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WNYer's "inspiring story" on "American Pickers"

By Alan Pergament 

During a pre-show interview for an appearance on the popular cable show "American Pickers,"  a former Western New York volunteer firefighter was repeatedly told "good stuff, good stuff."

The "Pickers" production member wasn’t talking about all the stuff around Frank Raquet's barn in Akron eventually to be picked by co-hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fitz.

He was referring to Raquet's  personal story, which the History Channel series has called "inspiring" in its synopsis of the episode that airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on the basic cable channel.

Here's part of the synopsis of the episode of a series that the History Channel says looks for hidden antique and collectible gems at junkyards, basements and barns: "The guys hit upstate New York where a fellow picker and former firefighter shares his inspiring story and gives them unprecedented access to his jam-packed barns and sheds. The deals start flying, but it¹s the firefighting memorabilia that's got Frank (co-star Frank Fritz) all fired up."

Raquet -- a life member of the East Amherst Fire Department -- became a paraplegic after suffering a severe back injury 30 years ago when a roof collapsed on him and a fellow firefighter.

In an interview Tuesday night, Raquet said he now is ambulatory by using braces and crutches and can move around a little without a wheelchair.

"I don’t let it get me down, I keep on doing things," he explained. "I made myself stronger, smarter and better every day. They liked that."

Raquet was injured in a 1984 fire at a carpet store on Transit Road and was awarded $4.3 million 12 years later from the owner of the building.

Here’s what a 1996 story in The Buffalo News said about the case: "Raquet and the estate of Mitchell Spoth filed new lawsuits against the engineer and construction firms involved in designing and building an overhanging roof that collapsed on the Transit Fire Company volunteers during the fire at the Kenny Carpets store on Transit Road. The firms were previously cleared of liability because they were not in control of the building at the time of the fire... Raquet was awarded $4.3 million from Leonard Zane, the owner of the building, who has since died, and his son, Clifford Zane, who is in prison for starting the fire."

However, the old story added that because of the Zanes' limited assets, Raquet was unlikely to collect anything approaching the millions he was awarded.

On Monday, he confirmed that he never saw those millions.

"Thousands but no million," he said. "I got a little money but not a lot for a life-changing injury. I broke my back and was paralyzed. The court system was really unjust."

He now lives on a farm in Akron and can be found at Garage No.33 at the Antique World flea market when it is open.

Raquet said his customers and friends have repeatedly told him "you should be on 'Pickers,' you should be on 'Pickers.'"

One of his friends alerted the show about Raquet. After some back and forth with the production team, "Pickers" sent a scout out to the farm for a couple of days in July.

"They were looking to do a Western New York show," said Raquet. "They used me as a springboard to show them around."

That’s understandable. "Pickers" is very popular in WNY. It made my summer list of the most popular cable series here, with episodes getting ratings in the 3s and 4s here in July. That's higher than many broadcast network series get here.

Raquet took the scout to places in Olcott, West Seneca, Pendleton, Marilla, Medina and Buffalo where he said he has been "picking" for years.

"Two weeks later, they said they wanted to come up and 'pick' me," said Raquet.

Wolfe and Fritz came to his small Akron farm in late August. Raquet said the production team liked the visuals of his farm and thought that would help sell the episode.

The co-hosts liked 14 items enough to buy them from Raquet.

"I sold them a neat old doll," said Raquet. "I also sold them a book for $10 and a few other things for a couple of hundred dollars. I didn't make any thousands."

Of course, you might say that appearing on "American Pickers" is a priceless experience for a fan of the series like Raquet.

"Now that I’m on it, I'm a lot bigger fan," concluded Raquet.

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