By RACHEL C. DOVE
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third segment of a series surrounding the prime-time shows that will be featuring episodes, documentaries and a mini-series highlighting the Hatfield and McCoy feud and Mingo County.)
WILLIAMSON - The majority of our local public could more than likely say that at one time or another, we have all been curious about what happens behind the scenes of a television show or a major motion picture.
How much, if anything that we the viewers see, is real? Is there any truth to the scenarios that reality shows portray to their audience, or is what we see and hear simply created to guarantee a large fan base?
The Daily News sat down to speak with West Virginia University Extension Professor Bill Richardson, who is one of the most knowledgeable individuals on anything related to the Hatfield and McCoy feud. Richardson has, without a doubt, researched the feud with such intensity that he knows each detail backwards and forward. These facts about the extension professor are exactly why he was designated to work with the production crew of the History Channel show, “American Pickers”, when they expressed interest in visiting Mingo County to pick for Hatfield and McCoy related artifacts and memorabilia.
“Their production company, Cineflex, heard about the Hatfields and McCoys mini-series that was being filmed for the History Channel,” stated Richardson. “They saw this as a good opportunity to piggy-back on the popularity and media attention the series would bring when the story of the feud was aired.
“They wanted to visit our area, but instead of picking for antiques and collectibles like you typically see them doing on their show, they wanted the pick to be centered on Hatfield and McCoy related finds.”
When the Pickers’ crew first began searching the internet for Hatfield and McCoy contacts in January of this year, they found the website for the Hatfield and McCoy Marathon and contacted the event founder and organizer, David Hatfield. He in turn, gave them the contact information for the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce and Executive Director Natalie Young. After conversing with the production staff and being told what the Picker’s were interested in, she put them in touch with Richardson, who immediately began working on acquiring pick locations he knew would fit their requests.
“I had two goals at this time,” explained Richardson. “Number one was to make sure we got them here. Number two was to make sure their picks would have a Hatfield and McCoy theme.
“I knew the only way this could happen was to find authentic Hatfield and McCoy items for them to pick, and that’s not an easy task.”
Richardson explained that the majority of items related to the feud have either been lost or destroyed through the years, and what few items are left have been passed down from generation to generation by family members who have no desire to part with their family treasures.
“I was fortunate to have assisted authors who have written about the feud with extensive research, so I had some viable leads on a few items,” he explained. “I searched every lead I could find from Nitro, to Shelby Valley, Ky.”
“The Pickers have very specific needs, and rules,” the extension professor commented. “They never pick at a shop, they don’t like places that are orderly and they also prefer places that haven’t been gone through in a while, where they have to dig through pile after pile to find a treasure.”
A few of the items listed on the American Pickers website they are interested in is anything automotive related including antique cars and motorcycles, bicycles, metal advertising signs especially those hearing logos connected to the automotive field, antique toys and coin-operated machines.
Richardson stated that Frank Fritz, one of the stars of the show who picks alongside his partner, Mike Wolfe, likes anything fire department related, and commented that he seemed to appreciate Williamson Fire Chief Jerry Mounts providing he and Mike with t-shirts and patches bearing the Williamson Fire Department’s logo while they were in Williamson for the filming of an episode that included a pick near the Town of Matewan.
“Out of the dozens and dozens of prospective locations I visited and researched as possibilities for the show, I finally narrowed it down to four,” Richardson said. “One of those backed out at the last minute, leaving three. Another of those remaining didn’t fit the exact wants of the pickers, so we were then left with two.”
The two locations that Richardson recommended both had ties to the feud, one was a descendant of the Hatfield clan, and also was a picker himself. The other party didn’t have as strong of a family relation to the feuding families as the first, but had items that would appeal to Mike and Frank’s wants and needs.
“There’s so much you have to do before a definite decision is made by the show’s producers as to whether they will pick in your town or not,” commented Richardson. “I went to the two locations, photographed the specific items I thought would work, plus I took several additional pictures of other things for sell to make sure they could get a complete look at what was available. I then sent them to the office in New York for review.
“The production staff looked them over, and narrowed the list. A location scout from their office made the trip himself, I took him to the spots and he completed the same process again, with the addition of videoing the items and the individuals who owned them, to get a clear picture of everyone and everything involved.
“They wanted to see what stories the owners could tell, and whether they could make it interesting enough to draw in the viewers.”
Richardson had invested over two months in the project, but still was not sure if the pick in Mingo County would become a reality or not. Then, the phone call came through that he had been anxiously awaiting, and he was given the green light to make the final preparation for the filming to begin.
“They called me on a Friday evening and told me they would be in town the following Thursday, so the next six days were truly a whirlwind of activity,” stated Richardson. “There was a lot to do, and a short time to do it in.
“My goal that I remained focused on through this entire process was to guarantee positive media attention for the Hatfield and McCoy legacy and for our county, and I’m very proud to say that goal was reached.”
The professor said the episode will begin with Mike and Frank driving their Antique Archeology van, having a conversation about the history of the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud. The pick they completed will be shown, and the conclusion will be when the pickers visit the historical Coal House in Williamson, where he authenticates the two items they purchased and informs them of their value.
“There are a few surprises I won’t reveal, so everyone will have to tune in and watch the show to see what I’m talking about,” said Richardson with a smile.
“One thing I’m very excited about is if they don’t edit it or shorten it, the portion of the episode filmed inside the Coal House where the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce is located lasts for approximately 6 minutes, and that will allow the historical site to truly be showcased for the world to see,” Richardson said.
The extension professor concluded with saying how pleased he is to have played a part in the stars and crew of the show visit our area, and says the national exposure that will be generated from the hour- long episode will be nothing but positive for the county.
“I expect us to see an increase in tourism after the American Pickers episode airs, and with the fact that three other shows and a mini-series centered around the Hatfield and McCoy feud are ready to be broadcast within a week of one another on Memorial day weekend, Mingo County is going to be thrust into the spotlight and will take its rightful place at the fire-front of tourist destinations in the State of West Virginia.”
The next story in this series will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Daily News.