History Channel’s Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz of “American Pickers” apparently know their business. They’ve dug for antiques in overgrown barns and garages all over the country, and for the last few weeks the pickers have been neck deep in the history-laden Mohawk Valley.
Their search for bargain relics culminated at a run-down warehouse at the end of Eagle Street in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
“They called it a mega pick,” said Noreen Walter, who is taking care of the place for her mother. “We were there from nine in the morning to nine at night. There was too much for them to see in one day.”
Walter’s father, Charles Skee, ran Amsterdam Wrecking and Salvage for many years before he died last October.
Wrecking was the moneymaker, but with three buildings full of artifacts, rescuing history from the wreckage was his passion.
“Since my father passed, we’ve been trying to clean things up,” Walter said. “We needed to sell and get rid of things so Mom can pay taxes and carry on.”
One building was so jam-packed with potential treasures Wolfe and Fritz had to climb into the second-story window on an old wooden ladder. They bought all sorts of thing, from jugs to signs to light fixtures, allowing Walter to practice her haggling skills.
“They made some good offers,” she said. “We’d rather take that than let things sit in a warehouse and go to dust.”
But the pickers are in the television business, so they deal in stories as much as antiques and Skee’s warehouse has quite a narrative.
“My father was a self-made man,” Walter said. “He didn’t even finish high school and every one of his five kids went to college.”
Charles Skee had to drop out of school when the family house burned down and he had to start working.
“They lived penny to penny for a long time,” she said.
Just a month after he joined the Marine Corps for the free food and shelter, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and he was shipped off to the Pacific Coast.
When Skee returned home, he built the wrecking company into a successful business, but his past stuck with him.
“Dad was loath to let things go,” she said. “I think it was because he had so little growing up.”
It was that hard-knock story of the American dream that led to Wednesday’s pick.
“American Pickers” found out about Skee’s place from Don Rittner, Schenectady County historian and commissioner of the Schenectady film commission. Rittner contacted “American Pickers” — his favorite show — when he heard they were coming to upstate New York.
Rittner was familiar with Skee’s place from 2006 when local volunteers were building the Onrust, a replica of a 17th century Dutch ship. Rittner was in charge of procuring the lead ballast to fill the keel.
“I heard about this place in Amsterdam,” he said. “There was so much stuff, there were no aisles. I had to just climb over things.”
He bought the lead and never saw Skee again, but his story and all the history in his warehouse stuck in his mind.
“Charlie was a tough negotiator,” he said, “I remember when I was trying to buy lead. He drove a hard bargain. The pickers would have loved him.”
The pickers headed south Thursday morning, asking Walter if they could come back next year.
There is no information yet on when the upstate “American Pickers” episodes will run.
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