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By Staff | Nov 12, 2010

My wife and I like old, antiquey things, mainly because we’re becoming old and antiquey ourselves.

We enjoy TV programs that feature vintage items; an exciting evening for us involves a bowl of popcorn and “Antiques Roadshow.” A new show that has grabbed our attention is History Channel’s “American Pickers.”

“American Pickers” stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, two ordinary guys who have been friends since eighth-grade. Frank and Mike crawl through junk piles, searching for stuff that they can buy and, hopefully, resell for a profit.

They call it “picking,” but to me it looks more like Dumpster diving or trash trolling.

My wife and I enjoy the show immensely. At the end of each episode we turn to each other and say, “If only we had better junk!”

Some recent wanderings found us in the vicinity of Le Claire, the tiny town where Mike and Frank are based. We decided to visit Le Claire to see if we could find their shop, which they have named Antique Archeology.

I first did a Web search, hoping to increase my chances of snagging an interview. History.com presented an impenetrable corporate wall. Mike’s website revealed that he and Frank have been featured by the New York Times and Nightline. It also stated that the media needs to contact a Los Angeles talent agency to request interviews.

The heck with that, I told my wife. Let’s just go and poke around a bit.

Le Claire reclines on the Iowa side of the Mississippi. We tooled around town for a while, searching for Antique Archeology until my wife finally insisted that we stop to ask directions.

The gas station attendant grinned and said, “It’s right behind us, across the alley.”

I peered across the alley and there it was! The old car with Antique Archeology painted on its side, the shop where Mike and Frank recap their crazy picking adventures!

And in the shop was a tall, lanky figure that seemed familiar. Could it be? It was! Within moments, I was standing face to face with Bigfoot!

No, it was actually the aforementioned Mike Wolfe. And me without any official permission!

Undaunted, my wife and I introduced ourselves. We began to chat with Mike, but were frequently interrupted by autograph seekers and hand shakers. Strangely, none of the autograph seekers sought me.

I would like to report that Mike Wolfe is cold and aloof, the type of guy who brusquely brushes aside little old ladies who want his autograph.

I would like to report that, but it would be totally untrue. Mike proved to be affable and energetic, happy to meet and greet anyone and everyone. He was exactly the same as the Mike we see on TV.

Mike said that he and Frank had just gotten home from three weeks of filming and that he had to leave soon to pick up his dog. If we had shown up an hour earlier or an hour later we would have missed him!

I asked Mike what effect the show has had on his life.

“Our lives haven’t really changed,” he replied, “Except that we’re now a lot busier.”

How does a guy land a show on History Channel?

“Frank and I filmed ourselves picking, then pitched the idea to History Channel for about four years. They said they liked it, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. After the show “Pawn Stars” proved to be so popular they decided to give us a shot.”

“American Pickers” has been on for 10 months. How’s it been going?

“It’s been phenomenal. We debuted with over 3 million viewers and have had over 5 million viewers for some episodes. That’s almost unheard of for cable television.”

It’s nice that you work in little snippets about the places you visit.

“I’m an executive producer, which is one of the things that I fought for. As such, I can control what lands on the screen. If we like a particular town we’ll work in a mention of it.”

You’ve been picking since you were a kid. What was your worst experience?

“I’ve been chased by dogs and have had a gun stuck in my face. Financially, my worst pick is a ’39 Ford I bought in a barn. It was dim in there, so I didn’t notice that the car was so rusty you could poke a finger through it. I lost about $1,000 on that deal.

“But our show isn’t so much about the stuff we pick as it is about the people and their stories. I think that’s why folks like to watch.”

My wife and I went on a treasure hunt in Le Claire. We didn’t find tangible riches, but came away feeling rewarded nonetheless.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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