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mike wolfe jo johnston

After a year and a half of collaborating with contractors and architects on the restoration of an 1898 building that many people said would just end up as a big pile of bricks, Mike is proud to unveil his latest preservation project!

Located on Jo Johnston Street, minutes from the honky-tonks of downtown Nashville, (and just down the block from Antique Archaeology’s front door) now stands a fully restored two-story brick building, the most recent addition to the vintage Marathon Village community. The space, which in the century before it fell into ruin housed everything from a grocery store to a dancehall to a restaurant, is once again open for business in Nashville.

We will let Mike show you around…

“I approach all these projects the same by trying to learn as much as I can about the building. I wanna know what its purpose was, what time period it stood in, and how it was significant to the community. The buildings I’m tethered to have to be more than historic structures; they also have to be located in historic districts. My home in LeClaire, for example, was built in 1860 as a general store. Even my Antique Archaeology shop is located in an old car manufacturing plant from the 1880s. Along the way, I’ve learned that when it comes to working in/ restoring these you gotta consider how you can honor their history while making it possible for them to succeed in the present.”

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“Here’s the street view of the place. I’m standing on the corner of 14th Avenue North and Jo Johnston. If you turn to the right, you can see the Nashville skyline and practically hear the music from Broadway. Anyone who has ever visited Antique Archaeology will quickly recognize the water tower of the Marathon Motor Works building where the shop is. Like I said, this building was constructed in 1898. When you look at the before photos, you’ll see just how little of the structure was still holding on. (Gold leaf window lettering by Canned Pineapple)

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“Check out that iron skeleton! You see that up there? That’s supporting the roof and second story.”

Untitled51“The state it was in before was pretty rough, as you can see. It was so bad, it took me a long time to even find a contractor who would take it on. I had a number of them tell me I was gonna end up with a pile of bricks sitting on an empty lot. I wasn’t intimidated, though. I just needed to find the right company to match my passion and determination on the project.” (Dowdle Construction Group and architect Nick Dryden

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“We really wanted to make sure we gave the place an open floor plan to accommodate it as a future retail space. With a few modifications, we were able to give it a modern upgrade in a timeless way.”

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“These bricks are the storytellers of the space. They’ve been part of the location for more than a hundred years! Salvaging as many of them as possible was a huge priority during this restoration.”

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“I insisted on leaving the brick walls exposed versus smothered in plaster. It’s a reminder of the many lives this building has had. Almost takes you back in time for a minute and you’re able to imagine this place as the grocery store for the community it once was all those years ago.”

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“The interior has a real industrial vibe to it with the concrete floors and iron beams. The additional windows draw lots more natural light inside too.”

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“The upstairs area features salvaged wooden floors that give it more warmth – a different feel from the concrete floors downstairs.” (Floors by Garlan Gudger of Southern Accents Architectural Salvage)

“Whether it’s a building in a historically significant part of town, or one that’s traditionally important to the local community, or even one that simply has an interesting story all its own, each one is special. With neglect and rapid development threatening the architecture that makes every city unique, there has never been a better moment to be part of the generation that rescues history. I encourage everyone to join the preservation efforts in their own town in any way they can.”

The current tenant of the Jo Johnston property is Slumerican

Join the club! Inspired by one of Mike’s favorite motorcycle picks, this shirt is ready to roll! Get our AA Moto Club graphic tee!

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“A nod to the past and an eye to the future…”

Welcome to The National Exchange Hotel in Nevada City, California. You’ve just checked into one of the oldest hotels in America. If the ornate velvet walls of this place could talk, there’d be enough material to produce the next big Netflix docuseries. Stories about famous guests like Mark Twain and Black Bart swimming in the mountain spring-fed pool in the courtyard, the legendary lore of gold-hungry hopefuls exchanging their finds in the tunnels beneath the lobby floorboards, and presidents like Hebert Hoover and Ulysses S. Grant enjoying a stiff pour in the hotel bar.

This three-story, 40-room hotel hasn’t changed much since opening day in August 1856. Garnering the title as “Oldest Operating Hotel West of Mississippi” The National has hosted hundreds of thousands of travelers and locals alike for more than 150 years. That being said, the space was more than ready for some renovations. This is where our preservation hero, Nevada City native Jordan Fife comes into the story.

After leaving to conquer the world, the road looped Jordan back to town carrying his bag of prestigious design accolades over his shoulder. Equipped with the necessary financial backing and personal connection to the hotel,  Jordan is ready to breathe new life The National in a time-honored way.

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My wife and I grew up running through the halls of The National as kids,” explains Jordan. “Returning to the hotel now and walking across the creaky floors, up the slightly tilted lobby staircase, and getting lost in all the wild wallpaper, (so much wallpaper…) still leaves me with goosebumps every single time. And that’s just one of my memories from this place. Every local has a few good handfuls themselves!”

That’s why it’s so important that get this restoration right.

Not only is the hotel significant to the Nevada City community it’s also protected as a National Historic Landmark. Understanding that there are many rules to obey with a delicate restoration of The National, Jordan invited the Historical Society to visit the hotel to help determine what could go and stay. Afterward, he invited the 3,000 community members inside for the chance to purchase select items of the hotel that could not be saved for a very small price.

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“When we had the inventory sale, folks would grab my arm and hardly take a breather as they tried to spill out every detailed memory they had of the place,” shares Jordan. “One couple took me to the room where they got engaged and even showed me where they had hidden the ring box behind a brick over the fireplace! Their story inspired me to want to turn that room into a honeymoon suite, respectfully.”

Jordan believes that the personality and charm of the property come out in its quirky ways. He insisted on keeping that previously mentioned leaning staircase (which will be reinforced but still be allowed to lean), recreating some of the original wallpaper, the dinged wainscoting, the original brass fixtures, and knobs, as well as the original transoms above the doors. The idea is to enhance those cherished flaws – not glossing over them.

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“When The National was built more than 150 years ago, it was to be one of the best hotels in the west and reflected the best of service and design of its period,” says Jordan. “It was also completed without electricity or running water! Those amenities have since been added over the years. The new National will be designed to reflect the original Victorian style with modern influences with a 1920’s gentleman club feel – think tufted leather, oil paintings, taxidermy, built in bookcases with brass rolling ladders, and slightly ominous feel as a nod to the hotels haunted past .”

Speaking of amenities, Jordan is also establishing brand partnerships to offer guests American Made goods. The folks of Juniper Ridge are in the process of creating the scents of the in-room products while Iron and Resin will cater to guests and community downstairs with a full retail flagship store and gift shop.

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Similiar to the hotel, the Nevada City community has done an incredible job holding tightly to its roots as a well-persevered testimony to its history contributing to its spot on Architectural Digest’s “The Best Main Streets in America”.) The downtown area is also registered as a National Historic Landmark. Locals say that if not for the parking meters you’d swear you just time traveled!

Jordan wants people to see Nevada City, not just as a travel destination, but a place of fellowship between locals and visitors when the hotel is complete. It’s close proximity to Sacramento, Tahoe National Forest, and the Sierras makes it the ideal weekend destination for Two Lane travelers.

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The grand-reopening of The National will mean not only circulating money through local restaurants and shops but also into the pockets of skilled laborers like craftsmen, electricians, farmers for kitchen produce, receptionists, and an extra salty bartender to help keep the hotel operating smoothly.

“The heart of the entire project is still for the benefit of Nevada City citizens,” says Jordan. “I know I speak for everyone here when I say that there’s such value in preserving The National as part of California’s state history. We’re excited for folks to check in, drop their bags, and allow us to show them the best we have to offer. It’s incredible to think how a place can hold memories for more than 150 years and still have room for more!”

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Follow the progress of The National Exchange Hotel on Instagram

Go behind the scenes of the build with Jordan on his personal Instagram 

Photos by Ingrid Nelson

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Ride hard and free in our Two Lanes American-Made chopper tee!

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Paul d’Orléans and Susan McLaughlin travel on Two Lanes, using a Sprinter van as a mobile darkroom, as they capture wet plate-style photos of motorcycles and their owners.

Wet plate photography is an art that’s as old as the state of California. That’s where Susan McLaughlin, a tintype photographer, met Paul d’Orléans, a motorcycle culture expert, author, and rider, in the 1990s, not knowing that one day their two specialties would unite, and discover new ways of picturing biker culture.

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Paul d’Orléans and Susan McLaughlin

“Susan and I have known each other for over 20 years, but I didn’t know she was a wet plate photographer,” explains Paul. “In fact I didn’t know anything about wet plate before 2010, when I saw an exhibit of original 1800s photographic portraits by ‘Nadar’ in Paris, and was deeply moved. These were original 8″x10″ glass plates, and the detail was incredible! It was as if these amazing people were still in the room, even though they were long gone. I mentioned the show to Susan, who explained the wet plate process, as she’d been using it for a few years already.”

Inspired by the remarkable preserved images of those long-ago French faces,  Paul began thinking about his community of bikers back in the States. As a veteran rider, bike blog contributor, author of three books, and founder of The Vintagent (a media company dedicated to vintage motorcycles and biker culture), he knew he could portray motorcyclists through photography in a way that had not been seen before. He had storytelling skills from his career as a motorcycle writer but needed a partner with expertise in the tintype style that had so captured his imagination. His vision would only work if his Susan agreed to join him in this new venture. She said “Yes!” and MotoTintype was established in 2012.

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LEFT: Paul and Susan’s Sprinter van RIGHT: Cannonball riders

For the past six years, Paul, Susan, and their Sprinter van have been attending vintage motorcycle events nationwide – at Bonneville, El Mirage, and the Motorcycle Cannonball – capturing portraits of bikers and their rides using the antique wet plate method. The thing is, it’s called wet plate because you must develop the photos immediately, while the chemistry on the glass or metal plates is still wet. To accommodate that, they transformed the back of their van into a mobile darkroom, allowing them to process their photos on site, and share the prints with their subjects right away. Paul converted the Sprinter just before participating in the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball, the most difficult antique motorcycle endurance run in the world.

Having been a member of the vintage motorcycle scene since the 1980s, Paul is close to most of the riders they shoot at these events. Being part of the culture and creating the close bonds with riders that allowed them to document the unique details of their individual styles made it possible for Susan and him to build their portfolio. Photographs of these riders and their machines preserve their personal footprints – or tire prints – capturing distinct moments for all time.

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“These riders and I have been on the same journey together for years, but the community was new to Susan,” explains Paul. “She has an incredible presence that makes our subjects feel comfortable, which is important because Cannonball riders come in all types — from rough riders who sleep on the ground to riders with elaborate semi-trailers with machine tools and professional mechanics servicing one or two bikes. Everyone is riding the same 4,000-mile race and I make no judgments, I only want to capture their unique character.”

MotoTintype prefers the wet plate process because of its magical qualities. It’s a true chemistry experiment with silver nitrate, requiring precise execution to develop the perfect photo. (Remember Lindsey Ross and the abandoned gold mines of Telluride?) The process can create unusual light, swirls, and spots that add to the effect, and which are totally unpredictable. Paul jokingly calls them “Victorian Polaroids”.

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“The instant gratification is amazing,” he says. “One of our favorite parts of what we do is bringing the biker into the van to watch the development process. You never know what you’ll get, as the ‘wet plate’ process is sensitive only to ultraviolet light. While it can be unpredictable, the detail is remarkable. Not only are we able to capture surface features like scars and wrinkles, we’re also able to see what’s below the skin, like defects and pigmentation, all which appear darker once developed. There’s nowhere to hide on a tintype, which is what drew me to the style all those years ago. It’s so personal. To look at a portrait of a rider and see every distinct detail representing years of exposure to the elements, allows Susan and I to help tell their story without words.”

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There are many faces, ages, and tastes in biker culture. When motorcycle lovers come together the crowd spans generations and includes all walks of life. Many appreciate the classic design of antique bikes and how with some maintenance, they’re still able to function just like they did in their glory days. They love a bike built with ancient iron that squirts oil and growls. Others may be more interested in a reliable brand new custom bike created just for them. The one thing they can all agree on is that to feed your soul, there is nothing like miles passing under two wheels.

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When he’s not in the darkroom or behind the lens, Pauls likes to reunite with his brotherhood of bikers for a back road cruise on his own vintage ride: a 1933 Brough Superior v-twin. Ask him why he has lived and documented the biker culture for the past 30 years and he’ll say it’s all about the people.

“Motorcycle culture is like a hologram,” explains Paul. “If you break it down, and look at any individual part, you can see the whole picture – politics, industry, finance, design, art, passion, competition, and even the darker human tendencies. It’s all there. I invented a job for myself that allows me to do what I’m most passionate about…. telling the stories of these men and women who love the freedom of the road, and roaming the landscape on two wheels.”

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Purchase MotoTintype photos

Follow MotoTintype’s adventures on Instagram

 

Check out Two Lanes by Mike Wolfe. American-Made adventure brand for this double-sided off-white graphic tee inspired by a vintage shirt Mike found. 

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This tiny pottery business in Neenah, Wisconsin creates half a million custom handmade stoneware pieces a year!

There once was a time when everything in America was handmade. So in these days of cheap, mass production, it’s important to find small businesses still creating handcrafted goods. By supporting these artists, you’re giving yourself the gift of an original piece AND ensuring the survival of the small business that provides a way for craftspeople to pass down their talents and techniques to the next generation of makers. While we love introducing you to American makers, we love it even more when we collaborate with them to create new items exclusively for YOU!

We’ve enjoyed working with one small business in particular where no one is afraid to get a little dirty in the creation process. They’re making our new Antique Archaeology mugs. Let’s peak in as they cut some clay at Sunset Hill Stoneware!

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Tom Dunsirn started Sunset Hill when he was just 21. The business was born in a rented space next to a tavern with a lease handwritten by the barkeep on a paper placemat. Tom had no particular pottery skills but he did have the brains to run a business. What originally began as him and a college friend has since grown into a team of about 60 who have created a local legacy over the last 20 years. And we aren’t the only fans of their stoneware! Other happy customers include the National Parks, Yuengling, L.L. Bean, Pink Floyd and many others!

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Fast Facts About Sunset Hill:

  • Every Sunset Hill Stoneware potter can pump out 150 mugs per day per person
  • The average potter throws more than 45,000 mugs each year
  • Each mug has the potter’s unique thumbprint pressed onto the base of the handle
  • One ton of USA-sourced clay is used daily
  • Sunset Hill products are 100% American-made from the clay to the glaze
  • They operate on a paperless management system, recycle shipping materials, and installed a water separation system to remove manufacturing by-products. Go green!
  • The pottery wheels they use were custom created by Tom’s engineer/inventor father and co-owner Duane

“We couldn’t buy the equipment necessary to withstand the high quantities we were cranking out so dad reinvented the wheel. Well… our pottery wheel,” explains Tom. “Imagine if NASCAR made a pottery wheel, that’s what our equipment is built like. While it Iooks familiar on the outside, on the inside are all sorts of special tricks and features that have helped us move fast and efficiently. In fact, our first pottery wheel was installed in 2009 and hasn’t had maintenance yet! ”

Duane even engineered the machinery and processes they use for the medallions on every single product!

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Their master potter Jason has spent the last two decades perfecting the coloring chemistry for every piece of pottery. (Try to pick a favorite, we dare you!)

“There’s a delicate dance that takes place between the glaze and the firing temperature,” he explains. “When heated or cooled to a certain degree you can get different hues and speckles which can result in discovering new techniques for our customers.”

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The most commonly asked question the company receives: “Are they really handmade one-by-one?”

Yes! Each piece of pottery is thrown to absolute perfection. Below, watch Duane’s engineered wheel in action as our new mugs take shape!

We’re honored to work with a shop that uses old world technique to transform a raw piece of clay into a beautiful functional work of art. Follow Sunset Hill on Instagram and Facebook to see what they’re creating next!

 

Order your EXCLUSIVE Antique Archaeology mug by Sunset Hill Stoneware HERE!

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Filming American Pickers keeps Mike pretty busy these days, but it’s collaborating with guys like Timothy and AC that allow him to still share his passion for bicycles and old buildings. 

It’s a cold, rainy Tuesday morning in Columbia, Tennessee, about 40 minutes south of Nashville, as three bike shop owners — Mike Wolfe, Timothy Wakefield, and AC Howell — walk into the Trek Bicycle Shop on Main Street in the town square. This isn’t the first time the three have met, but it’s the confluence of three generations and 160 years of bike shop ownership and love.

Columbia, with a population of fewer than 38,000, is a town Mike has long admired for its historic Main Street and preserved buildings, particularly the 1857 brick two-story they’re about to walk into.

It’s a bicycle shop now, but it originally housed different wheels, operating as a wagon and plow business, still advertised by the gigantic faded painting on the huge brick wall outside. In 1973, while working at the local military academy, AC bought the building and opened The Wheel, the first bike shop in Columbia. He ran it as a hobby and side business and over the last 45 years it’s become a community treasure. Now it’s the thread that ties AC to Mike and Timothy.

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The first thing to understand is that AC began his bicycle business at a pivotal time in Columbia’s commercial history.

HOW AC STARTED THE WHEEL

“Everyone was leaving the square and taking their businesses to the mall,” says AC. “I was the chairman of the historical zoning commission here in Columbia, so it was my job to maintain the integrity of any downtown restoration projects in order to preserve our local gems. As long as I had something to do with it, I wasn’t going to give up on this building or the community because what existed and still exists here is one-of-a-kind.”

From offering payment plans to customers who needed bikes repaired so they could get to their jobs to hiring local boys in need of work, AC was integral to keeping Columbia moving along on two wheels.

Interior of Original Building from 1857
Interior of Original Building from 1857

“Many of the boys stayed with me until they went off to college,” says AC. “Now they walk in as dads with their own kids to pick out a bike. Even the head of the Columbia Water Department started working in my shop when he was a young man!”

AC still continued to give back to the community. Each year at Christmas, he would donate 30 or 40 used bikes to the local church group that cleaned them up, put bows on them and delivered them to folks who could use them. His generosity helped provide transportation and enjoyment to people in town who otherwise may never have had a bike.

By 2016, AC was ready to retire but unsure what that would mean for the shop that had become so much a part of the town. It was an opportune moment for Mike — the historian, preservationist, and bike enthusiast — a chance to become part of the active Main Street of the small town he had long admired.

HANDING OFF THE BUSINESS

“One day Mike wandered into the shop and asked me if I was really interested in selling the building,” says AC. “At that point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell or not, but eventually I told him I would sell it on one condition: the bike shop had to stay.”

After kicking the idea around for a year, Mike called AC and the deal was made.

“I had been in the bike business since 1988,” says Mike. “I eventually opened a bike shop in an 1860s building in the historic district of Davenport, Iowa. Even after I closed that shop in 2000, I never lost my passion for bikes. To this day, I can’t walk past a shop without stopping, which is how I met AC. Learning the history of his building and the legacy of his business made me eager to be part of its story.”

Timothy Standing Inside Original Bicycle Shop
Timothy Standing Inside Original Bicycle Shop

Soon after the handshake deal with AC was concluded, Mike got to work on renovations and meeting with Trek bike reps. It was about then that Mike realized his eyes may have been bigger than his stomach.

“I was ready to go waist deep into this, ” explains Mike. “But after laying out all my projects and budgeting my time between LeClaire, Nashville, filming American Pickers, and my family, I quickly realized I couldn’t give the proper attention to the bike shop. During a meeting with a Trek rep, I asked if they knew anyone who’d want to run the shop. It was really important for me to find the right person to take over for AC. That’s when they sent me Tim and his wife from Alabama. He instantly fell in love with Columbia, and I trusted his experience and passion to successfully steer AC’s legacy in the right direction.”

How does AC feel about how everything turned out?

Interior of Renovated Trek Bicycle Shop
Interior of Renovated Trek Bicycle Shop

“Timothy knows what’s he’s doing. The only advice I passed on to him when he opened was to be sure to take care of the customers. That was the way I operated and it always served me well.”

As it stands now, AC sold the building to Mike, and the bike business to Timothy. They are now three generations of bicycle passion existing in one historic building.

WHY COLUMBIA?

Timothy and his wife manage three bike shops.  The other two are in Alabama and were both built from scratch. When they became the new owners of The Wheel (now called Trek Bicycle Shop), they were excited about the beautiful historic building that houses their new business.

“My wife is an interior designer so you can picture the glee on her face when we first walked into the large mid-1800s building with tall windows, tin ceilings, and aged wooden floors,” says Timothy.

Interior of TreK Bicycle Shop
Interior of TreK Bicycle Shop

While their two Alabama shops were busy servicing college students’ bikes as well as the bicycle needs of a city of more than 100,000 people, they were up for the challenge of impressing a small town that grew up with AC.

“This location was special because people had been coming to The Wheel for more than 40 years,” says Tim. “There was certainly a reputation to live up to. I’ve had so many returning customers walk in and share stories with me of how they got their first bike here with AC. We’re looking forward to creating lasting memories like that with the community for years to come.”

REINVENTING THE WHEEL 

Inside the 160-year-old building, Tim is selling state-of-the-art bikes and accessories from Trek, a one-family lineage business out of Wisconsin that makes more bikes in America than any other bike retailer in the country. The family business itself is almost as old as The Wheel!

The town’s reliance on bikes for daily transportation may have altered since the 1970s, but what’s unchanged is the fact that the town’s kids are still learning a trade at the shop. Currently, Timothy has five young people under his wing, learning bike maintenance and customer service.

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Timothy Checking Out the Progress with Ben Black of Rafter B Construction

“A common occurrence is having customers who purchased parts online come in for help installing them,” says Timothy.

“That’s how I met my wife!” interjects Mike. “Jodi came into my shop looking for help installing her pedals!”

“You see?” says Timothy. “Now Mike could’ve shunned her away because she didn’t buy those pedals from him.  You have to embrace it instead, because the end result is to get folks to walk in the door, like your future wife! Proof that you shouldn’t go to bars to meet someone, you should go hangout your local bike shop instead!

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Timothy, his wife Katie, and their daughter Ruthie

Trek Bicycle Shop will work on any bike you bring in because the end goal is to keep people riding them.

“This is more than a retail business, it’s a trade,” explains Mike. “Like a butcher, baker, tailor, people who specialize in what they do, so does a bike shop owner. With any trade nowadays, navigating social media and online sales it can be difficult to capture someones attention. Trek is great shop because you can come over and physically touch a bike you’re interested in. That might sound weird, but imagine everything you buy online that you can’t do that with. This is a major purchase for people. It’s a lifestyle”

Being a small business, Timothy understands the importance small town living. That’s why he actively holds community events to support other small businesses.  Like partnering with Muletown, the local coffee house, for a Coffee Cruise every Saturday. It’s a family-friendly 30-minute bike ride along the riverwalk and that ends with coffee and breakfast at Muletown.

Muletown Coffee Cruise
Muletown Coffee Cruise

“There are little girls on tricycles, high schoolers on mountain bikes, and their parents. It’s awesome to see a parade of bike-riding onto Main Street and through the square,” explains Timothy.

“We want to let everyone know that it doesn’t matter how nice your bike is, how many miles you ride a day, or even if you haven’t been on a bike since Bush was in office. We just want to help folks get out and ride!” says Timothy.

As a way to serve tourists and even the people who may not be interested in buying a bike, Timothy and his local crew offer rentals at the shop. They’ll hook you up with the proper gear and transport your bikes to the best place in town to ride, the Chickasaw Trace.

HOW TO RENT A BIKE

People come from all over the state to explore the Trace.  What’s better, it’s only a 10-minute ride from the shop.  And there’s no better time to be on two wheels than autumn – with leaves crunching under your tires and brisk air in your face.

Located on 300 acres, the Trace offers 8.5 miles of mountain bike trails suitable for all ages and skill levels. Weave around giant cedar trees and along the Duck River and Knob Creek tributary. Bring the dogs and the family and enjoy a well-deserved picnic along the bank after your ride . . . maybe even a refreshing dip in the river if the spirits moves you.

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Unloading Bikes At Chickasaw Trace

There are trails to explore and rivers to race in Columbia, Tennessee. Experience it all while holding on to the handlebars of an American made bike from Trek Bicycle Shop.

“Your first sense of independence is on a bicycle. I truly believe that. I see it with my daughter as she learns how her bike is capable of taking her anywhere. That’s your independence, so I don’t think the love of bikes will ever go away completely.” – Mike Wolfe

Photography by Meghan Aileen

 

Ride hard and free in our Two Lanes American-Made chopper tee!

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Vermont Army Major unites with fellow veterans to reunite Purple Hearts to military families across the nation

Imagine for a second that you’re seeing your brother, son, dad, or uncle off to war. That precious, fleeting goodbye is filled with tears, prayers, and the promise of returning home. You watch them walk down the driveway to catch the bus and just like that, they’re gone. Two weeks later, you get a knock on your door. You open it, your body tightens, and everything around you slows up. A man in uniform hands you a telegram saying that your loved one is never coming home. As your family and friends cope with the news, the telegram is later followed by a final piece of the person you’ll ever receive, a Purple Heart.

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Photo credit Zachariah Fike

Could you imagine losing or misplacing that piece of a loved one and having it returned 50 years later? A Purple Heart is family history at its most significant, and the oldest military award still given to those who have served.  Helping identify and locate the survivors of one who was awarded it, and then somehow parted from, a Purple Heart is a chance to reunite a family with a piece of a near or distant relative they may lovedor perhaps never have known. Something Mike has personal experience with.

“Neither my mother nor I ever knew my grandfather,” says Mike. “What we do know is that he was killed on 11 May 1945 while serving on the U.S.S. Evans (DD-552) during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII. When she presented me with his Purple Heart and told me his story, I was without words. Men like Zachariah Fike are making it possible to give other military families closure and peace through his Purple Hearts Reunited nonprofit as he works unfailingly to return these medals to their rightful owners.”

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Mike’s Grandfather

Zac, founder of Purple Hearts Reunited and active Army Major for the past 18 years, left war a changed man. Especially after his last tour to Afghanistan, where he was wounded and later awarded a Purple Heart for his service and sacrifice. Like many other veterans on the mend, Zac needed an outlet to help him cope with post-combat stress, and he developed an interest and immersed himself in the world of antiques. The first piece of his collection was a gift from his mother — a Purple Heart she had bought for $100.

“When I flipped the heart over and read the name ‘Pvt. Corrado Piccoli’ my first reaction was sadness,” says Zac. “Having recently been presented with my own Purple Heart, I was all too familiar with its significance. The precious medal in my hand represented a fellow soldier who gave his life for me, my family, and our country. Suddenly that sadness fled and excitement took over as I felt I had a new mission at that very moment. I had to find out everything about this veteran’s service and answer the mystery as to who his family was and why his medal was discovered in an antique shop. I feel that excitement each evening when I go into my basement to research the fallen heroes of history.” (See Zac at work in the video below.)

Knowing that there were more Purple Hearts to rescue, and certainly other veterans needing an outlet, Zac founded Purple Hearts Reunited in 2012. His nonprofit is currently the only one of its kind uniting Purple Hearts and their proper families, free of charge and with the help of other veterans, serving the cause of historical preservation and education. So far, this alliance has resulted in the successful return of more than 300 Purple Hearts to military families all across the country.  Last year alone, the organization brought home 70 medals, with its volunteer veterans logging more than 28,000 miles and touching the lives of more than 70,000 people in 18 states.

Purple Hearts Reunited opens its Valor Guard to veterans from all branches of the military and special services, like Sgt. Greg Haak, who served eight years in the U.S. Army with two tours in Iraq. During his last deployment, he was wounded by an IED and the resulting infection cost him his leg. He has since retired from the military, gradually adjusting to civilian life with the help of Purple Hearts Reunited.

“Participating in these returns fills me with a sense of pride that I haven’t experienced since my time in the military, while allowing me to feel like I’m part of a new family,” says Greg.

“For me,” says Zac, “watching Greg stand in front of a family at a return, looking sharp in his uniform again, and projecting confidence in the mission he was performing, was one of the proudest monuments I’ve experienced since starting this organization. It has become more than returning a medal or honoring a family, it has transformed into a process that also helps heal my fellow veterans.”

purple hearts medals
Photo courtesy of Zachariah Fike

Veterans across the country have been given a new purpose and drive to stay active and serve others in need. Even the Executive Director of Purple Hearts Reunited, Sarah Corry, the daughter of a veteran, has a personal connection to the organization.

“My father is a two-time Purple Heart recipient from his time in Vietnam. I’m one of the lucky ones in that I get to sit down with my kids and show them that tangible symbol of sacrifice their Grandpa made for our nation. Being able to give that moment back to another Mom or Dad isn’t work for me, it’s a gift and a privilege. Participating in return ceremonies has been life-changing for me.”

Zac’s family has served all the way back to the Revolutionary War, so he understands the emotional attachment people have towards these medals.

“They tell the story and give closure to so many people. I believe all medals should go home to their true owners or be preserved in a special place of honor. Medal returns have become more than just returning a medal. We’re providing a very valuable experience for each family that often leads to families reuniting, learning more about their family history, and in most cases, finding closure with their loss. I once had help returning a Purple Heart from a dog named Smuckers after she dug the medal up in Denver dirt! That was a memorable story for me.”

purple hearts framed
Framed Purple Heart Photo Courtesy of Zachariah Fike

But there are so many more stories that still need to be told. In fact, Zac and his team have made a pretty amazing New Year’s resolution this year: to return at least 100 medals in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I. To keep that resolution, they will have to return one medal just about every three days!

“I guess you could say I enjoy the thrill of finding an item and learning more about it, in much the same way that Mike does. It’s our vow that through returning these Purple Hearts  we’ll tell each veteran’s story, preserve their legacy, and solidify their contribution to history.”

If you’re a veteran looking to volunteerto donate, or help identify current Purple Hearts, visit PurpleHeartsReunited.org.

Our Antique Archaeology ceramic mugs are hand-thrown by potters in Neenah, Wisconsin! USA-Made!

slide-mug

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Isabel Bloom Creation Supports Work of Operation Smile 

December 01, 2015 9:45 am • By Jennifer DeWitt

The smile that 3-year-old Charlie Wolfe had as she painted an Isabel Bloom sculpture bright pink is just the expression that Operation Smile helps restore for children around the world.

Fittingly, a statue inspired by Charlie now will give a financial boost to Operation Smile’s medical work with children and young adults.

Thanks to a collaboration between Isabel Bloom and Charlie’s parents, “American Pickers” star Mike Wolfe and Jodi Wolfe, Operation Smile will be able to help more children who, like Charlie, were born with cleft lips and cleft palates.  Isabel Bloom’s co-owners presented a $10,000 donation Monday to an Operation Smile representative.

“We’ve done other sculptures for organizations…but this one is different because we have a personal connection,” said Donna Young, co-owner of Isabel Bloom.  Charlie’s aunt, Jill Shively (Jody’s Sister), is the company’s controller.

The donation was raised through proceeds from the sale of the Isabel Bloom sculpture “Charlie’s Smile,” which features a little girl dressed in a pink tutu and boots, sitting on a dog. It was inspired by a photograph of Charlie.

Mike Wolfe, the creator and executive producer of the History Channel’s TV series “American Pickers,” explained how doctors discovered Charlie’s cleft lip and cleft palate during a routine ultrasound before her birth.  “It’s been a journey.”

“We had a lot of questions and were very concerned.  But one of the things we felt blessed about is that she had something that was cosmetic.” He said.  “We were very fortunate we had the ability to find good doctors.”

Charlie creates her own Isabel Bloom with her grandmother, Photo by: Isabel Bloom
Charlie creates her own Isabel Bloom with her grandmother, Photo by: Isabel Bloom

But through her extensive research, Jodi Wolfe learned of Operation Smile and its vast work as well as how common the birth defect is, and how devastating it can be particularly in third world countries.  “Charlie’s case here was so different; it’s cosmetic in the U.S. But in other countries it can mean life or death,” she said. “(These children) can’t eat. Sometimes they are left alongside the road to die.  These families often are shunned.  We are so blessed to be in this country.”

It was the couple’s own positive experience with Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital that prompted them to become advocates for Operation Smile and reach out to Isabel Bloom.  They since have been asked to become Operation Smile ambassadors, Jodi Wolfe said.

Young, who owns Isabel Bloom with Cathy Nevins and Bill Barrett, said the project “would not have happened without Mike, Jodi and Charlie.”

She added Operation Smile’s surgeries, which are performed by trained medical teams of volunteers, cost about $240 a piece.  “I’m no mathematician, but I did the math.  We will provide 41 surgeries for 41 children.”

Connie Chiles, an Operation Smile volunteer and a registered nurse at Ottumwa (Iowa) Regional Health Center, was thrilled to accept the check on behalf of the organization.  Thinking of the hundreds of families they help, she said “Until you volunteer on a mission, you do not know the impact it makes on a child.”

Chiles, who has been on 27 missions, said it is not unusual for the team to operate on 100 children per mission.  Though she has “lots of stories” from her trips, she cannot forget one father in Jimma, Ethiopia, who saved enough for one operation although he had three children, ages 12, 14 and 18, all in need.  He arrived at the hospital with all three, she said, telling how his wife had died in childbirth.  Her fourth child, who had been born without the birth defect, later died “because there was no one to feed it.”

“We did (operations on) all three children,” Chiles said.  The father knew his wife “was watching down and knew all three of her children were perfect now.”

“Charlie’s Smile” is available for sale online at IBloom.com.

Left to right, Donna Young, (Co-owner and artist), Bill Barrett, Mike and Cathy Nevins. / Photo By: Isabel Bloom
Left to right, Donna Young, (Co-owner and artist), Bill Barrett, Mike Wolfe, and Cathy Nevins. Photo By: Isabel Bloom

 

 

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Every once in a while, Antique Archaeology acquires slightly creepy picks, which almost instantly makes our shop look a little like a funhouse. What can we say? Sometimes Mike’s taste tilt towards the unusual. Like that one trip to upstate New York when he returned to our Nashville location with a load of clown heads and a gigantic old clown suit! It’s only appropriate with it being Halloween, that we showcase some of the spooky antiques that the Master of Junk has collected over the last few years.

You can see any of the following in Nashville. They’re sure to make your visit extra eerie.

This smiling, Oddfellows skeletal bust currently welcomes store guests behind the front counter.

Mike Wolfe Picks
Photo by Meghan Aileen

Anyone recognize the clown on the left? You saw it on Season 7 when Mike purchased it in upstate New York. The paper mache clown head use to be propped atop a ciricus sign to greet the audience. The Bozo clown head on the right was off that same pick. Either of the clowns is enough to be any coulrophobic person’s worst nightmare!

 

creepy clown photos
Photos by Meghan Aileen

Now this old thing… Nope, it’s not from your worst nightmare – it’s a dental mold tool.

Antique dentures
Photo by Meghan Aileen

Wolf Boy is undoubtedly one of the most famous picks in American Pickers history. He was displayed at circus shows as an attraction and was created by sideshow artist, Homer Tate (read more about him HERE!)

Honor Tate
Photos by Meghan Aileen

Have you ever experienced the unsettling feeling like you’re being watched, heard whispers, or felt some serious chills? Let’s start a spooky story swap in the comments below. The creepier the better!

 

two-lanes-chopper

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