All aboard the DeLorean Express!
American Pickers’ Wolfe thrilled with the discovery of a 6-foot scale-model ocean liner
When Mike Wolfe’s ship came in, he didn’t want to miss the boat. So the American Pickers star paid up to acquire an incredibly detailed handmade model of a 1940s luxury ocean liner.
In a recent episode of the History Channel’s hit reality TV show, Wolfe finds himself without his longtime pickin’ partner, Frank Fritz, who is recuperating from back surgery. To take Fritz’s place, Wolfe invites old friend Dave Ohrt along to search for hidden gems in northern Minnesota, and the pairing proves fortuitous.
The two meet siblings Julie, Scott, and Lonny, who are sifting through their deceased father’s massive collection in an old auto dealership. Wolfe and Ohrt are immediately drawn to a pair of 1941 Ford coupes, which aren’t for sale but come with a great story. Scott says his father, Gene, was obsessed with ’41 Fords, since he owned one as a young man. Gene bought one-way bus tickets for his two teenage sons and sent them to southern Minnesota to drive one of the cars back. Unfamiliar with the Ford and the area—and traveling on snow-covered roads, to boot—the two got lost before they finally found their way home.
After Wolfe and Ohrt check out an old gas pump and Wolfe buys a large neon clock, the Minnesota siblings suggest the two might like to see a huge model ship that Gene packed into a wooden crate and stored on a shelf 50 years ago.
“The thing that interests me most about this boat, obviously, is its size,” Wolfe says. “The second part of it is that [Gene] thought enough of it to build a crate—a special box—to put it into. And then they stuck it up on the shelf and buried it for some reason or another.
“I don’t care what it takes, we’re going to get this thing down.”
Wolfe and Ohrt struggle with the heavy crate, but they finally manage to ease it to the floor. Written on the side: “Boxed 12-6-1967.” Using a hammer to free the boat from the protective shell, they are awestruck by the intricate detail of the 6-foot-long handcrafted scale-model ocean liner, named the SS S.J. Langenbach. Built of metal, copper, and wood, the boat immediately reminds Wolfe of the Andrea Doria, a famous Italian passenger vessel that sank on July 25, 1956 after colliding with a Swedish ship near Nantucket, Massachusetts. Except the Langenbach has more smokestacks, three of them, compared to the Andrea Doria’s one.
“It’s huge, and the detail is really incredible,” Wolfe says of the boat. “Someone spent a tremendous—tremendous—amount of time putting this thing together… This was when people were still traveling by ship, and they were doing it in style.
“Now that we have it out of the crate, you can see all the little detail and how much work that needs to be done to it. The lifeboats, the smokestacks, the ropes, the wires—there’s a couple of things broken on it. But if it presents really well, that’s what it’s all about.”
As luck would have it, Ohrt is just the person for the job, since he has performed similar restorations in the past, and he’s able to examine the model himself. The good fortune isn’t lost on Wolfe, who says, “It wows me just seeing it like this. Imagine if we cleaned it up and Dave does his magic on it. It’s really going to pop, man.”
Ohrt is all in. “I’ve seen a lot of [model] boats—a lot of sailboats—but not an ocean liner and nothing this size… It’s the size that makes it so cool; if it was just a little bitty boat, it wouldn’t impress me. And it’s to scale. Everything is the right size, the way it should be—the ladders, the port holes, the lifeboats. If you put this boat in the right place, it would be an eye catcher.”
Ohrt estimates that the S.J. Langenbach will require about $500 in labor and materials to get it—you guessed it—ship shape. The siblings consider the work required and set the price at $2000. Wolfe doesn’t hesitate. He shakes their hand and the deal is done.
“It’s going to see the light of day, which is a good thing,” Scott says. “When they get it cleaned up… it’s going to be fantastic.”
It already is.