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Article in American Airlines Celebrated Living Magazine Fall 2015

Picking on Nashville

History channel star Mike Wolfe has set up shop in Music City and has become one of its main attractions



Mike Wolfe in his shop, Antique Archaeology, in Nashville.  Photo by Kristin Barlowe.

The approach shot from Nashville’s trendy West End to Marathon Village is altogether peculiar. The city’s skyline ebbs into and out of view as you pass cranes and buildings and trees. The closer you get, the more your view is obscured by rows of warehouses.

That’s when you start to get a sense of the zoning juggernaut that became the banjo-plucking subtext of Music City’s notoriety. Tree-lined schoolyards butt up to industry; a hospice is across 18th Avenue from a motorcycle shop.

But then you turn onto Clinton Street, and it all makes sense.

The aging, rust-colored brick exterior and the filmy panel windows of the turn-of-the-century building — once a Marathon automobile manufacturing plant — look old, yes, but not in imminent decay. Quite the contrary, actually. The aging hulk is the perfect anchor — with just the right amount of patina — for a section of town teeming with energy and in the midst of a renaissance; with folks young and old converging on a shop made famous on the History channel by a country boy from Iowa.

Mike Wolfe makes an approach shot of his own, from the interior of his shop, Antique Archaeology, to the 18-foot moving truck on Clinton Street that bears the shop’s brand. His clothes resemble his picker’s uniform, which doubles as his business attire. The khaki-colored denim pants and blue denim shirt are common sights on his show, American Pickers. He’s wearing a trucker’s hat pulled low over his eyes, thereby making him somewhat indistinguishable from the throng of workers and shoppers milling about. Then a woman spots him and announces to the horde of tourists who came to Nashville from all over the country, “There he is!”

She and the other 20 people waiting on the sidewalk just happened to get lucky. Wolfe is on the road seven months out of the year, crisscrossing the country looking for vintage goods for American Pickers. This is a rare 9 a.m. appearance on Clinton Street for him. The shop doesn’t even open for another hour.

“Can we take your picture?” one woman asks. “We came all the way from Illinois just to meet you!”

“Oh, yeah?” Wolfe replies, now holding court for the early-morning shoppers. “Well then here, let me get in the picture with you.”

More people arrive and more tourists clamor for a shot with the reality star. He entertains them all. Perhaps he’s the living embodiment of a your-mamma-raised-you-right childhood, or maybe his humility is the byproduct of a memory that still reverts back to when he was sleeping in his van a decade ago while searching for salvaged gold in the barns of America’s back roads. The tourists couldn’t care less. They came to see Mike Wolfe, and here he is.

It is only a five-minute drive through the Gulch neighborhood to 12th Street. Wolfe maneuvers his 1951 candy-apple-red Ford F100 pickup truck through construction convoys and sky-high cranes and speaks as enthusiastically about his new hometown as he does when coming across a vintage Indian motorcycle on American Pickers. “I’ve been all over the country, and I haven’t seen this much growth anywhere,” he says. “The eyes of the world are on Nashville.”

He’s absolutely right. But the humble 50-year-old fails to note that he’s a major reason why Nashville has taken center stage on cable television, and why tour buses make the out-of-the-way Marathon Village neighborhood an attraction for excursions that used to cap the expedition at the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry.

“Most people come to Antique Archaeology and they’re not collectors,” he quips as he parks his truck on 12th Street in a spot he just created. His truck is, after all, cool, and it adds to the hip aesthetic around shops like Imogene + Willie custom jeans. (That’s his 1914 Harley-Davidson in the window.) “They come here and they want a piece of the store and the show.”

His show encompasses the dichotomous themes of America: smart growth while preserving our history. That’s why he and his wife, Jodi, moved to Nashville in 2011, just 10 days after the birth of their daughter. Nashville strikes the perfect balance of old meets new. What’s more, there’s a premium on architectural revival, unlike some cities in America that would just as soon knock down an aging eyesore as to save it.

Four years after touching down, he’s as dug in to the city as the planning and zoning commission. In addition to running his shops (the other Antique Archaeology is in Le Claire, Iowa), he also runs a clothing business, does his reality-show filming, has one show that has gone to series at HGTV plus two more pilots, another four in the works and he’s about to be a landlord (again).

Wolfe recently bought the 1882 building on the corner of 14th and Jo Johnson Avenue that was once a neighborhood grocer. The renovation is enormous and tedious, as Wolfe is trying to salvage every vestige of its past before he rents it out as a mixed-use facility. “I’ve always had an interest in old buildings,” he says. “This one tells a great story of the city. It’s also been a dentist office, and an old timer walked by and told me about when there used to be wash basins attached to it that people would use to do their laundry.”

“Hey, mamma, how’s it going?” Wolfe asks of the lady selling bracelets on Broadway in downtown Nashville. “Hey, baby!” she replies. “Good to see you!”

Wolfe is walking to Robert’s Western World for a burger and a beer, having just valeted his truck. Sort of. He pulls up to the gaggle of valets standing around, asks if anyone knows how to drive the thing, and when they all say no, he asks if anyone wants to try. One valet volunteers and instantly floods the engine. Wolfe helps him push it to the side of the street, where it sits and attracts as much attention from tourists as the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on the corner.

The barroom is barren at noon on Thursday. All the action is next door at Tootsie’s. A couple of locals nurse their Busch Light cans while a lone musician croons from a stage at the entrance. No one acknowledges him when a song begins — or when one ends.

Then Wolfe does. He lets out thunderous applause and shouts — loudly — in between songs. The other patrons follow suit. Instantly, the dynamic changes and people on the street pop in to hear what the commotion is about.

That’s what Mike Wolfe does for a community. For humanity, even. He’s out there picking through long-ago-faded memories with hopes of unearthing the stories they tell.

“I think everyone needs to see small-town America before it disappears,” he says, putting down his burger to weigh his words. “For the show, we go into these towns that are two lanes, and the buildings are falling down because the city can’t afford to keep them up, and the shopkeeps have long since left. I’m trying to figure out a way to help. It breaks my heart.”

He recalls a story from a pick in Arkansas. He was talking to the lone proprietor of the last standing business on Main Street. The man’s eyes welled up as he talked of happier times — of times when Main Street was where you came to shop as well as catch up with your neighbors and chew the fat about town goings-on. He said something to Wolfe that pangs him to this day: Imagine outliving your friends and how hurtful that feels. Now imagine outliving your town.

“Traveling is about moments,” he declares. “Why do we need to know what those moments are before we leave? Get out there. Go explore.”

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Bessie Stringfield, the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami”, broke barriers for women and African-American cyclists. Throughout her life she completed eight solo cross-country tours and served as a U.S. Army motorcycle dispatch rider. In 2002, she was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

History of Women in Motorcycles
Bessie Stringfield Photo Courtesy of AMA Motorcycle Museum

Born in Jamaica in 1911, she moved to Boston with her family and was orphaned by the age of five.  Bessie never mentioned her adoptive mother’s name in interviews, but she gave Bessie her first motorcycle at age 16, a 1928 Indian Scout. Her adopted mother was a devout Irish Catholic and believed giving Bessie a motorcycle was God’s will.  Bessie went on to say, “When I was in high school I wanted a motorcycle, and even though good girls didn’t ride motorcycles, I got one.”

Known as “BB” amongst friends, she took eight solo cross country trips in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as rides into Haiti, Europe, and South America.  Tossing a coin on a map would determine her next destination, and she would pick up gigs at carnival shows as a hill climber and stunt racer to  make money on the road.  It wasn’t easy for Bessie to find a place to stay overnight when she drove through a racially tense and segregated South. She discussed the challenge in Ann Ferrar’s book, Hear me Roar.

“If you had black skin, you couldn’t get a place to stay. I knew the Lord would take care of me, and He did. If I found black folks, I’d stay with them. If not, I’d sleep at filling stations on my motorcycle.”

In World War II, Bessie worked on courier duty as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider for the Army. She completed intense training while serving, and learned such skills as weaving a makeshift bridge out of rope, and using tree limbs to cross swamps.

In the 1950s, Bessie bought a house in a Miami suburb, became a licensed practical nurse, and formed the Iron Horse Motorcycle Club. By this time she had been married and divorced six different times. While living there, she gained the lifelong moniker “The Motorcycle Queen of Miami.” In 1990, the AMA paid tribute to Bessie with the “Heroes of Harley Davidson” exhibit. Throughout her life, she owned 27 Harleys and claimed them to be “the only motorcycle ever made.” Bessie was still riding in 1993, when, at 82, her big, well-used heart beat its last.  

Bessie Springfield Women in Motorcycles
Bessie Stringfield Photo Courtesy of AMA Motorcycle Museum

Photos courtesy of the AMA Motorcycle Museum



Saving Nashville’s Historic Buildings – It’s Now or Never!

In a city that is growing so rapidly that cranes dot our skylines, high rise buildings take the place where some of our history once stood. Nashville is fortunate to have a hard working organization taking up the cause for preservation. Established in 1968 and renamed in 1975, Historic Nashville, Inc. (HNI) is a nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting and preserving the historic places that make our city unique. Over the years, HNI has successfully advocated for the preservation of such landmarks as the Ryman Auditorium, Union Station, Hermitage Hotel, 2nd Avenue & Lower Broadway and Shelby Street Bridge, as well as neighborhood historic districts throughout the city. Without their efforts, some of most valuable buildings may have fallen prey to modern development.


Historic Nashville Inc’s Nashville Nine

For the past eleven years, the organization has opened up nominations of the Nashville Nine for people to have their voices heard on the historic landmarks that matter most to them. Upon closing of nominations, HNI compiles the Nashville Nine in order to bring public attention to our endangered places, often with the hopes of saving them.

Through July 15, Historic Nashville, Inc. is now accepting nominations for the 2015 Nashville Nine. If you’re aware of any historic properties endangered by demolition, neglect or development in the city please nominate them. Historic houses and/or neighborhoods, park buildings, civic landmarks, commercial buildings, neighborhood schools, churches and even neon signs are eligible.

Nominate Nashville’s Endangered Buildings Here



Visit Nashville Historic, Inc Online for more on their efforts and some of Nashville’s history. Their website is here. 

Want to follow their efforts all year? Like their Facebook page here and tell them Antique Archaeology sent you!



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Custom, American Made Apparel With Vintage Styling

Two Lanes by Antique Archaeology


Rust, Dust & Two Lane Wanderlust!

The all new, original Two Lanes collection from Antique Archaeology embodies more than just the spirit of back roads travel. Two Lanes tanks and tees represent everything we believe about buying American and keeping small town businesses and dreams alive. Our first ever Two Lanes Collection includes some hand drawn artwork of very talented artisans, depicting our love of back roads travel, rust, dust & the spirit of the vintage motopioneer.

Produced with 100% cotton, quality fabric, and custom, vintage style washes, the entire collection is made right here in the USA!

See the Two Lanes LookBook below for style inspirations using Two Lanes apparel.

Every design is available in all sizes in our online store here now.

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All Photography by Meghan Aileen.


Stop & Take a Photo – It’s National Camera Day!

national camera day, two lanes, american vintage, mike wolfe, american picker
Children at the FSA Camelback Farms inspect the photographer’s camera. Phoenix, Arizona, 1942 – Russell Lee

Not many things have changed history in quite the way that the camera has. Walking around with one in our pocket thanks to those handy smart phones, they may be easy to take for granted in 2015. Every year, on June 29th, however, we’re all encouraged to stop and appreciate what it means to be able to “capture” all those moments that until 1839, quickly slipped away.

We have Louis Jacques Daguerre to thank for starting it. He took the first fixed image that didn’t fade all the way back in 1839. We have George Eastman to thank for creating flexible film that could be rolled, leading to the sale of the first Kodak in 1888. In the years that followed, we’ve seen the introduction of the first “affordable” 35mm cameras, and then in the middle of the 20th century, the introduction of what could be one of the most fondly remembered cameras of all… the Polaroid. In 1948, the world’s first instant-picture camera was born with no development needed, and the well-recognized act of impatiently shaking the photo while waiting for it to process began! Who would have ever guessed back then that by the late 1980’s our cameras would be digital and just over 20 years later, every phone we carry would allow us to instantly grab a shot of all the little moments of lives, much less instantly publish them online for the world to see!

It’s national camera day TODAY so take a few moments to give a thought or two to just how far we’ve come… and then take a few photos to share!



The Wall of Death & Its Traveling Troupe of Daredevils

Ah….Coney Island, 1911, a time when the smell of motor oil began to intermingle with the scents of popcorn on the carnival midway. The reason? Moto driven side show attractions, from Monkeys driving cars to men on motorcycles. One of the most thrilling of those side show attractions? The “Wall of Death”.

Wall-of-death-photos-1 from american pickers

What is The “Wall of Death”

The Wall of Death, or motordrome, originated as sloped wooden tracks for bicycle racing. As happens with transportation progress, once motors were introduced, the Wall of Death grew faster, taller and more daring. The concept started in the early 1900s with the first carnival motordrome track at Coney Island in New York. Within a year, portable tracks became a staple at traveling carnivals, carrying the entertainment across the country. By 1915, the silodrome, which had 90 degree vertical walls, was introduced and by the 1930s, there were more than 100 of the tracks criss crossing the US as carnival and amusement park sideshow entertainment. Motorcycle and small car stunt drivers, using centrifugal force, began on the silodrome floor, driving in circles at higher and higher speeds until climbing the walls, offering death defying entertainment to audiences who were watching from above.

wallofdeathriders4 from american pickers

Riders of The Wall of Death

Wall of Death riders may have been adrenaline junkies before the phrase “adrenaline junkie” even existed. “Suicide” Bob Perry’s first career was with the motor squad of the New York Police Department. He must have needed more excitement. Not only did he become the ringleader of what was to become one of the first Wall of Death troupes that many people would ever see, but he was also most well known for “raising the hair of the crowd when he careened around without holding the handle-bar.” Bob Perry was joined on the wall by Fearless Billy Ward, whose specialty was his “dips of death”. As he circled the wall at top speeds, Billy Ward would travel up the wall to just below the safety line and then dip, almost instantly, to just above the floor before shooting up the wall again.


wallofdeathphotos2 from american pickers

wall of death newspaper american pickers

Women Are Daredevils Too

Never be mistaken in thinking that all the Wall of Death daredevils were men. Long before the era of Women’s Liberation, fearless motorcycle riding women had earned their place on the Wall of Death among the men. Women like “Suicide” Bob Perry’s sister, Marion, were just as death defying as he was. Every bit the equal to her male counterparts on the wall, Marion has been described as having “pluck and daring” while appearing to be “charming and kindly”.

Daredevils of the Wall Hit the Road

More than just daredevils, “Suicide” Bob Perry and his band of daring riders were nomads as well. Having toured the US with his death defying motorcycle antics, Perry eventually gathered together his trio for the purpose of touring overseas. For many years, as one more than 20 amusements in the Coney Island traveling amusement park, Bob and Marion Perry, joined be Fearless Billy Ward, toured England, France, Germany, and eventually South Africa. Pioneers of their attraction, their time in South Africa was met with rave reviews as they brought the Wall of Death to many towns that had never seen anything like it before.

The Wall of Death in the Modern Era

In the modern era, there are very few motordromes and motordrome stuntmen that remain active. Those that do, such the American Motor Drome Company, use early Indian Scout motorcycles to offer audiences a glimpse into how many of the shows appeared in their original glory days.

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It’s National Bomb Pop Day!

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Charlie Wolfe & friend Fiona, who is rocking a Kid Picker tee! Photo: Meghan Aileen

For most adults, eating a bomb pop on a hot summer day takes them for a stroll down memory lane. Every time I eat one, I am reminded of the little league baseball park where I grew up watching my big brother play ball. I can almost hear the crack of the bat and smell the red dirt of the base lines.

The bomb pop, born in 1955, is a patriotic pop from a patriotic time in American history. The original bomb pop, invented by James S. Merritt and D.S. Abernethy in Kansas City, Missouri on July 30, 1955 was red, white and blue with cherry, lime and blue raspberry flavorings. Today, it’s a treat that has a special place on Summer afternoons, especially when we have the chance to introduce kids to their very first one. Inevitably, when handing a child their first bomb pop, we find ourselves saying, “You know. I used to eat these when I was your age…”

Share the bomb pop love with some kids today, and while you’re at it, tell them about what life was like back when you used to eat them, because it’s National Bomb Pop Day!

Charlie Wolfe & Friends sharing the love of the patriotic pop!
Charlie Wolfe & Friends sharing the love of the patriotic pop! Photo: Meghan Aileen