The Best of American Pickers: Mike’s Garage
Let’s get this out of the way: The title of American Pickers’ latest “Best of” episode, “Mike’s Garage,” is a little misleading. At no point do we see co-host Mike Wolfe’s garage or get anywhere near it. But since it appears that Wolfe loves these particular picks so much that he doesn’t plan on letting them go—and hey, pickers make a living by flipping what they find—maybe the title refers to where the treasures are going to live. We’ll go with that.
So forget the title and enjoy the ride. In this highlight episode, Wolfe and his sidekick, Frank Fritz, travel to Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, and Georgia and score a vintage Harley, a rare Indian frame, some great advertising, and a very special Harley dealership exclusive. All things we love. Almost as much as they do.
What a knucklehead
Mike and Frank’s right arm, also known as Danielle Colby Cushman, arranges for the pair to meet a young Virginia mechanic named Zack, a trusted go-between who introduces them to a reclusive, lifelong biker named Joey. After some awkward initial silence, Joey agrees to show the pickers around his property, which is clearly off the grid.
“I don’t need fancy things,” Joey explains. “If I had 10 million dollars, I’d live the same. It’s me. It’s what I am.”
That’s just fine with Wolfe, who immediately latches on to a Harley-Davidson knucklehead motorcycle. “I’ll look at anything knucklehead,” he says. “Show me an oil stain of one.”
Harley built the legendary knucklehead from 1936 to 1947, and Wolfe notes that pre-1940 models are almost impossible to find. Taking a closer look, he realizes that he is staring at a rare 1938 frame, carrying a small-displacement 1945 motor. “Either (Joey) has a hell of a sense of humor,” Wolfe says, “or he’s desperate to get it on the road.”
As it turns out, it’s the latter. Wolfe confirms as much by taking a quick inventory of the bike’s mismatched parts: 1941–46 fork, wrong taillight, ’39 dash, and ’41–46 tank. None of this scares him in the least. In fact, Wolfe reveals that he already owns a 1938 engine, transmission, front fork, and fenders, so he’s ready to make a deal.
After a long negotiation, Mike and Joey agree on $10,000 for the ’38 frame, toolbox, and correct speedometer. Wolfe says the completed knucklehead is going into his personal collection. (He doesn’t say “garage,” by the way.)
“Mike had the motor and I had the frame,” Joey says. “They really belong together.”
Duke of oil
Danielle offers the pickers another hot lead, and Wolfe can hardly wait to get there after she says the prospective seller—Beroth Oil & Gas Memorabilia Museum owner Thornton Beroth—has “the most extensive oil collection in the country. He’s the Godfather of Petroliana.”
Beroth explains that his father began working for Amoco in 1937, so he has always been interested in petroleum memorabilia, but he didn’t become a serious collector until about 25 years ago. That was plenty of time to amass a collection so enormous and of such high quality that Wolfe is practically speechless. “Woah and woah!”
Mike is enamored with a late-1930s lighted box sign with reverse-painted glass that advertises Firestone motorcycle tires at Lou’s Harley-Davidson dealership in Baltimore. He has to have it. “It’s like finding a big hunk of gold.” He asks Beroth for his “I don’t want to sell it price,” which is $3800. Wolfe reluctantly moves on.
A life-size advertising poster of a smiling Marilyn Monroe (“Compliments of Howell Oil Co.”) catches his eye. “This isn’t just a Marilyn Monroe piece, it’s a gas and oil piece,” he says. “With gas and oil, sex always sells.” It sells alright—to Wolfe, for $1000.
But he can’t let go of the Lou’s Harley sign. Mike shows Beroth a photo of a rare Pan Am Motor Oils sign that he owns, and offers to buy Lou’s sign for $2100 plus the Pan Am. Beroth wants $2200, but agrees to “flip for it.” Mike loses the flip—nothing new if you watch American Pickers regularly—and they shake on $2200.
Mike’s frame of mind
Wolfe and Fritz then travel to Indiana to visit Dennis, a swap-meet acquaintance who not only knows the tricks of the trade but rarely allows anyone to see his inventory. “I’ve been trying to get on his property forever,” Mike says. “This is a collection that hasn’t been seen by a lot of eyes. My imagination is running wild just thinking about what’s inside this place.”
After admiring a Nicky Chevrolet Corvette, Mike discovers a 1913 Harley-Davidson twin in pieces that Dennis says “is almost all there.” Wolfe offers $25,000. Dennis wants more. Mike declines.
Wolfe scores a 1925 American Automobile Owners of America (AAOA) sign for $350, a leather saddle bag for $200, and an original motorcycle tire for $125, then finds a 1916–23 Indian Power Plus frame. The two agree on $850, but Dennis promises, “I’ll punish you” at the next swap meet.
Danielle arranges a meeting with a 60-something motorcycle racer named Beano, whose father owned Indian Motorcycle dealerships in Chicago and Georgia. Beano’s family lived above the Chicago shop, and he was born there, in fact. Beano’s expansive workshop is testament to his love for the brand, and Wolfe calls it “Santa’s workshop.”
After poking around a bit, Wolfe finds a 1920s cutaway Indian engine that once sat on the counter in Beano’s father’s shop. “When you crank the handle, you can see the valves go up and down,” Wolfe says. “To me, it’s art in motion.”
Half-expecting sentimental value to block a deal, Wolfe is elated when Beano agrees to let it go for $5000. “It really speaks to the history of the dealerships and the company itself,” Wolfe says. “This is an amazing piece of Indian Motorcycle—American motorcycle—history.”
Mike caps the pick by bundling a 1908 Indian motor (that he needs to complete a 1908 Indian he purchased in a previous pick) and an Excelsior Twin carburetor/manifold for $3300. “This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night, man,” Mike says.