Rick Dale Makes Old Things New on ‘American Restoration’

by | April 14, 2011 at 2:56 PM | Interviews

It’s fitting that Rick Dale’s new History Channel series, premiering Friday night, is called “American Restoration” because that happens to be how he sees his mission.

“I’m restoring history one piece at a time, and I’m restoring America, bringing the restored stuff back to life,” Dale told Xfinity.tv in an interview about his new show, in which he restores a wide variety of old, rusty, dusty objects – from vintage appliances to vending machines and old gas pumps.

Dale’s 28-year-old business is based in Las Vegas, which is how he got his own TV show. It’s a spinoff of the Vegas-based “Pawn Stars” – also seen on History – where Dale has been featured from time-to-time helping the “Pawn” stars refurbish vintage objects pawned in their shop. In fact, two of them turn up in the premiere of “American Restoration” – Rick Harrison and Chumlee (Austin Russell) – to ask Rick and his crew to restore a vintage barber’s pole.

What other objects are in store to be restored on “American Restoration”? In this phone interview from Las Vegas, Dale filled us in.

We’re fascinated by the work you do. While auto restorations take centerstage on other shows on TV these days such as “Desert Car Kings” and “South Beach Classics” [both on Discovery], you restore all the other stuff, other than cars, don’t you? What category of object would you say you restore the most?
Well, in the 28 years I’ve been doing it, it’s mainly the Coke machines [and other] memorabilia from gas stations. If you had a gas station, you had a Coke machine, you had gas pumps and stuff like that out front. A lot of vending stuff – that was my forte. Now since the show has started, I’ve broadened my horizons. In every way, I do something different and something more challenging every single day that’s entirely different than anything I’ve ever touched. It’s totally interesting to me to see how [the old things were built].

Meet Rick Dale:

On the first two episodes of “American Restoration,” you restore a rather large Coke cooler, a turn-of-the-century coin-operated novelty machine called a “Punch-A-Bag” (that tested a man’s punching strength) and a 100-year-old strong box that once carried gold bricks on cross-country railroads. Is this the kind of variety of objects you’re talking about?
Yeah, and we’ve jumped into some vintage motorcycles. There are American motorcycles and we did an English motorcycle, a Matchless. Motorcycles are sort of like cars as far as how long they take. We’ve got at least four [motorcycle restorations this season].

Does it amaze you that some of the old stuff you come across still works, even when these objects have been languishing outdoors for a long time?
That’s absolutely right, and I live by that. I mean, I don’t care if it’s out in the middle of a junk pile getting rusted all day long, you plug it in and it works. Everything still works. Things were built very, very well back then and they’re not built the same way [today]. They’re built to replace. All the old stuff was stamped Made in the United States of America, all lettered out. We were a very proud country at that point in time.

How does that make you feel about American manufacturing? Does it make you sad that we don’t make things to last anymore, if we make ’em at all?
It does. I am sad. Back in the day, this stuff was built to last. And it lasts forever too. And our people who built it, our manufacturers, our engineers who designed and built that stuff, they were proud and they didn’t want it to break. And they put their names on it when they did it. And nowadays it does make me sad. It makes me feel like we’re heading in the wrong direction. I wish I could change it. It was amazing that we built stuff that strong. I mean, I’m totally in awe.

The Punch-A-Bag machine was a pretty unusual object. Is that the most unusual thing you have ever restored?
The most unusual piece that I’ve restored, which is on the show this season, is an X-ray shoe-fitting machine, which was a gimmick in the late ’30s, early ’40s in all kinds of shoe stores. [The machines] would sit in the back of the store and it was sort of an advertising piece where you’d walk up and you’d put your feet in there and they’d give the X-ray image to your kids as a souvenir. The X-ray didn’t really show how the shoe fit or the size of a foot. It was a gimmick. The thing about this piece of equipment was that it was one of the 10 biggest disasters of engineering ever because of the X-ray and the radiation that you got. In about ’57 or ’58, they supposedly destroyed all of them. So to see something like that all of a sudden was probably the weirdest thing that I’ve ever seen.

Generally speaking, is there a nostalgia trend going on right now? Why are there so many of these kinds of show these days dealing with all of our old stuff?
Well, I’ve been doing it 28 years, and there always has been an interest. Once they put it out on TV like “Antiques Roadshow,” there are so many people that actually have this stuff in their attics and now they’re very, very interested. Also, our economy is so weak that people are interested in anything that could be worth anything. Now they’re seeing what their stuff is worth and [that] they can go out and try and sell it. And if they get their stuff restored, they can sell it for a little bit more. At the same time, we’re not spending extra money on something new. Let’s say you’re decorating your house. You don’t know what to put in it, but you have this old piece in the attic and this would make a great addition to the room that you’re trying to design and instead of going out and buying some cheap piece of junk, you restore what you have. I think that’s why the interest has taken off so much with these antiques.

Why do you figure you have this affinity for these old things?
I have this thing where I feel like I’ve been reincarnated because anything I work on, like from around the ’40s, I feel like I was there. It’s weird, I can get a piece or see a piece and I’m in the moment while I’m tearing it apart or building it. I’m feeling the way it was.

“American Restoration” premieres Friday, April 15, with two back-to-back half-hours, starting at 10 p.m./9c on History Channel.

Watch Full Episodes:
‘Pawn Stars’ ‘American Pickers’ ‘Ghost Hunters’ ‘Holly’s World’