began thinking about all the other ways we could furnish a home for ourselves through salvaged and unique pieces and from then on, I was hooked for life. Bless my wife– she never fought me on it during the 56 years we had together.”

Over the years Phil built a reputation in the community for being able to match the person with the pick. His collection is well stocked with pieces that have a story.  All you gotta do is take a walk through his backyard and his barn and then take a few minutes to tell him yours.

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And speaking of barns, even his barn was a pick!  Found in Woodstock, Maine, it belonged to a casket manufacturer who was about to level it. Phil rescued the barn and transferred it piece by piece 70 miles south to Saco where it now lives in his backyard, filled to the gills with treasures.

Inside are two floors of just about anything you can think up. During Phil’s early days as a high school baseball coach, the switch from wood to metal bats began.  Drawn to the old equipment by their nostalgic value, Phil collected and held on to a lot of those wooden ones made locally by the R.G. Johnson Company. You can also find a selection of chairs suspended from the ceiling, dusty books, vintage tools, oil cans, salvaged architectural material and much more.

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Speaking of salvaged material…let’s talk about that gym floor we mentioned earlier.

Phil had pulled out an old section of the gym floor from the Thornton Academy High School (where he taught and later retired from). He stored it for years thinking it would have a purpose someday, and it definitely did.

“It’s now our bathroom floor,” boasts Phil. “Pretty proud of the free throw line placement in front of the toilet if I may say so.”

The Academy provided that pick but was also the recipient of Phil’s largesse. Once while on a pick, he found two dump trucks’ worth of beveled glass from a business that went under.  He donated the glass to the school where it was used to build trophy case shelves.

“There’s a certain serendipity that occurs with picking,” explains Phil. “You don’t ask to find anything in particular, things just have a divine way of finding you.”

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“The main connection I think people have with the song, is the way Dad doesn’t want give up on an object finding a home or helping his community,” says Catie. “There isn’t a single piece on the property that he couldn’t tell you the story of, and he lives to educate others on where everything came from, its use, and how you can use it today.”

Such goes the true mission of the American picker. Who else grew up with a picker parent? Tell us about them in the comments below.

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“And that’s the fun of it, it’s that mystery
In all these things bearing other people’s history
You can look at this stuff, wonder where it’s been
You can pick it up and you can use it again”
— Catie Curtis lyrics from Dad’s Yard

 

Photos by Ted Hess-Mahan

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