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Just six days after the Father's Day tornado tore the roof off Rimrock Auto Arena, treasures trundled through MetraPark's Expo Center.

Fans of "Antiques Roadshow" queued up to see whether their beloved family heirlooms or flea market finds had a shot at appearing on public television's highest-rated series.

Out of the roughly 9,600 objects appraised that June day, only about 20 objects appear on each of the three Billings episodes, which air April 11, 18 and 25 on Montana PBS.

In half of the cities that "Roadshow" visits, appraisers don't see any objects worth six figures, the show's executive producer, Marsha Bemko, said in a phone interview from Boston. But, on last show's summer circuit, each city, including Billings, produced a high-dollar find.

The first Billings episode includes a landscape of Yellowstone National Park, bought at a flea market in Paris and valued at up to $125,000. The painting belongs to a long-lost series of 20 watercolors from the 19th century painted by Arthur Brown. The Billings episodes also show one of the first books ever printed in Montana Territory, a volume valued at $10,000 — a yawner of a read titled "1886 Laws of Montana."   

"The majority of what we see is worth less than $100," Bemko said.

The show's appraisers are adept at softening the blow, knowing that those objects are precious to the owner.

The "hidden treasures" chosen for "Roadshow" tend to have great stories related by owners who are brimming with passion and enthusiasm, Bemko said.

While the odds of actually appearing on the "Roadshow" were about 100 to one, most collectors walked away knowing a bit more about their prized possessions.

Here's a sampling of some of those thousands of Billings "Roadshow" rejects:

David Orser

The collector: Orser, a retired oil company executive, got hooked on the BBC production of "Antiques Roadshow" during the 25 years that he lived in London, long before the American version of the show first aired in 1997.

In England, Orser made a weekend habit of hunting for Mason's Ironstone, highly decorated English porcelain done in an Oriental style, and biscuit barrels, classy British cookie jars designed to set out at tea time.

Orser, a serious art collector for more than 40 years, is a former board member of the Yellowstone Art Museum, and paintings from his collection have been exhibited at the YAM.

The object: The head of a small Greek or Roman sculpture.

The story behind it: A high school friend of Orser's son had lived with the family for a time during his teens. The friend married a Turkish woman and had gotten the sculpted head from a Turkish relative who indicated it was valuable. When the marriage unraveled, the friend gave the head to Orser.

The outcome: The "Roadshow" appraiser looked at the sculpture fairly closely, rolled it around in his hand and scratched it with his fingernail.

"I hope you didn't pay too much for this," were the first words out of the appraiser's mouth.

The sculpture was a fake made for gullible tourists.

Reaction: "I suspected it was a fake, but, until they told me, I wasn't sure," Orser said. He also had a European painting appraised with a much better outcome.

Mike Dimich

The collector: Dimich, who works at the family owned Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co., will occasionally pull over if he spots something interesting at a garage sale.

The object: A German typewriter from 1903.

The story behind it: Admiring its engineering, Dimich bought the typewriter at a garage sale. Like a 1960s IBM Selectric, the typewriter uses a small ball with raised letters to hit the typewriter ribbon rather than metal strikers. It sits proudly in Dimich's home office on top of an old rolltop desk that belonged to his father.

The outcome: "If I had four or five more typewriters, I could put them in the back of my car for weight," Dimich said.

He claims to have bonded more deeply to the typewriter after lugging it around the "Roadshow."

Dan Merry

The collector: Merry, whose grandfathers homesteaded in Montana, likes things with a bit of history behind them. The Billings collector co-owns Merry Cellars Winery in Pullman, Wash., where his oldest son, Patrick, is the winemaker.

The object: A lever-action Winchester rifle, Model 1886.

The story behind it: In 1887, the rifle was ordered by a 23-year-old who hauled freight with a string team and three wagons between Fort Custer, outside Hardin, and Sheridan, Wyo. The man ordered a .40-70 Winchester, but soon decided that the rifle's caliber was too small to shoot buffalo. He sent it back to the factory in 1887 to have it rebarreled into a .45-90. The rifle remained in the same family for 91 years until Merry bought it. He has a letter from the son of the original owner and from the curator of the Winchester Gun Museum in New Haven, Conn., verifying its authenticity.

The outcome: The appraiser pegged the rifle's value at about $8,000.

Becky Webber

The collector: Becky Webber, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County, is a inveterate "scrounger" who likes going to auctions and estate sales to find broken jewelry that she can turn into new creations.

The object: A photographer's portrait chair for infants.

The story behind it: Webber's father found the tiny oak highchair in pieces in a relative's barn in South Dakota. Her father wasn't sure of the chair's purpose until he saw a portrait of an infant posed in a similar chair. A lever tilts the whole seat backward, at a safer angle to pose an unattended infant.

The outcome: Webber thought she might have a shot of getting on the show. "In the line, people were just stopping me left and right and asking me what it was," she said. In 1978, an appraiser valued the chair at $1,500, but the "Roadshow" appraiser pegged its value at $600.

Her reaction: "It was just fun being in line and talking to everybody."

She returned the chair to the same prominent spot in her living room. Over the years, they used the chair to photograph her children in their baptismal gowns. She plans to hand it down to her son, a talented amateur photographer.

Contact Donna Healy at dhealy@billingsgazette.com or 657-1292.

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