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'American Pickers' visit local collector

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By Robin Bass

When the History Channel’s “American Pickers” come to town, traffic stops – at least it does when the town is Little Mount.

“I had no idea the show was as popular as it is,” said Barbara Whitehead. But she quickly learned that the show’s hosts, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, can really draw a crowd. Barbara estimated 300 people stopped to watch the popular “Pickers” film a segment with her husband and avid collector Charlie Whitehead.

“It turned out to be really fun,” said Charlie. “They were really common people. They didn’t care how long it took” to sign autographs and pose for pictures with his grandchildren.

The premise of the cable television show is that pickers Wolfe and Fritz travel the back roads of America foraging for forgotten treasures. Collectables that peak their interest usually result in some bargaining with the owner.  Purchases are then taken to  Antique Archaeology, Wolfe’s store and base of operations, where they are hopefully sold at a profit.

Charlie sold a variety of items to the pickers, including a cast iron fireplace and some old motorcycle helmets. In all, he ended up with $550 in his pocket.

“I came down on a few things and there were others that we couldn’t get together on a price,” said Charlie. One item the pickers did not manage to help Charlie unload was an old elephant piggybank – one of the first things Charlie bought when he first began his collecting hobby.

“The men who came out to film “American Pickers” wanted to buy it from him, but I told them, no, that is going to be mine someday,  said Stacy Goss, Charlie’s daughter. “I’ve had my eye on that for years.”

Whitehead said she’ll have to wait to get it.

“She’ll get it when I pass away,” he said, adding that sometimes it’s just hard for him to part with his treasures.

Charlie said his passion for collecting began in the 1960s when a friend got him and his cousin interested in going to auctions and flea markets.

“Both of us just got hooked,” he said. “I can’t stop; going to an auction to me is like having a beer is to an alcoholic.”

But Charlie doesn’t smoke, drink or even fish much anymore. He just buys everyone’s junk and keeps it. His spacious, 25-acre farm in Little Mount contains a garage and five barns, and they are all full. He has to sell some items periodically to make room for more, he said.

“It’s his hobby,” said his wife, Barbara.

Charlie said he figures that even though he spends a lot of money buying up other people’s castoffs, taking up junking 35 years ago has been beneficial to him in the long run.

“It’s like this,” he said. “It’s money I didn’t waste on smoking and drinking. At least I’ve got something to show for my money.”

Barbara chuckled as she recalled her husband’s retirement plans.

“He used to have a boat and go fishing often, and he said he was going to go fishing all the time when he retired, so he bought up all these rods and reels,” she said. “And now he doesn’t fish at all.”

Charlie said even though he goes fishing very seldom, he still values his 200 rods, reels and fishing poles just as much as the rest of his wide assortment of junk.

“He has farm equipment, old wagon wheels, lanterns, old motorcycle helmets, even a 400-pound anvil,” his wife said. “I couldn’t even begin to tell you everything he’s got. He’s even got a treadmill for a goat.”

That’s true, her husband, said, adding that it can also be used by a small horse.

What is his favorite piece of “junk?”

“The last thing I bought,” he said.

“He started collecting stuff back in the ‘60s, and he has only just recently started selling some of it.

“But he didn’t do it because he wanted to ­– he didn’t have any more room to put anything.”

Whitehead said he is the king of the pack rats.

“Compared to me, everyone else is just a mouse,” he said.

Charlie was contacted by the producers of “American Pickers” after being recommended by a friend on their website.

Goss said after arriving in Little Mount, the show’s producers decided to film an episode entirely on his collection.

The segment will air in 6 weeks to 4 months.

Lisa King of the Sentinel News contributed to this story.