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'American Pickers' hope to collect items, Ford City history

| Friday, May 4, 2012, 12:14 a.m.

When they were kids, Jeff Mantini and some of his brothers found a couple of old tubas that had been thrown out into an alley.

They shined them up and started to play.

"We were blowing those big tubas," said Jeff Mantini.

Until someone had enough of the blare and took the horns away.

"We were always 'trash pickin,'" he said. "We were always collectors."

The Mantini boys knack for picking out valuable historical stuff by rummaging through someone else's junk all their lives has served them well.

Jeff, Roch, Eric, Dennis and the rest of the family's collections kept in the former Sokol Club building along Sixth Avenue, in some of their homes and in the basement of the Mantini Funeral Home has caught the attention of the History Channel's "American Pickers" TV show.

The show's stars, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, and a production crew paid the Mantini bunch a visit Thursday and today on a swing through Armstrong County hoping to make a find.

Curious onlookers from around town showed up to see what all the mystery was about as the show's producers tried without much success to keep the filming hush-hush.

"They're looking for some characters too," added Jeff.

The popular pickers might be putting the small town of Ford City on the antique-collecting map.

The show, in addition to bringing TV viewers some wheeling and dealing for interesting items, strives to show the history of the area in the items that they bargain for with colorful local swappers like the Mantini family.

In their picking through the Mantini's stash, the American Pickers got a look at one of the oddest and oldest collections in small-town America.

"We don't know what they might want," said Eric Mantini.

Some of the things in the Mantini collection are a Sokol Club marching band bass drum, horns and uniforms from 1905; an ejection seat from an old jet fighter plane; the first commercial outback motor ever made for a motor boat from 1916; a wooden cash register; a 1954 Harley motorcycle; an 1800s paper cutter pitched out by the Leader Times or the parallel bars used by a local female gymnast to train for the Olympics.

"We all have our junk," said Jeff. "We don't really like to sell stuff."

The brothers agreed that if they hope to get Ford City on TV, they'll have to part with something to make sure the show is a success.

"They definitely want the best we have," added Roch.

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