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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 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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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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As previously published in AAA Magazine SEPTEMBER 2021 issue.

William J. Purpura is editor of AAA Magazine.

Mike Wolfe’s Nashville Big Backyard project was featured in AAA Magazine! Scroll below to get a closer look!

 

Mike Wolfe grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa, trash picking his way through his early years. Bikes in bad shape were his passion, pulling his

two-wheeled loves from his neighbors’ trash to breathe them back to life to sell to other neighborhood kids. Wolfe’s been covered in the

dust and rust of Americana ever since, mining for buried treasures in backroad barns and leaning sheds across the country.

His discoveries of all the bits and pieces of American history that have survived the ages in the hands of amateur collectors and serious hoarders end up in one of Wolfe’s Antique Archaeology stores in Le Claire, Iowa, or Nashville, Tenn.

Wolfe lived a simple life on the road in obscurity, driving from one small town to the next in a non-descript cargo van. That all changed in 2010 when he hit gold.

In January of that year, the History Channel debuted the first episode of “American Pickers,” a television show created by Wolfe that drew in 5.4 million viewers each
week. As the show’s star, Wolfe suddenly lost his anonymity. Heading into its 11th season, “American Pickers” is still a hit and shows no sign of going away anytime soon.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Wolfe. “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had never done television before; had never been on camera. It’s a non-scripted show. I try to find different ways to say the same thing. What saves us is the people that we’re picking and the process – us rummaging through a barn or an old chicken coop. It’s very voyeuristic. It allows you to get into a world that maybe you never knew existed.”

The wildly popular television show has since been syndicated in 63 other countries. There is “Italian Pickers,” “Australian Pickers” and “Irish Pickers,” all featuring their own versions of America’s stars Mike Wolfe, Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby searching for remnants of their own country’s history.

Considering Wolfe’s passion for all things small-town America, it should come as no surprise that he has joined up with leaders from 13 rural middle Tennessee and northwest Alabama communities to launch a new regional movement known as “Nashville’s Big Back Yard.”

Anchored by 100 miles of the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway, the movement is designed to highlight communities with populations less than 5,000 –from Leiper’s Fork, Tenn. (Wolfe’s home), down to The Shoals of Alabama.

Said Wolfe, “Everybody’s always looking for an authentic experience. We were just creating an outline for others to do the same. That’s what we want. ‘Nashville’s Big Back Yard’ can serve as a model for building tourism in small towns across the country. These are also places to live affordably and with a new sense of purpose.”

Wolfe is quick to point out that the main character behind this movement is philanthropist Aubrey Preston, founder of the Americana Music Triangle, which connects Nashville, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans. Preston and his team began researching the two-lane-road towns that have survived between these major tourist cities.

“He connected it all together,” said Wolfe. “The research that has been done is amazing.”

Asked why he felt so compelled to take on the role of frontman for this movement, Wolfe said, “I always try to lose myself in the landscape. Get off your travel apps and just drive. Visit small town America and do it now because it’s fading fast. It’s a national pandemic. I don’t want all of these places to disappear on our watch. This is our time. This is our chance to make a difference.”

Asked about the appeal of Leiper’s Fork, the northernmost town on the trail, Wolfe described it as once being very bohemian. It has since come to be home to soap opera stars, world-class musicians, and pro athletes and coaches. “It’s become something different, but the core of it is the same,” he said.

As for the other “Nashville’s Big Back Yard” towns, Wolfe provided a few highlights:

Santa Fe – Just outside of Santa Fe, in the small community of Bethel, is Nett’s Country Store. In addition to selling gasoline and a few groceries, Nett, the owner, serves some of the best Southern food in the region – fried chicken, fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, green beans, corn and homemade pies for dessert.

Centerville – This is the home of Minnie Pearl, arguably one of the most popular Grand Ole Opry stars in its 95-year history. Minnie’s famed and fictionalized “Grinders Switch” is memorialized with The Grinders Switch Hour, a 90-minute live radio show broadcast every Saturday morning from downtown Centerville and the Grinders Switch Museum, housed in the Hickman County Chamber of Commerce offices in Centerville.

Linden – Situated on the beautiful Buffalo River, Linden is home to the historic Commodore Hotel and Music Café, which was named one of the six great places to stay in Tennessee. Linden has a robust community of artisans who showcase and sell their works at Buffalo River Artisan Cooperative and Main Street Market.

Hampshire – Hampshire is arguably the wine capital of Middle Tennessee with Amber Falls, Keg Springs and Natchez Hills wineries all located in this quaint community.

Hohenwald – Hohenwald is best known for The Elephant Sanctuary. Yes, there are elephants in Tennessee. The sanctuary provides captive elephants with individualized care and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven. While the sanctuary is not open to the public, guests who are interested may have a sanctuary experience at the Elephant Discovery Center in downtown Hohenwald.

Mount Pleasant – Mount Pleasant Grille is one of the best places in all of Nashville’s Big Back Yard to experience Southern American cuisine. It’s one of those places to get really good food and have a wonderful dining experience over and over again.

Summertown – The most unique thing in Summertown is The Farm, an intentional community founded in 1971 and home to 200 residents. For those who would like to experience The Farm for a few days, cabins are available to rent.

Clifton – The beautiful town of Clifton is right on the Tennessee River, which makes the local marina one of the most popular spots in town. Clifton also is home to 1933 Pulitzer Prize-winning author T.S. Stribling whose Clifton home is now a museum.

Waynesboro – Home to the Natural Bridge and Tennessee Fitness Spa. The bridge is one of the only known double-span natural bridges in the world and is a perfect setting for an outdoor spa experience.

Collinwood – Collinwood is Tennessee’s point of access to the historic Natchez Trace Parkway. One of the oldest roads in America, the parkway is the perfect stretch of road for motorcycling, bicycling and a leisurely drive. Collinwood has markets, restaurants, grocery stores and lodging for the trace traveler.

Loretto – The must-do in Loretto is Lo-Town Brew. Great coffee, good food and live music all situated on a two-lane road. What else do you need?

The Alabama Shoals – It’s all about the music, where artists including The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Cher, The Allman Brothers, Chris Stapleton and more recorded some of their biggest hits. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and Fame Studios are still creating musical magic.

For details about Nashville’s Big Back Yard and more information about what to see and do, visitwww.nashvillesbigbackyard.org.

For your trip planning needs, call your local AAA Travel agent or visit AAA.com/Travel.

William J. Purpura is editor of AAA Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

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American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe: ‘I probably wouldn’t have the show if it wasn’t for Nashville’

He fell in love with a lower Broadway honky-tonk on a cross-country trip, and after that, Wolfe started collaborating with Music Row, moved here and became an ambassador for small-town Tennessee

Nashville Tennessean
 

Like tens of thousands of tourists before him, Mike Wolfe was blown away when he walked into Robert’s Western World.

A band played Johnny Cash and Hank Williams songs. Rows and rows of cowboy boots lined the walls. Patrons at the bar sipped from 16-ounce cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and ate burgers.

At 11 in the morning.

On a weekday.

“I was like, holy s***, this is legit,” Wolfe said. “It was everything I’d ever conjured in my mind of what a honky tonk would be.”

It was 2001, about eight years before American Pickers was on TV, when Wolfe — a successful antiques dealer —was on an 1,100-mile motorcycle ride from his hometown in Iowa to North Carolina.

RELATED: American Pickers’ Mike Wolfe: Repairing historical buildings daunting but important

Wolfe ordered a burger and stayed about 30 minutes listening to the band before getting back on his bike and riding down the road.

The experience stuck with him, though, and it kicked off a relationship with Nashville that helped launch his successful History Channel show.

American Pickers debuted in 2010, and a year later, Wolfe moved from Iowa to Leiper’s Fork, opened an antiques store in Nashville and turned into a celebrity hype man for small-town Tennessee.

Part of that effort is his desire to give back to the area that helped him launch American Pickers: “I probably wouldn’t have the show if it wasn’t for Nashville.”

And part of it is that Wolfe, 56, really believes in revitalizing small, charming, rural towns. After all, he came from one.

‘Like a street brawl!’

Wolfe grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa, which is about the size of Mount Juliet, Tenn.

His dad left when he was two and his mom struggled to raise Wolfe and his two siblings on her paychecks from her factor assembly line job. 

As a young man, Wolfe yearned for a sense of belonging, and he found it 11 miles away in the tiny town LeClaire, Iowa. He was an antiques dealer there, and served on the volunteer fire department, which needed a new ladder truck.

The other firefighters told Wolfe — because he was single with no kids — he should run for town council and get them a new truck. Wolfe thought they were crazy, but, intrigued, he decided to go to a council meeting.

“It was like a street brawl!” he said.

“There was some land dispute, and it was packed in that room. I couldn’t even sleep that night!”

With the firefighters’ help, Wolfe got 430 votes, badly beating out a lawyer for an open council seat. He bought a big riverboat captain’s house for under $80,000. He immersed himself in the town’s history. And the elders took him under their wings.

“People there were like family to me,” Wolfe said. “All of a sudden, you feel like you’re part of something.”

Wolfe has been hooked on small towns since — even more so as Wolfe has driven a van to thousands of them for more than 25 year of “picking” antiques.

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Before the show launched, he started coming to Nashville regularly after his visit to Robert’s Western World. Nashville antique stores were “eye opening” in how different they were from the ones he saw elsewhere.

“It’s first time I ever saw a concentrated area of designers and decorators with retail spaces, letting people walk into the aesthetic,” he said. “I was blown away by level of retail and level of branding these dealers were doing in creating experiences.”

Wolfe started buying antiques in Nashville once a month, selling at the flea market at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, meeting people from Music Row and renting vintage props for some country music videos.


That’s when Wolfe came up with the idea for American Pickers. And it was his new Nashville friends in video production who helped him create it. 

He hired a Nashvillian to write an outline for the show to pitch to production companies, which in turn pitched it to cable networks.

Wolfe started shooting his own video in Iowa and getting feedback on it from Nashville friends. And then he landed a deal with History Channel.

The show launched in 2010, and within a year, Wolfe had more friends in Tennessee than he did in Iowa.

Wolfe chose to live in the charming Williamson County hamlet of Leiper’s Fork. After nearly a lifetime in Iowa, Wolfe said, “it actually felt like I was moving home.”

Wanna move to Centerville, Tenn.?

Wolfe moved to Leiper’s Fork as a celebrity because his show blew up in the first season, drawing more than six million viewers an episode. He joined other stars including Michael McDonald (The Doobie Brothers) and Sheryl Crow in what they all called “the Fork.”

But it was Wolfe’s newborn, Charlie, who was the star as she was one of only three babies — the “Fork babies” — in the hamlet.

“This community put their arms around me and my family wholeheartedly,” he said.

Wolfe opened his Antique Archeology in 2011 as the first retail shop in Marathon Village in North Nashville, a cool, newly renovated 1900s automobile factory. Wolfe signed autographs there for 10 hours on the day it opened.

Famous Nashvillians including Dolly Parton and rocker Jack White made guest appearances on American Pickers. 

Wolfe said he appreciates that everyone in Leiper’s Fork knows him —not because he’s famous but because everyone knows everyone.

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“I walk into Country Boy [diner] and they bring me my breakfast without me ordering,” he said. 

“Ms. Rose’s jacket still hangs on her stool at Country Boy even though she died three years ago. Where else can you have that kind of experience?”

It’s exactly those kind of experiences Wolfe is trying to replicate now in his nonprofit venture, Nashville’s Big Back Yard.

Wolfe joined longtime Tennessee preservationist Aubrey Preston to encourage people to move to — or at least visit — a dozen small Tennessee towns between Nashville and Muscle Shoals, Ala.

That effort makes even more sense during the pandemic as more people work remotely. Wolfe is joining dozens of small-town chambers of commerce across the country to get folks to move to rural America to revitalize it.


“These places and these people are extremely excited about their future for the first time in a long time,” he said. 

“The charm and the history can’t be found anywhere else. But there are so many shuttered storefronts and dilapidated properties,” he said.

“I’ve seen so much devastation under what I call under our watch. The government has offered incentives for companies to move into rural areas.

“I’ve been trying to save small-town America for years. When you’re lifting up a town, you’re not just lifting up a town, you’re lifting up people.”

Among the 12 towns Wolfe’s nonprofit is promoting are Waynesboro, Hohenwald, Linden and Centerville.

“Go visit. A visit is the start” Wolfe said. “These charming places you imagine, they still exist. Get off the travel apps. Take a two-lane road and travel and stop where you want to eat and stay where you want to stay.”

Then consider moving there, he said.

“When you’re in a small town, you feel like you’re part of something bigger than you. It’s a sense of community we’re constantly longing for.”

Reach Brad Schmitt at brad@tennessean.com or 615-259-8384 or on Twitter @bradschmitt.

 

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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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