‘American Pickers’: How Mike Wolfe Once Hit Jackpot With Old Motorcycle Parts

by Josh Lanier
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American Pickers star Mike Wolfe scored big when he picked “The Junk Santa” and his massive collection of old motorcycles and vintage cars. Wolfe and former partner Frank Fritz were traveling through Texas when they found the rusty relics. But buying them was harder than they expected.

The hosts visited John Chadwell’s Harley hideaway in Witchita Falls in 2011. And Wolfe saw something he had to have right away. Though, anyone who isn’t a gear head probably wouldn’t have given the piece a second look. Wolfe, an avid motorcycle collector, spotted the rear portion of a 1907 Indian Motorcycle frame. It was broken, rusted, and worse-for-wear, but Wolfe said the rooster tail design was unmistakable and incredibly rare. The only problem was John wasn’t willing to sell it.

“You can’t pick a picker,” John joked.

Wolfe would need to grease the wheels. Any fan of American Pickers knows about the duo’s “bundling” technique. For those not in the know, whenever a collector is reluctant to sell, Wolfe and Fritz will buy smaller items for a little more than they’d normally pay. That tends to move the seller from reluctant to ready. Wolfe bought a Marathon gas sign and a set of wheels to entice John into releasing his grip on the rare rear fender.

It worked. Mike paid $1,750 for the rooster tail and another $1,750 for the wheels. He said he plans to ask $5,000 for the lot. Frank Fritz walked away empty-handed.

“We didn’t buy tonnage,” Mike said to sum up the pick,” but the things we bought are killer.”

John said he was happy with the sale. He planned on using his proceeds to buy more rare motorcycle parts.

It all takes place in the fourth season episode of American Pickers called “Pinball Mania.”

‘American Pickers’ Star Says Fails to Buy 70% of Items He Bids On

On American Pickers, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are usually able to get a sell using charisma, charm, and a lot of cash. But that’s just what viewers see. Wolfe said his real-world batting average is actually much lower, he told Southern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine in 2011.

“70% of the stuff I find, I can’t buy. It is not for sale,” Wolfe told the magazine. And the 30 percent he does buy usually takes a lot of haggling — and sometimes begging — to get the seller to budge.

But it’s the thrill of the pick that keeps him going, he said. Somedays he strikes out, but other days he scores big. For instance, the motorcycle-mad Mike missed out on buying his dream bike a few years ago. But shortly after that, he found the motorcycle “mega pick of a lifetime.”

“A few years back I was reading a motorcycle magazine. There was a classified ad that read ‘Buy-Sell-Trade Indian Motorcycles.’ I called the number. The older man who answered the phone said there were still a few rusty bikes out in the barn,” he explained in 2012. “I drove 800 miles, arriving in Pennsylvania the very next morning. When the old farmer opened the barn door I knew I had hit the mother lode: 10 vintage Indian bikes and two more barns full of spare parts. The mega pick of a lifetime.”

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