History Channel reality television series “American Pickers” traveled to Southeast Kansas for an episode featuring one of Pitt State’s own. Robert Hefley, professor of physical education, appeared on an “American Pickers” episode, aired Nov. 19, 2018, in representation of his father, Don Hefley, who passed away in early October.
Hefley presented his father’s 50-year-old collection of miscellaneous items, largely composed of vintage tools and Route 66 gas station-related items. Housed at their family farm in the rural Baxter Springs-Columbus area, the Pickers were intrigued by the various items.
“The reason I was on there, it wasn’t because of me, really, it was my father’s collection and he was elderly, he was 90 years old, and he just couldn’t communicate with them so as his son I stepped up, so to speak,” Hefley said. “… But that’s the reason I got on the ‘American Pickers’ and… they were really good in the show about honoring, respecting his role in all of it because it’s really all about him, not me.”
For Hefley’s father, collecting vintage items was a hobby he started in the mid ‘70s. Hefley, with help of his sister Nancy Moore, worked to organize the Pickers to check out their father’s collection.
“Well, it became a real passion of his for decades there,” Hefley said. “We kind of just looked at it in wonder, really, as he filled the barns up, and a little bit of concern as when is this going to stop, and it really didn’t until the last year. My sister and I would just talk about, ‘What are we going to do with all this stuff?’… But it did give him something to do that he loved doing. He was smart about it, he researched all these items, knew their value—and there was quite a bit of value there. So, yeah, I was just happy he had something to do on the side…”
Hefley described that for his father, the items “caught his imagination in some way.”
“… It was some of our family’s old tools, basically, that got the catalyst or the trigger for getting it all started, and then it just branched out… Most of it came within 100 miles of this area..,” Hefley said.
Hefley’s father was a Kansas State University graduate in agronomy and went on to work as part of Farmers Co-Op in Baxter Springs for around 35 years. He was involved in community groups and events, and Hefley described his father as “a giver in life.”
The “American Pickers” advertised around Kansas in various newspapers looking for anyone interested in showing their items that may catch interest of the show. Hefley came across an advertisement and decided to send picture of some of his father’s items. A few weeks later an advancement team visited the Hefley’s family farm to look at the items, then it went on from there.
“… It made the cut, so to speak, and next thing you know the Pickers are on their way…” Hefley said. “… We thought that with the auctions that would be taken place someday that it would be a really good selling point… That the ‘American Pickers’ were there and be really good at national advertisement because he’s got a lot of things that… People nationally would be interested in…”
The “American Pickers” visited the Hefley’s family farm to shoot the video May 22, 2018, and it was aired Nov. 19. The episode is titled “Hard Bargain Picks” and is episode 22 of season 19. The Pickers bought about 4o items from the Hefley’s, which Hefley said is the most they have purchased at a single site in three to five years. Hefley said he felt honored to have the opportunity to partake in this experience to represent his father.
“It was something I was proud to do,” Hefley said. “Unfortunately, I wish he could have done that because he knew all the history of this stuff, I had nothing to do with that. Everything he put in that collection he did himself… He knew the background of it, the history of the item… Having said that, it was an event in the community and created a lot of excitement when they came…”
Prior to shooting the episode, Hefley pushed for the opportunity to wear a PSU ball cap while on the show, though he had to work through some obstacles first. He first discussed the idea with the company and then had to have Pitt State sign off on some paperwork for him to do so. He said he wanted to also represent PSU because “everything he has he owes to PSU.” In the end, he was allowed to do so.
“… I’m really proud of that as much as anything, that the university virtually got national exposure…” Hefley said. “So, I was really happy I was able to do that…”
Hefley described the opportunity to appear on “American Pickers” as “an extremely positive experience.” He hopes to have made his father proud through the experience.
“It’s kind of hard to say, but I’ve had a lot of people tell me ‘your dad would be very proud,” Hefley said.