Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz drove down Simmonsville Avenue in Johnston and pulled into Paul Ruotolo’s property eager to dig for treasure.
“They bought a lot of stuff," Ruotolo told the Johnston Sun Rise in 2010. “They filled up a U-Haul.”
Now, 13 years later, the American Pickers want to return to the Ocean State.
The legendary reality TV screen antique hunters and peddlers — sans Fritz — are back on the road and looking for junk (or treasure) hoarders (or collectors).
“One of the things I like about picking is discovering things, finding things, digging them up myself,” Wolfe said while touring Ruotolo’s barns in Johnston. “And that was a great pick for that.”
Most of the junk had been gathered by Paul’s late father Thomas “Okee” Ruotolo. The collection included carnival pieces, motorcycles, pinball machines and a vintage mechanical horse-racing game.
Although Fritz has left the show, Wolfe plans to return to Rhode Island in August, and the Pickers are looking for locations to pick and shoot a new episode.
“We love the rich history and stories that are tied to the people of Rhode Island,” said Joshua Kerlin, Associate Producer for American Pickers. “We’ve had great success in New England in the past so we’ve very excited to be coming back through.”
A lot of fans have been missing Frank on the show’s most recent episodes.
“Frank is no longer with us and we wish him well,” Kerlin said via email, when asked who’s on the current American Pickers roster. “The Pickers now are Mike and his brother Robbie, as well as Danielle.”
The show’s producers sent out a press release earlier this month, calling all collectors:
“The American Pickers are excited to return to Rhode Island! They plan to film episodes of The History Channel hit television series throughout your area in August 2023.”
Wolfe and Fritz bought an Evel Knievel pinball machine from Ruotolo. They also dug a wooden horse-racing game from the back of a barn.
Ruotolo told them his father likely stored the broken down relic back in the 1970s.
“I put that stuff in there with my father when I was a kid,” Ruotolo told Wolfe during the July 2010 taping. “It kind of brought back memories for me.”
“This is the kind of stuff that we live for,” Fritz said to the camera. “Old barns — stuff that’s been out of sight (and) hasn’t been seen for 15 years.”
Wolfe balked at Ruotolo’s $300 opening price for the horse-racing game. Ruotolo said he always had aspirations of restoring the item.
“Some things I budged on, no problem,” Ruotolo told Wolfe.
“I had a feeling about this piece,” Wolfe told the camera. “I needed to have it.”
Wolfe offered $200. Ruotolo stood firm. Wolfe countered with $250. Ruotolo didn’t budge.
Wolfe blinked and scooped it up for $300. On a later episode, following an expert appraisal, the item was valued at far more than the pickers paid.
“This place turned out to be a real honey hole,” Wolfe said to end the segment. “It was amazing to go through this stuff, climbing over, getting under things … It was a great pick.”
Typically, before a visit to the state, the American Pickers’ production staff starts searching for collectors, so the show’s stars won’t have to “freestyle” their way through Rhode Island.
“We're looking for leads throughout the state, specifically interesting characters with fascinating items,” Kerlin wrote to local media outlets. “The way we find people and collections for our show is through spreading the word far and wide so that people know we’re coming to town.”
“I hope I see them again,” Ruotolo said after bidding the pickers farewell. “I hope they come by and even if we’re not buying and selling we’ll just go for a beer.”
“The American Pickers TV Show is looking for leads and would love to explore your hidden treasure,” according to the show’s producers. “If you or someone you know has a unique item, story to tell, and is ready to sell … we would love to hear from you.”
The American Pickers made later, subsequent trips to Rhode Island, picking a Newport Mansion for a 2014 episode and buying a motorcycle in Pawtucket while filming a 2016 episode.
The producers warn that the American Pickers have a rule against picking “stores, flea markets, malls, auction businesses, museums, or anything open to the public.”
If interested there’s still time to send them “your name, phone number, location, and description of the collection with photos to: email@example.com” or call 646-493-2184 (or via Facebook @GotAPick).
“I’m junk drunk right now,” Wolfe told the TV audience, following the 2010 Johnston episode titled “What's in the Box?” (Season 3, Episode 3). “That was an awesome pick.”