A lifelong American picker, Mike Wolfe has been searching for hidden treasure since he was four years old. Over the years, he’s earned a reputation as one of the country’s foremost foragers, traveling coast to coast in search of rusty gold. Where other people see dilapidated barns and overgrown yards, Wolfe sees the beauty of long-lost things and the stories of the people who made them, used them and somehow saved them.
Wolfe spends as much time as he can on the road, often with Frank Fritz, his friend of 20 years and fellow picker, in tow. “A picker’s kind of like a nomad,” he explains. And for Wolfe, the people he meets and the tales they tell are an integral part of the journey—ultimately as valuable as the rare finds he unearths in their barns, attics and sheds.
What exactly does Wolfe look for? “Anything I can make a buck on,” he laughs. But truly, he looks for things with a story; things that fill in some of the blanks in the everyday history of America. That could be anything from antique baby carriages and vintage jukeboxes to old cars and peeling metal advertising signs.
Both locations of Antique Archaeology, his specialty shop that sells antiques, vintage items and folk art, have become top tourist destinations in Le Claire, Iowa and Nashville, Tennessee. But after his family, his full-time passion is preserving as much of small-town America as he can, finding old buildings throughout the Midwest and the mid-South that can be reclaimed, restored and reinvigorated, breathing new life into the main streets where he grew up.