Mike Wolfe Married to Jodi Faeth : in American Pickers. MIKE WOLFE, the co-star of “American Pickers,” the popular antiques show, is known for driving the country’s back roads and pulling old signage, bicycles, gasoline pumps and other “rusty gold,” to use his term, out of people’s barns and garages. So it’s not entirely surprising to walk into his house and find a 1913 Harley-Davidson parked in the dining room.
Like everything Mr. Wolfe “picks,” the motorcycle has a story. He bought it in upstate New York from a man whose father ran a classified ad that Mr. Wolfe came across 30 years later. After establishing that the bike was still in the family, he recalled, “I drove all the way to New York, slept in the guy’s driveway and knocked on his door the next morning.”
Fast-talking and persistent, Mr. Wolfe, 46, can sniff out unique or valuable antiques like a bloodhound. He persuaded the reluctant owner to sell him the bike for $25,000, although “it’s worth 55 grand, easily,” he said, holding the handlebars protectively, as if a visitor might jump on and drive away.
On “American Pickers” (and in “American Pickers Guide to Picking,” a book out next month from Hyperion), Mr. Wolfe and his childhood friend, Frank Fritz, 47, show a similar enthusiasm for wheeling and dealing with eccentric collectors or, more often, “freestyling,” their word for driving around in search of homes with lawns that look like junkyards and may contain treasures. As pickers, they are middlemen in the antiques food chain, buying items they can sell quickly, at a markup, to dealers and collectors.
The History cable-network reality series draws about 5.5 million viewers a week, and its success lies in its rugged approach to the traditionally genteel antiques world. As Mr. Wolfe put it, “We don’t wear blue blazers and have 10 cats and talk about Ming Dynasty vases.” Seeing him pull a dirt-caked crock from a farmer’s field with giddy excitement, one might assume Mr. Wolfe lives in the kind of pack-rat nest he visits on the show.
In fact, he owns one of the prettiest buildings on the main street of this small town on the Mississippi River, and the duplex apartment on the top floors that he shares with his girlfriend, Jodi Faeth, is furnished with Mission-style pieces, comfy chairs and a few carefully edited picks, like the 1913 Harley and a weather vane pulled from a Nebraska barn.
Their third-floor bedroom has large windows with a sweeping view of the river. “I can sit right here, dude,” Mr. Wolfe said, hopping onto the bed with his boots on. “I can watch the river, I got the fireplace raging. It’s like a treehouse up here.”
Following the advice in his book, which suggests avoiding “fresh paint jobs,” “landscaping” and “shiny new cars,” his house wouldn’t rate a second look from a picker. What gives?
“I love this stuff, but I would never live in a place that looks like the places we pick,” Mr. Wolfe said, leading a visitor around the building, a former grocery and boardinghouse built in 1860 that was a “dump,” he said, when he bought it seven years ago.
It doesn’t look like that now. Mr. Wolfe refurbished the ground floor and rents it to a pair of home décor stores. Upstairs, he gutted the space to the studs, widening doorways and windows to open the floor plan. “There were four fireplaces in this building — so all that soot,” he said. “I still have a cough.”
The original window trim and hardwood floors retain the building’s historic feel, but Mr. Wolfe installed a modern kitchen and bathrooms.
Still, one thinks of “American Pickers” and envisions Mr. Wolfe on an old farm, tinkering with machinery. “I want to be in the thick of things downtown,” he countered. “See, that’s the beauty of this property, man. I’ve got a two-car garage, a courtyard and I’m on the river side. I’ve really created my own environment.”
It appears the building is one of Mr. Wolfe’s picks, and to pay for it, and its renovation, he sold several of his other picks, including rare motorcycles. (In typical fashion, he also negotiated the $325,000 asking price down to $175,000.)
Mr. Wolfe, who has lived in LeClaire for 15 years, owns several buildings in town and would like to see the riverfront community become a tourist destination. Speaking as if the town itself were a pick, he said, “I used to wander around down here at night and say, ‘This could be something.’ ”