My name is Mike Wolfe, and I’m the creator and host of a show on The History Network called “American Pickers.”
I’ve also got a children’s book that just came out called “Kid Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure.” Basically, the book teaches children when they can find things, they can learn about their community’s history, their family’s history, recycling and re-purposing.
So here’s a story from my own youth, about how I stumbled into this crazy profession.
We lived in Joliet, Illinois. I was one of those kids that walked to school. I had a single mother, and we didn’t have a lot of money. I can remember, when I walked to school, I could always see the older kids down the street, and they all had these incredible bicycles. You know, just watching the motion, them having fun, I wanted one really bad. I wasn’t even old enough or even big enough to ride one, but I knew I had to have one. My mother couldn’t afford one, and she shut me down.
Now, one day I was walking to school and it was one of those really large garbage days where everybody threw everything out. So I’m looking at all this stuff and I notice there’s like two or three bicycles, and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my gosh, I cannot believe that someone actually threw out bicycles.”
It was like full-on, wild west days, gold rush. I mean, time stopped for me.
I don’t care how old you are. When you want something so badly, and then all of a sudden you’re thrown into it, there’s nothing else.
I was looking around like, “Okay, are these really free?” And I actually went to one of the houses. I said, “Excuse me, are you throwing away these bicycles?” And they said, “Yes, we are young man.” And I was like, “Okay, game on.”
Have you ever had just one chocolate cookie? Have you ever had just one brownie? Have you ever ate just one potato chip? No. So when you’re standing there and you’re looking at all these bicycles, why would you want to just take one?
So I grabbed the bikes.
I decided not to go to school that day. I was like, “I’m too busy to do that,” and I drug all this stuff home. It took me, gosh, at least two or three hours because there were a lot of parts. And then I’m standing in a sea of bicycles. I was in heaven.
I’m standing in the front yard, very proud of myself. I’m like, “I climbed Mt. Everest here. I’m planting the flag.”
I turn around, and my mom is there. It’s just this “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” moment, you know? She’s got the hairy eyeball. I’m looking at her, she’s looking at me.
She got a call from the school and she was beside herself. She had to get home right away to find out what happened to me. She’s like, “What are you doing?”
I couldn’t think of anything else other than: “This is my bicycle shop. I’m starting a bicycle shop.”
She was mad. She was so mad.
She was like, “Stay in school. But, if you’re gonna start a bicycle shop, then what I will do is: I’m not gonna pull my car in the garage anymore. The garage is yours. That’s where you can put all of this stuff.”
I remember that just like it was yesterday, because, you know, her car was everything to her. We’re in the Midwest, the winters are bad, so she had to actually go out there and scrape the windshield and do all these things that she normally wouldn’t have to do. She did that for me.
That one moment where she gave me the space to put things, and she understood how much they meant to me, meant everything to me.