'American Pickers' cast, crew get warm welcome in Kansas

Old Town Architectural Salvage, 126 N. St. Francis (July 8, 2013)
Old Town Architectural Salvage, 126 N. St. Francis (July 8, 2013)

There were some “American Pickers” sightings in Wichita over the Fourth of July weekend, but it looks as if the cast and crew did more hanging out here than picking for their TV show.

“Well, that really disappoints me,” said Grant Rine, a physician who owns Old Town Architectural Salvage, where picker Frank Fritz stopped in.

“I was hoping they had found some treasure trove around Wichita that would bring them back some day,” Rine said.

Fritz and picking partner Mike Wolfe host a show on the History Channel in which they travel around the country, buying antiques for resale. The two spent time in Kiowa County on Sunday and Monday shooting for a future show before wrapping up their Kansas trip.

“We have a small community, and it was nice of them to kind of come down to reality and take pictures with all of us normal people,” said Victor Mejia, manager of the 54 Truck Stop in Mullinville.

He said others who have passed through, such as professional sports teams, have not been as friendly.

“They’re too good for us,” Mejia said of the ballplayers. Fritz, Wolfe and their crew “were pretty nice. They hugged everybody.”

Greensburg resident Jill Eller, who owns Kiowa Supply in Mullinville, played hostess for the visitors on Sunday.

“We just invited them to chill for a while,” Eller said. “It was just a little relaxation after a hot day.”

Her geodesic dome home, which she built after a tornado devastated Greensburg in 2007, attracts attention from lots of out-of-town film crews.

“We just like to speak about being green and the things you can do,” Eller said.

“We’ve had the Weather Channel at our house,” she said. Last week, Eller said, a TV crew from California came and “played shuffleboard until about 2 in the morning. We had a big time.”

Wolfe and the crew were treated to dips and dessert at Eller’s house, but Fritz didn’t come.

“Frank, I think, was tired,” Eller said.

She said Wolfe and the crew are “just genuinely people like us except they’re very busy and on the road a lot.”

Eller said she watched one of the “American Pickers” vans drive past her shop several times on Monday.

“They didn’t have any followers,” she said of fans pestering the crew, “so I guess they’re doing OK.”

Before Wolfe left her home, Eller said, he gave her 78-year-old mother, Hazel Thomas, a kiss and a hug.

“He just said, ‘I’m very blessed to be here,’ and that was very nice.”

Fellow Greensburg resident Matt Deighton had a similar experience.

“You know, I’ve been involved with a lot of those,” he said of visiting production crews. “I’m going to tell you this crew was first class. You could just feel a true, genuine American picker person in them, you know?”

Fritz and Wolfe helped Deighton price numerous items he has in storage that he’s hoping to sell for some friends.

“They were just happy to do it.”

Rine, an “American Pickers” viewer, wishes he could have met Fritz when he wandered into his store while “just out bumming around.”

The salvage shop near First and St. Francis was supposed to be closed on the Fourth, but an employee had some work to do and asked Rine if he could open the business.

Rine said he sometimes finds himself “drooling” over what Fritz and Wolfe choose not to buy on their show.

“I get irritated when they pass stuff up that I think would make them more money.”

Rine wonders if there’s not more to the buys than what viewers see.

“I figure they probably go back and buy half that stuff afterwards.”

He also wonders about the people whose doors the men knock on, because so many of them act as if they’ve never heard of Fritz or Wolfe or the show.

“Well, these guys are American institutions by now,” Rine said. “There’s hardly anybody who doesn’t know Mike and Frank by now.”

Rine said Fritz came close to buying a pair of 1930s Buick signs in his shop, but there was a logistics issue with getting them home.

Rine said the pickers don’t normally buy from antiques shops, nor did Fritz try to sell anything at Rine’s shop.

“I was hoping,” said Rine, who said he collects “all kinds of oddities and weird stuff,” as the “American Pickers” do.

He thinks it would be worthwhile for them to return to Wichita to do some picking.

“There’s a lot to choose from in this area, believe me,” Rine said. “A lot of guys have just as much junk piled up in their barns and warehouses and garages as any of those that you see on TV.”

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