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Breathing life into broken-down treasures

Created date

November 4th, 2011

Williams In Las Vegas, Nev., sits a small restoration shop. If you go there on any given day you ll find rusty old vending machines, refrigerators, bicycles, and barber chairs a motley assortment of broken-down, misfit Americana waiting for a second chance. ' As you make your way around the property, you ll typically find a crew of eight men toiling at lathes, sandblasting parts down to bare metal, and carefully spraying fresh coats of paint onto vintage machines. At the helm of this team is Rick Dale, the owner of Rick s Restorations. ' The subject of History s new reality show American Restoration, Dale has been breathing new life into all things metal since he was a boy. ' At his father s knee ' My father gave me a bicycle when I was nine years old, and it was a real junker, he recalls. He basically told me that if I wanted to make it work, I had to fix it. He taught me how to take things apart, paint and polish them, and put them back together. ' Within a few years, Dale was building cars for soapbox derbies and, by the early 1980s, restoring vending and gaming machines to sell at swap meets in California. Before he knew it, word of his talent circulated enough that he was able to start a business and pursue the work full-time. ' Dale s establishment over the years has become a desert oasis for vintage pieces otherwise known as junk. Especially with his television debut on History s reality series Pawn Stars (and ultimately the 2010 premier of American Restoration), his crew has been busier than ever. ' Authentic recreations ' Dale estimates that his shop completes about 60 restorations per year, an impressive figure considering the amount of work required for each project. The painstaking process involves several steps, the first of which is research. ' Research is one of the most important parts of any restoration, Dale explains. When someone brings us an antique whether it be an old Coke machine or a Hershey s chocolate dispenser we need to know everything about it in order to accurately restore it to its original condition. ' This includes details like paint colors, graphics, and types of metal. No particular is too small. ' If the item is missing knobs, buttons, levers, or other parts, Dale has to find out where he can get them. Those parts that he can t find, he has to make himself. ' Dale uses an assortment of tools such as milling machines and lathes to make objects that, in some cases, companies haven t manufactured in decades. From a simple piece of stock metal, he can produce chrome trim, dials, and screws (with American or European threading, no less). The parts that they do have usually first head to the sandblaster to remove any existing paint, leaving only bare metal. Dale then buffs the surface to a smooth finish and applies fresh paint with historically accurate color schemes. ' Doing it right for the customer ' Upon completion, each piece looks and works like new. And though Dale says that it s rewarding to watch a decrepit antique from America s past come back to life, his favorite part is revealing the results to the customer. ' To me, unveiling the finished product to a customer is one of the most important parts of the entire process, he remarks. I don t just bring the client in and show it to them. When they tell me their story, I try to match it in the presentation so that it brings back memories. ' Often customers respond with pleasure-filled shock some of them even cry. One man was speechless when he turned the corner to find his broken-down popcorn machine not only shining like it did in the 1940s but also popping a fresh batch of the fluffy treat. Another client responded the same way when he saw his Hopalong Cassidy bicycle for the first time as perfect as it appeared on the showroom floor 50 years earlier. ' Most of the time, the things we restore hold a special place in a person s memory, Dale says. It could be an old toy or bike that they had when they were kids, or something that belonged to a parent or grandparent. When they see it looking brand new and their face fills up with emotion, I know I ve done my job.