Mike Wolfe had the audience enthralled from the minute he entered the stage at the fabulous Pabst Theater in his Armani Tuxedo. Yeah, right—try a vintage jacket, flannel shirt and comfy, well-worn jeans. A table and chairs had been set up for him, but he never rested. He just continued to talk to the large group as if he had always been a public speaker, making the nearly two hours just fly by! He shared stories of his youth that lead him to this place, tales of his nearly 5 years of trying to get his show on the air, and some of his adventures with Frank along the road.
Probably the thing that amazed both hubby and me the most was how he got started in “picking.” It turns out that he was a small, under-sized child and he avoided the crowds of bigger, sometime rougher boys, by riding his bike through alleys of his hometown. Well, alleys, especially back then, held all sorts of treasures, including the overflowing garbage cans or dumpsters that held cast-offs. He would drag his finds home and his mom let him keep many of them. He’d clear out his sock drawer to hold his collections and just kept adding on!
When he got older, he wanted to be a full-timer. He met with several gents who already did just that and they told him if he worked very hard, put in long hours, had a lot of luck, and spent his money wisely, he would someday make $20,000 per year! Mike was already making more than that in his bicycle shop, but it still sounded tantalizing and he sold the business. He continued to pursue his dream, but felt something was missing and began filming his transactions. He wanted the interaction of the sellers and buyer to come across. This would allow people to hear about the history of the item, how it came to be in the barn 25 years ago, and what it might have meant to the community or family of the seller. A lot of humor on the subject followed. It was surprising to learn that a very long period of time passed before he got a buyer for 6 episodes. A Canadian company called Cineflix was the original buyer, which sold the show to the History Channel. His next ordeal was convincing Frank to quit his day job and come on board full-time.
He then told how he met Danielle and it was so charming. Every time he mentioned Danielle, the audience cheered; she is definitely a fan favorite! (It was interesting to learn that Danielle was the one who painted the Antique Archeology signs on the building.)
The first episodes (which turned out to be 10 rather than 6) took 5 months to film. Neither Mike, Frank nor Danielle were allowed to see any of the episodes before they were ready to be run, not wanting them to edit the show themselves.
We were then treated to a “blooper reel” and saw some behind-the-scenes shots. It was absolutely wonderful and the audience was laughing so loud you almost missed the words they were saying on the screen! Two of the episodes that were featured brought loud responses from the crowd; one with Judy from Rockford, Illinois who was in the 3rd episode of season one, and Tom the Hippie, who was in several in the next season. Tom hails from Waterford, Wisconsin and is quite a character. Well, both Judy and Tom were in the audience and came up on the stage. They shared stories of the filming and what has taken place since. Judy’s husband passed away shortly after the first season. She became friends with Tom and he even stayed at her place, with 5 of his buddies. One of them has become special to Judy and they are the first “romantic connection” from the Pickers’ show. Judy told us that she was on a cruise to Alaska and people recognized her at once. Tom has quite a following as well, not just locally, but throughout the Pickers’ viewing area and on the Internet. They have well surpassed their 15 minutes of fame! Judy shared with us that Mike is not just a “TV star”; he gives back to his community. Because of his show, businesses in the store’s first location, LeClaire, Iowa, have grown tremendously. Mike welcomed everyone to visit the stores, both in Iowa, and their new one in Nashville, Tennessee. I am hoping to convince hubby to do just that this year!
A Q&A Session followed with questions gathered from the audience. I learned that there is an 8 member crew that handles filming and it takes 8 hours of film to accomplish just 15 minutes of show-time. It was also interesting to hear that while they may show 8-10 items purchased on the show, that Mike, Frank and Danielle actually bought 1,000s of items not shown on air. Mike was also asked what his best Harley-Davidson find was. (Harley is made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Pabst Theater is located and many show attendees were from that area.) He had quite a few to choose from, since motorcycles are one of his great loves, but said his 1909 H-D motor was probably the favorite.
Mike ended the show on a more personal note. He talked about his love of history, the life of the item itself and the people who owned them and took care of them for so many years and how it was sometimes hard for them to part ways. He also believes it is so important that kids get involved in picking and collecting from early on. He is currently working on a “Kids Pickers” site and said he gets literally thousands of letters from kids who have a collection and share it with him.
We had been excited about attending the show and, quite frankly, it exceeded our expectations. When Mike told us it has become the No. 2 show on cable TV, we were not surprised. We are sure it can reach No. 1 down the road!
[Editor's note : Collectors Quest is a partner site of A&E Networks.]