By Ally Wall
It was a dusty wonderland.
Tractor trailer after tractor trailer, barn after barn, all filled to the brim with historical treasures. Most would gaze upon the mountains of mystery at my great- grandfather’s home and claim it was all trash.
But for my family, it’s our livelihood.
My mother was an elementary school teacher, and my father was an electrician. Both left their jobs to begin their new journey as entrepreneurs. They now provide for our family by going through the unending piles of things and selling them to interested parties.
Robert “Bob” Hawkins was a World War II pilot, as well as a commercial pilot for airlines such as Pan American World Airways, also known as “Pan Am.: He flew all over the world. He saw things I can only imagine. Everywhere he went he came home with more and more trinkets. I can still picture the old photo of him riding camels in Egypt every time I come across an eccentric camel saddle.
He was born in the depression, a child of many, and barely had enough to get by. He grew his own wealth through investments, and was always a stickler with his money (unless it was for something he wanted). He bought amazing things. I’ve been able to see and touch pieces of the past most people never have the opportunity to come close to.
Things like a 1921 Buick model 45 touring car, books from the 1800s, postcards from 1903, a 1924 stutz fire truck, and license plates classifying automobiles as a “horseless carriage.” Hupmobiles, Studebakers, Packards, Pontiacs and Cadillacs have shaped how I appreciate the objects left behind.
My great-grandmother, Nonnie, was a general when it came to her home. No stuff was allowed inside. When she passed away, the home could have been featured on TLC’s Hoarding Buried Alive. I’ve never seen so much stuff in one place. Bob was obsessed with his collection of things. Every single day he would walk through the maze rearranging, looking and hiding. He loved his collection more than anything else in this world.
People were well aware of the scale and rarity of the objects enclosed in Bob’s backyard. It seemed like people called every day to see if they could get their hands on a sliver of it. I had no idea how many people were in our lives sitting and waiting for the day he would be placed in the ground. As we stood in front of his casket people walked by our family sliding my father their business cards. They were vultures.
Before his death in 2017, the History Channel sent scouts for the show American Pickers. He refused their offer to be a part of the show. In 2018, my father was asked if he would like to be a part of the show, and he agreed.
At the crack of dawn on Feb. 25, 2018, my father, mother, brother, and I anxiously awaited the vans, cars, and RVs that would draw all attention to our property, and our lives. Many people have seen the show, and many have not. But the characters of Mike and Frank are obvious. Mike Wolfe is outgoing and loud, and Frank Fritz is definitely the quieter, more reserved balance to his counterpart.
I was terribly excited to meet people working in the realm of my dream job. The camper door flew open and the words,“Where’s that s****y coffee I love,” were cut through the quiet anticipation by Wolfe. We all came up with a plan of entry, and filming had begun.
As their recognizable van with the words “Antique Archeology” rolled up the driveway, I hid with producers and some of my family members in a giant barn watching through weathered slats. I followed camera operators, watched the production screens in the back of the van, and learned just how quick television requires you to be.
Being a part of the show was something that my family will always cherish. The show prides itself on telling the stories of the people involved, rather than focusing on the actual items they buy. Most of the items purchased go into storage, never to see the light of day again. So many aspects of the show are just that: a show.
They don’t randomly pull up to people’s properties. They talk with us, take photos with us, share meals with us before getting in their van and riding around for an hour shooting b-roll before coming back. It’s all a production, and being a part of this show stripped the mystery of the end result that the public sees on their TV screens.
They filmed for nearly 18 hours with my father, and purchased more from us than they had from the entire SouthEast. Our episode, “Big Tennessee Welcome,” airing on August 6, 2018 was a success for the Pickers crew. We wish each other well on holidays, and the crew still talks to my father about coming back and “picking” some more.
Since the show aired, we’ve faced more than we imagined. People come out of the woodwork to attempt to rip you off. Our property has fallen victim to multiple robberies. Our relationship as an entire family, grandparents and all, has been strained. But somehow, the mountains of dusty, dirty and weathered objects brought into the light after decades of hiding have brought us together.
To me, family is a reflection of these objects. It starts out shiny and new, but over time life weathers and rusts each individual person. We all have our own unique dents and yet our dents come together to create one quirky picture.
Take a look at any family. None are perfect. None are the same. None produce the same results. But under all the dust and time gone by there is an undeniable beauty.
As I dug my hands into the earth pulling out vintage bottles, going through closets to find the earliest photographs of the people who came before me, and never leaving without smelling like an antique I realized that we were all there.
It’s just my parents, grandparents, brother, cousins, a guy from next door, and a friend. We were all in the same boat each with an ore paddling to one destination. Where that is, we don’t quite know. But we’re figuring it out together. We set aside differences to literally move mountains. One thing that we can all agree upon: You never know the value of anything until you pull it into the light.