LISBON — Before Jim and Kathy Harris had their moment of fame — visited by the History Channel’s “American Pickers” — they had their moment as spies.
“We couldn’t tell anybody,” Kathy Harris said Monday. “You have to sign a confidentiality agreement.”
The secret was kept from family and friends, many who love the cable TV show about two guys who travel back roads picking though hordes, collections and junk piles for valuable antiques.
“I told people I was going to Massachusetts for the day,” Jim Harris said. “The hardest thing we had was to keep people out of here.”
Eventually, neighbors found out, noticing TV crew’s equipment and the popular show’s familiar white van with “Antique Archeology” written on the side.
“Before the day was out, the fire chief was down back, holding a 150 people behind a yellow ribbon,” he said.
On Monday night, the visit was shared with the country, airing in an episode titled “Knuckleheads.” The show is scheduled to run on the History Channel again on Friday at 8 p.m.
“I’m going to be home with my bowl of popcorn,” Kathy Harris said.
She planned to prop up her computer in front of her TV and beam the show to her daughters in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., via Skype.
Hours before it aired, they were unsure what to expect. But the filming, was wholly pleasant.
“They were like friends who came to visit,” Kathy Harris said.
She contacted the show a year or so back, figuring that pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz might be interested in her husband’s collection.
“He does the same thing they do, only he’s not on national television,” Kathy said.
Jim Harris has been collecting most of his life. His collection, in a former chicken barn behind their home, includes everything from the toy Cadillac he had as a third-grader to rare and vintage motorcycles, cars, helmets, motorized bicycles and oil cans, signs and license plates.
He became semi-retired two years ago after a career in the Lisbon shop his dad started in the 1950s, Ken’s Auto.
Like the TV pickers, he combs old buildings for their “rusty gold.”
After Kathy’s initial inquiry, there were phone calls and a visit by a show scout, who wanted to ensure that the Harris’ collection was as big as billed, that they’d appear on camera and that some items would be for sale at fair prices.
“They want to know you’ll leave a little meat on the bone,” Jim said.
Last September, the crew arrived before 9 a.m.
A little later, in one of the show’s conceits, the guys arrived having little information about what they were walking into.
“They were absolutely blind,” Jim said.
Kathy nervously answered the door.
“I opened the door and Mike goes, ‘Hi. Is Jim here? We’re Mike and Frank.’ It was just like they always do on the show,” she said.
Then she yelled for her husband, calling him “Jimmy.” And she never calls him that.
“Mike and Frank were here in my house,” Kathy said smiling.
As it worked out, they spent most of the day there, combing through the barn and haggling with Jim.
“They portrayed me as they guy who doesn’t like to get rid of stuff,” he said. “But they’re tough guys.”
Mike and Frank asked about some of Jim’s prizes, from a 1930s Indian hill-climber motorcycle to his many cars. The first thing they bought was a hood ornament with an airplane-style propeller. They also bought oil cans and an old helmet.
And they never stopped talking.
“They had a great interest in what I had so there was no lack of conversation,” Jim said.
The couple treated the guys and the crew — about 15 people in all — to their own Maine-style lunch.
“We made lobster rolls and red hot dogs,” said Kathy, a Realtor with Haggerty Realty in Lisbon. “They sat at my kitchen counter and had their lunch and salsa.”
And they loved it.
“They’re great guys off the camera,” Jim said. They talked about their families and dogs, simple stuff that everyone can relate to.
“It was like a big old family,” Kathy said.
For dessert, they served a friend’s specialty apple cider doughnuts. They also gave the guys cider and apples to go.
They left after supper, with the final crew member pulling out of the yard about 8:20 p.m.
Jim hopes they’ll be back.
“I didn’t see as many dollars worth as I would have liked,” he said. But he found guys with whom he shared a love of antiques and their preservation.
“They’ll be back,” he said.