They say “one man”s trash is another man”s treasure,” but not everyone”s “treasures” make it into the national spotlight.
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Late this summer, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, the self-described modern archaeologists from the History Channel television show American Pickers made a stop in rural Litchfield at the property of “Backwoods Jack” Sophir.
It originally aired on Aug. 16, in an episode entitled “Hobo Jack.” While the full episode is not available on the History Channel”s website, it can be seen in reruns of season two episodes.
An online description of the series said, “Antique pickers like Mike and Frank travel the country, meeting collectors, hoarders, amateur historians and other individuals who all have unique stories to tell. Each and every treasure they uncover is a new history lesson, providing a glipmse of American life in the recent and distant past.”
And “Backwoods Jack” definitely had some stories to tell.
Although he was referred to on the show as “Hobo Jack,” Sophir said that his actual hobo moniker is “Backwoods Jack,” according to Jack “because I live in the back woods.”
Sophir bought 23 acres of land in rural Litchfield in 1975 when he was looking to purchase some property. It took him three years to move all his cars, furniture and antiques of every size, shape and description from his home in St. Louis.
“There weren”t any buildings here when I bought it,” he said. “It was just a jungle.”
Sophir has since added at least a dozen buildings, which are all full of the treasures he has accumulated over the years.
And while these days Sophir is a regular at Harman Auction every Tuesday night in Shipman and other area auctions, his treasure hunting days began when he was just a lad.
“I”ve been a picker since I was five or six,” he said. “I used to look in the neighbor”s trash barrells. I was a treasure hunter. I never found anything, but I always thought maybe I would find that one thing of value.”
Even though he didn”t find much inside his neighbor”s trash cans, he has found a treasure or two over the years, starting with the 1933 Chevrolet Coupe, he bought when he turned 16, and sold the very next day because “it was in such bad shape.”
“I didn”t have the foresight to realize how valuable it would be today,” he said. “And that”s not the only thing I sold from back then.”
In fact, when the American Pickers crew were in town, Sophir sold them some parts from an old Indian motorcycle. His collection still includes a wide variety of automotive equipment and other mechanical parts as well as several vehicles or parts of vehicles, some that run, and some that don”t.
But his favorite American classic car is the American Austin, and he”s owned a few of those during his lifetime as well.
Sophir paid $80 for his first American Austin when he was 16, but he sold it just a few days later to a buddy of his who was a better mechanic. He found another one in a junkyard with no engine, and paid $35 for it. Since it was sitting in the middle of the junkyard, he and several of his high school friends actually picked up the car and rolled it over the top of others for 50 or 60 feet.
And while cars are a favorite of his purchases, Sophir”s buildings and property are full of furniture, books, antiques and anything else he”s acquired.
“You know, I”ve intentionally accumulated some of this stuff,” he said.
Sophir is careful in the items that he chooses and picks. He knows what”s most valuable and would work with his projects. Although he said he is starting to run out of space, especially for large items like furniture.
“I tend to pile stuff up,” he said. “I don”t have the time to go through all of it, and I put it in buildings to get it out of the weather.”
He said that he had to create paths to the buildings when the American Pickers crew came to his property.
Since he doesn”t have any electricity, Sophir had never seen the show American Pickers, but a friend in town thought he would be a good candidate.
“He recorded a couple of shows for me, and then made the initial contact with the show,” Sophir said.
The crew spent nine hours on his property with two video cameras rolling tape the entire time.
“I tried to give them a good show,” he said. “I wish they had played a little more of my music. I was hoping they would play about five minutes of my own compositions.”
The segment ran for about 20 minutes, and opened with Jack sitting on the trunk of one of his cars playing a guitar.
Over the years, Jack has produced four CDs of his own music and has written three books. He is in the process of writing two more books, mostly fictional tales that take place in 1911-1912. In addition, Sophir said he has written a lot of poetry, but that it tends not to be as popular as the stories.
“Who knows, if these latest two books of fiction catch on, maybe there will be some interest in my poetry,” he said.
More information about his books and music can be found online at www.backwoodsjack.com. The website also features a link to the segment from American Pickers.
Backwoods Jack can also be found each year at the annual hobo convention in Britt, IA, and various flea markets and swap meets around the midwest.
But one of his favorite places is the Harman Auction house in Shipman, where he considers owner Mike Harman and his sons like family.
“I consider them all really good friends,” he said. “We”re all really into music, but it”s not a good place to bid on musical instruments because we all end up bidding against each other.”
Since his writing projects take up most of his time, Sophir hasn”t been as much of a picker lately, even though he still regularly attends area auctions.
“I”m like everyone else, I like to upgrade,” he said. “And you just never know what you”re going to find.”