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'Alaska Pickers' scour the state for long-lost treasures

Suzanna Caldwell
Becky Green and her partner Kelly Turney travel around the state looking for the next big thing on "Alaska Pickers." Courtesy PSG Films

Alaskans are generally hardscrabble folks. While not everyone lives off the land, most are used to making a little out of a lot. With that, comes what some might see as a hoarding tendency. Lots full of barely running cars and other mechanical equipment are fairly common across the state. Some might see that as a nuisance, but  Kelly Turney sees it as a gold mine.

Turney and his family are the latest batch of Alaskans to put their life on display on small screen in a new reality show “Alaska Pickers.”

Consider it “American Pickers,” with an emphasis on Alaska. Turney, his girlfriend, Becky Green, and their three children scour the state looking for pieces of Alaska memorabilia, which they then sell through their business “Alaska Picker.”

Turney said that where “American Pickers” has gone a little soft (they're often seen picking through clean, organized garages and sheds) “Alaska” picks up. The pickers will go through anything, from abandoned buildings and barns to military bunkers. Navigating around squirrel droppings in Delta Junction? Done. Fairbanks? “We were stepping over dead moose carcasses, looking for out bears.”

All that in the hopes of scoring a good deal on an old item that Turney and his family refurbish for a profit.

Turney is a former Palmer police officer and lifelong “picker.” He said he grew up antiquing with his family as he moved around the country as a self-described “Army brat.” He settled in Alaska in 1996 and spent 10 years working for the Palmer Police Department. While there, he said he often ran into the camera crew following Alaska State Troopers for the National Geographic cable TV program. The production company behind the show -- PSG Films -- reached out to Turney last year about doing a show. This summer, the company sent a crew out to document the family as members traveled to various spots around the state looking for loot, including Delta Junction, the Matnuska and Susitna valleys north of Anchorage and “trip of a lifetime” out to Dutch Harbor, where the family dug through decades of commercial fishing and World War II memorabilia.

“That was really neat to find that stuff, just sitting there since the war,” Turney said.

Turney said the only rule about picking is that he and his family have to like what they're taking, regardless of whether it will be profitable or not. That could be anything -- from Matanuska Maid dairy items (glass milk bottles are particularly rare, according to Turney), to antique furniture and historical building signs.

And while some might consider the show an effort to highlight Alaska hoarders, Turney thinks it represents much more than that. He said its hard for Alaskans to get a lot of things shipped in, especially machinery. While having it around might not be beneficial for one person, it might be for a neighbor later on.

“Alaskans take care of their own, so having that stuff here is helpful,” Turney said.

“Alaska Pickers” debuts at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27 on the National Geographic Channel.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com