Rick Dale is owner of Rick’s Restorations, a Las Vegas restoration shop that takes vintage appliances and machinery and restores them with new coatings for customers each week on the hit TV show American Restoration on the History Channel. He will be a keynote speaker at the NASF SUR/FIN show on June 12. We caught up with Rick as he was getting ready to tape a new season of the TV show.
Now that you have your own show, how has your life changed?
RD: About four hours of sleep a day. It’s very busy. I enjoy every minute of it though. The process of doing what we do takes longer. We’ve been filming for six months—off a month, and on our fourth or fifth month now filming again. The process just takes longer. People still come in, and I make them happy.
Did you ever think you would have your own TV show?
RD: I did not ever think about having my own show. It was on the third or fourth piece I was restoring for Pawn Stars that History approached me and said they liked what I was doing. They said the viewers were interested. It was sort of slow in the restoration business. The higher-end clientele weren’t spending money during the recession. They were tough times for a lot of people, and it was great to have that opportunity available.
When did you do your first restoration, and what did you restore?
RD: I’m 52. When I was 9, I restored a bicycle. My dad found a junker, and he helped me restore it. My dad told me, “If you want something, you’ve got to earn it.” Restoring that bike taught me two things: 1. You’ll appreciate it more, and 2. you’ll save money. Then I made a car for a soapbox derby here in Vegas, where we have a big hill. I didn’t qualify. I don’t remember how I finished. Since then, I’ve seen some really old soapbox derby racers, and mine looked more like those—something built by a kid. Now, parents are building them. It even happens for the Pinewood Derby in the Boy Scouts. I built my own motorcycles. I did my own cars. I owned my own construction companies, and then in 1982 I started my own restoration business and never looked back.
What’s the most expensive restoration you’ve ever done?
RD: Currently on the show, we’re doing a 1900s oil wagon. It’s as big as a stagecoach and is horse-driven. What this wagon used to do was fill up at a bulk plant. It’s all wood and comes from the family of Sinclair Oil Corp.
What’s the most outrageous restoration you’ve ever done?
RD: It’s an X-ray shoe fitter powered by radiation. It was built in the late 1930s, early 1940s. It was a gimmick used by shoe companies and shoe stores to get people to buy shoes. You would stand up there and put your foot in the machine. You were allowed to come in three times a day, but there weren’t any glasses or other protection. It comes in the shop, and 20 minutes later in come the Feds with radiation badges. I’m sitting here checking it out, and here come the Feds. I’m thinking, “What do they have, radar?” This piece is one of the 10 worst engineering projects in our country’s history. The government tried to destroy them all in the 1950s. When we finished it, we had radiation people check it out in big lead suits. We didn’t plug it in because that bulb would give out too much radiation; instead, we put in film x-rays. It ended up awesome.
What restoration made you most proud?
RD: There’s one that ended up on the show. I was doing the same stuff over and over, and then somebody found this vending coffee machine from one of the first hotels in Vegas. I took it because I heard it came from a western-themed hotel. We opened it up and found that most of the stuff was there, but we had to run around to find a few key parts. Once it was working again, you could put a dime in, and it would pour out a hot cup of coffee. Other buttons allowed you to add cream and sugar and adjust how much you wanted to add. I painted woodgrain on it, and we did a lot of art graphics. We even did the original logo from the El Rancho Hotel. It’s the kind of thing you have to watch the show to really appreciate.
What’s on your DVR?
RD: Pawn Stars, American Pickers and American Restoration. For as long as I’ve been in the business, I still learn something from these shows. It’s great to learn and have the willingness to learn.