Tool Man

Las Vegan Rick Dale brings the past back to life in his new TV show American Restoration

Before his first appearance on the mega-popular History Channel reality show Pawn Stars, restoration specialist Rick Dale was ready to give up. His 27-year-old business, Rick’s Restorations, was struggling to stay afloat, and after years of restoring Coke machines and gas pumps, he was burnt out. He’d already begun to sell off everything at his shop when salvation came in the form of a special customer.

That customer was Rick Harrison, the star of Pawn Stars, who one day brought in a gas pump on-camera for Dale to bring back to life. Leftfield Productions, the crew behind Pawn Stars, was impressed by the transformation of the item, which quickly sold.

“Rick’s a good guy and he and I sort of clicked, so it made it a lot easier,” says Dale, who had no qualms of being filmed. “Who cares if there’s a camera there? When they said, ‘You’re great; you’re great on camera,’ I guess, well, my confidence level just boosted. It was just another challenge.”

This relationship resulted in the rejuvenation of forgotten antiques—such as a 1964 Marketeer golf cart and a 1950s barber’s chair—but it did even more to revitalize Dale’s career. After just a few Pawn Star cameos, customers from across the country began shipping Dale items for reconstruction, and as business increased so did Dale’s passion.

Charmed by his incredible transformations and natural charisma, Leftfield Productions approached Dale with a possible spin-off reality show, American Restoration. After a successful four-episode preview this fall, a full season will debut at 10 p.m. April 15 on the History Channel.

While growing up in Boulder City, Dale showed a knack for working with his hands. His father, who worked his way up from a power company meter reader to station chief, would often bring home items that others considered trash. Together they would return them to their former glory. It started with an old Schwinn bicycle when he was 9 and continued with a Yamaha motorcycle at 15. “We didn’t have a lot of money and we’d buy stuff, and I just took it on to fix it up, clean it up, paint it, tear it apart, everything to it,” Dale says. “It went on from there. On my 16th birthday my dad gave me a jeep and it was beat up, but I restored it and it was the hottest thing in school.”

Dale has continued that tradition with his own son, Tyler, a high school senior. Working side by side with his father, Tyler’s restoration education provides insight for the viewer. Under Dale’s watchful gaze, Tyler has begun to quote customer estimates and delve into the finer details of running the shop with hopes that his son may take over the family business one day.

This season of American Restoration will truly be a family affair: Dale’s fiancée, Kelly, will make appearances along with her daughter Ally, her son Brettly and Dale’s brother Ron.

With the ever-increasing amount of restorations, Dale’s challenges have changed from ones of scarcity to overabundance. “I have fears of too much and too many all at one time and not being able to handle it,” says Dale, who has had to increase his staff to 10 employees. He does not want to lose his hands-on approach. “If I start a production shop it’s not going to put out ‘me,’ it will just put out some product.”

Dale says that the business will always come first, a lesson he learned from Harrison, who has had trouble keeping up with his regular duties at Gold & Silver Pawn since the success of Pawn Stars. “Rick and I talk a lot. I’ve learned a lot of the things I do and do not want to do,” Dale says. “I’m molding it to where I am capable to do both. Without the business I wouldn’t have anything; I’m not a movie star. I will always keep grounded and keep my foundation.”

Dale’s favorite part of the restoration process is the reveal. A showman at heart, Dale likes to create over-the-top unveilings. “I like it when a customer comes in and their face lights up because of a memory,” says Dale, who fondly remembers one instance where a husband had a soda cooler restored for his wife, resulting in tears of joy. “If I can make them cry by doing something special, it’s the best feeling in the world. You really hit their emotions; you make them think of a lot of things.”

The increase in customer requests has also challenged Dale to work on items he’d never before restored. “I sort of doubted myself for a little bit,” Dale says. “Then once I jumped into the first couple [restorations] it was like, this is all of the same sort of stuff, just a little bit different.” He particularly enjoys exploring the inner workings of machines, such as an early 1900s strength-testing boxing machine, which had a complex system of gears and pulleys hidden inside a back compartment.

“My thing is to restore America … one piece at a time,” Dale says. “I think the show is the avenue to show people that you just don’t need to go buy something new, you can fix what you have. I think that if I can teach people how to buy something and sell something and make some money, then they’d be better off. Things are tough right now, so let me teach you.”

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