The biggest appeal of American Pickers isn’t the hosts or the treasure they dig out of heaps of rusty metal. It’s the eccentrics they meet along the way that curate and collect these items in the first place.
Entrepreneur magazine asked American Pickers star Mike Wolfe who was the most interesting person he’s met in his time on the show. There have been dozens of them over the years. There’s Hippy Tom, the “most successful hippy” Mike knows. Hobo Jack, the guitar and harmonica playing tramp that loves to collect and restore cars. But there is a clear champion in Mike Wolfe’s mind of who is the most interesting he’s met in his travels.
Ron Heist earned the nickname Mole Man because when he was 13 he started digging a hole and just never stopped. His Pennsylvania home is almost entirely underground. Wolfe says Heists’ home is “Indiana Jones meets Sanford and Son.” His lair has perilous bridges over deep crevasses and stacks of picked items standing taller than a man. He’s been building his home and collection of random items since 1965. He has a store to sell some of the antiques he collects as well.
Heist’s appearance on American Pickers led some documentarians to make a film about him. Titled Mole Man, the movie picks up a few years after the show first met him.
“For nearly his entire life, Ron, a 66-year-old autistic man under the care of his parents, has been building an extraordinary 50-room maze-like structure in his backyard,” the synopsis reads. “With his nonagenarian mother in increasingly fragile condition, the fate of Ron’s world becomes uncertain. As his friends and family try to determine what’s best for him, Ron believes an abandoned treasure in the neighboring woods might be the key to saving the only home he has ever known.”
You can see the trailer here.
Wolfe Talks Why ‘American Pickers’ Is Such a Hit
Mike Wolfe told the Des Moines Register in 2019 that American Pickers is an antiquing show that isn’t really about the antiques. Finding a rare item can be a big score for the hosts, but explaining the history of the item is compelling for the audience.
“Every object has a story,” he told the paper. “And that story is reflective of a family, or of a place, or of a time, or of a moment. So it’s a show about all of us. It’s reflective of all of us.”
It’s why he’s been a picker for his entire life. And it’s why Wolfe wanted to create American Pickers.
“I’m a storyteller, so is it my responsibility to tell that story?” he asked himself. “I think it is, like, it is big time. (And) the show is at the point now where it’s, like, I want to talk about these things that matter.”