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In April, 2015, on the first day of a photography trip to northern Missouri, Ruth and I passed through the town of Savanna, Illinois. Our goal was to capture a few photos of the Pulford Opera House building without cars parked in front of it. This historic building was built in 1892 and housed Pulford’s Drug Store and Miller’s Clothing Store on the first floor and an attorney’s office and the telephone company offices on the second floor. Unfortunately, the opera house auditorium was never finished.
Today, it houses the Pulford Opera House Antique Mall, where Frank Fritz, co-star of the History Channel’s American Pickers show, has a booth called Frank Fritz Finds. High above the ground floor is an organ grinder monkey on a vintage high wheel bicycle.
It was mid-day when we arrived and it was raining lightly. As we came down Main Street, we were delighted to see that there were no vehicles parked in front of the opera house. I parked the car across the street and quickly grabbed my camera equipment and umbrella. Photographing in the rain while holding an umbrella over my equipment is difficult and time-consuming, so I said a quick prayer that I could get my photos taken before a vehicle parked in the middle of my scene.
The door that gets you to the antique mall is actually the door to the Hawg Dog Bar & Grill. There was a white van parked in front of the bar, so I kept making sure the back of the van didn’t get in any of my photos. But, as I worked, someone kept entering the left side of my scene, pushing a dolly into the bar. I figured it was some kind of delivery to the bar.
After successfully capturing the opera house block, I started walking back to the car. Suddenly it dawned on me that the white van belonged to Frank Fritz and it was he who was hauling things into the bar for his antiques booth. He came out one more time without the dolly and stopped to converse with someone he knew. I snapped a quick photo from down the street and then they went inside the building.
Thinking that Frank might be getting ready to leave, I quickly put my camera equipment back in the car and asked Ruth what I could take to get Frank’s autograph. Neither of us had a good idea, so I grabbed a small notebook and made a mad dash for the antique mall. I found Frank just inside the door, so I introduced myself and asked him if I could have his autograph. He kindly obliged.
Frank and I went back outside where he showed me that he still had quite a few things to unload from the back of his van. He said that he had just returned from driving thousands of miles to Texas and back, “picking” for antiques. According to his website, his interests are “old motorcycles, old toys, old cars, and anything that is old and unusual.”
If you watch the American Pickers show, you know that Frank often negotiates with sellers on vintage oil cans.
Gas and Oil Cans on Back of Old Gas Truck, Gay Parita Sinclair Station on Old Route 66, Lawrence County, Missouri
And Frank and his co-star and picking partner, Mike Wolfe, often purchase vintage gasoline and motor oil signs.
They also love old gas pumps.
In early September, 2015, a little over four months after I met Frank Fritz in Savanna, Illinois, I received a request from an archivist from the American Pickers Show. She said they were interested in using a photo I took on Route 66 of some 1924 Fry Guaranteed Measure “Mae West” visible gas pumps.
The episode was called “Can’t Catch a Break” and it aired on October 21, 2015. Unfortunately, my photo didn’t make the final cut. But I was pleased to get a credit at the end of the show.
Frank Fritz and Mike Wolfe say that they travel the backroads of America telling its history. So do we!