‘American Pickers’ Clevelanders meet TV star Mike Wolfe
by BETTIE MARLOWE
Oct 26, 2011 | 10292 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“AMERICAN PICKERS GUIDE TO PICKING” co-authors Mike Wolfe and Libby Callaway spoke at the Museum Center at Five Points on Oct. 23. Wolfe, along with Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby, share their experiences of picking in The History Channel’s hit production of “American Pickers.” (Right inset) Little Haley Erickson poses for a photo with Mike Wolfe of the “Pickers” TV hit. Photo by DONNA KAYLOR
“AMERICAN PICKERS GUIDE TO PICKING” co-authors Mike Wolfe and Libby Callaway spoke at the Museum Center at Five Points on Oct. 23. Wolfe, along with Frank Fritz and Danielle Colby, share their experiences of picking in The History Channel’s hit production of “American Pickers.” (Right inset) Little Haley Erickson poses for a photo with Mike Wolfe of the “Pickers” TV hit. Photo by DONNA KAYLOR
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Mike Wolfe is a lifelong “picker.” And when he met journalist (and Clevelander) Libby Callaway at a photo shoot, they found they were on the same wavelength as far as “picking” is concerned, and began to share their experiences.

On Oct. 23, the two — co-authors of “American Pickers Guide to Picking” — spoke to 339 visitors to the museum and, in addition, signed books for another 49.

Callaway told how her mother Phyllis Callaway introduced her to flea market finds, along with other family members, and the two began to share information.

Of course, picking was Wolfe’s livelihood. Callaway’s journeys as a writer had taken her from Lifestyles editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner to the New York Post and several fashion magazines on her way back to Tennessee.

Picking, for her, had evolved to vintage clothes and resale as she launched her own freelance career.

Wolfe, on the other hand, had started picking when he was preschooler. Before he was put in kindergarten at age 4, he was already wandering alleys finding good stuff. In fact, he found so much good stuff, his mother, tired of seeing the yard fill up, offered him the garage. “I’ll park my car outside,” she said, “and you can have the garage.”

One of his first collections was after Halloween — collecting jack-o’-lanterns. He said he didn’t know the pumpkins would rot until he saw the faces drooping and they started smelling. He continued to search the neighborhood. One man gave him a cigar box — a treasure keeper for all the small things he found. He had found his niche — a “Kid Picker” who had curiosity.

The first thing he actually sold from his pickings was a bicycle at age 4. He was asked, “what are going to do with that bicycle?” He cleaned it up and sold to an older kid for $5.

Wolfe told Callaway about trying to sell a reality show about his and Frank Fritz’ (an old buddy of some 30 years) picking trips. No one, he said, would buy.

But finally The History Channel “took a chance.” The first show aired in January 2010.

Two days before filming, Fritz called and said he couldn’t come — he had a wedding to go to. So the first show went on without him. In September another friend, Danielle Colby, came on board to do research.

And so it all happened — “Let’s go find something — film here, film here ...”

Maybe it was fate author met picker. “If it does take off,” he told Callaway, “I want you to write the book.”

Now some 5 million viewers watch “American Pickers” each week. And the time came “to write ‘our’ book.”

Callaway said many people are changed by exposure, “but not Mike.” She said he still has time for everyone. “The show touches everyone of all ages, and he wants to engage all in conversation.”

So when the book came off the press in September, of course, Callaway wanted to be sure Cleveland people had the opportunity to meet Wolfe and hear him talk about the show and “American Pickers Guide to Picking.”

She said as she traveled for the past several years, wherever she was in the world, there was a Cleveland connection. Cleveland to her, she said, “is the center of the universe.”

When Wolfe was asked what was his favorite thing found, he answered, “Libby Callaway.” He said she is passionate about what he likes to do. The show, he said, is about all of us. “We don’t call it working,” he said. “We just like to wander around.”

He said picking or collecting things is all about relationships. “That’s what is important.”

Calling items “flintstones of history,” he said finding and collecting things is “an extension of yourself. It’s a love of history come full circle.”

When we collect or buy, Wolf said, we become a part of who you are. “And that’s important to us.”

People who have talked with him said the show was a blessing as they looked at junk in a different way. “It’s not junk — you can repurpose it,” he said.

He told about as a child, riding his bicycle around the neighborhood, he saw an old store that had been a music store. There were banjos and guitars in the window and he knew there had to be a story there.

Wolfe said he doesn’t pigeon-hole himself. “We are blessed with the love of history and tradition — people collect stuff and history and we appreciate that.”

When asked what he had looked for, but hasn’t found, he said he hasn’t found a pre-1920 motorcycle. But he did find something out of the ordinary recently — an electrified peacock. “It had a motor in its butt and would spread its feathers.” It is now in his Nashville store.

Another treasure that found a home in his store is a “love boot.” It now serves as a guest “book” and is covered with visitors’ signatures.

Wolfe said it is more difficult to find things in the South. But there’s stuff everywhere, he said — “Pennsylvania is incredible — New York, New Hampshire ...”

He said the South has its own food, own music and its own language. No one holds more closely to family,” he said, “and I want to be part of it. He said the flea markets in the South are the social part of people’s lives.

On another trip to Cleveland, Callaway led him to an old garage in Cleveland filled with items for the “picking.” What did Wolfe choose? The chain of an old pulley. “I like chains,” he explained.

Wolfe, his picking partner, Fritz, and researcher, Colby, are like family, he said. But, he added, “we are totally different. But we have fun and tease each other.”

Wolfe recalled his most frustrating encounter. He visited the “Mole Man,” who had his store of preserved items 28 feet underground. For two days, he said, “we explored the underground storage and the man would only sell one sign.”

He said he knows people are proud and passionate about their things. “It’s a love relationship,” he said. “We make people comfortable and natural in the way we relate to them and talk to them.”

He hears many stories in his travels, Wolfe said, and finds humor in unexpected places. He met an older gentleman (one of twins) who lived down a dirt road. Every vehicle he had ever owned was in the yard. The old gentleman told Wolfe he used to go into town once a month to get gas and endured teasing from a town bully. One day, the bully said to him, “There’s not much that separates you from an idiot, is there?”

The man replied, “Just gas cans.”

But the worst thing, Wolfe said, that ever happened to him was when he knocked on a door and it was answered with a gun in his face, and an angry “Get off my property.”

Terrified, Wolfe calmly asked, ‘How much for the gun?”