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Las Vegan rebuilds history on show

They don’t make ’em like they used to.

Yes, it’s an old saw that barely has any teeth left. And I think I aged a good 40 years just typing it. But it pretty perfectly sums up both Rick Dale and the items he brings back to life on the “Pawn Stars” spinoff “American Restoration” (10 p.m. Friday, History).

“Things are made nowadays to be replaced,” says the longtime Las Vegan, who not only feels like he was born into the wrong era, he firmly believes that he was. “I have stuff that’s 60, 70 years old that still hasn’t broke. My phone won’t last 40 days without breaking.”

Dale, who’s been restoring items since his father helped him rehab a junker of a Schwinn as a 9-year-old, says he had “no desire whatsoever” to be on TV. Then “Pawn Stars” boss Rick Harrison brought an old gas pump — one of Dale’s specialties, along with coin-operated machines — to Rick’s Restorations.

“When Rick came to me, I was really, really slow,” Dale says of business at the time. “The economy was bad. What I sell was fairly high-end. A lot of people were losing their homes and stuff. I actually came to a point where I needed (the exposure).

“At the same time, part of me wanted to retire, because I was getting a little burned out. And with this new show, now came new pieces. So it sort of sparked my interest in different stuff. I think I was in a rut. I started out with Coke machines and gas pumps. The next thing you know, I’m doing astronaut helmets.”

The restoration process, it turns out, works both ways.

“Now I get something different every day,” Dale adds, “and the challenge and the interest that it sparks has really brought me back to life, too.”

Dale says he and Harrison clicked right away, which led to frequent appearances on the smash hit “Pawn Stars.”

“Evidently, somebody must have liked us,” he says, and a four-episode tryout debuted last fall as History’s second most-watched series launch ever — behind, of all things, the gator-huntin’ antics of “Swamp People.”

As a spinoff, “American Restoration” has roughly the same feel of “Pawn Stars” — it’s more “Baywatch Hawaii” than “Baywatch Nights.” Like its predecessor, “American Restoration” focuses on a family-run business: Dale works with his teenage son, Tyler; his younger brother, Ron; and his “better half,” Kelly. And, in keeping with both “Pawn Stars” and the channel that airs them, each job explores the history of the piece.

Like a proud parent, Harrison — along with “Pawn Stars” comic relief Chumlee — turns up on Friday’s premiere with an elaborate, century-old barber’s pole for Dale to refurbish. Other items featured in the back-to-back episodes include a strong box belonging to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and a 1910 coin-operated punching bag.

It’s fascinating the way Dale, who has no formal training in the restoration business, and his team breathe new life into these ruined treasures without any instruction manuals or, at times, even so much as a hint as to how they’re supposed to work.

“If I tear it apart,” he says, confidently, “I can put it together.”

Granted, this is coming from a guy who considers it a good day when he can get a nail to stick in a wall, but Dale’s talents are so amazing, if this were a couple of hundred years ago, he’d be tried as a witch.

Unlike his pieces, though, fame can come with instructions. And for that, Dale relied on his old pal Harrison, who went from pawnshop owner to international TV star seemingly overnight.

“Rick’s taught me a lot,” Dale admits. “Rick and I talk a lot, and he’s sort of prepped me — as he was going very fast and getting big real quick — for what’s to come. We sort of set ourselves up to where we’ll be ready for it.”

But Dale, who still sounds a little surprised to have a TV show, isn’t motivated by fame and fortune. He scrapped his original business plan, buying trashed items and restoring them on spec, even though that proved more lucrative than restoring other people’s memories.

“It’s not just all about the money,” he says. “It’s about (being) challenged, and I’m making people happy.”

With “American Restoration,” Dale gets to interact with his customers, who, in turn, get to feel like they’re part of the process. And he’s had no shortage of customers wanting to be on TV, even though the filming process can add days and even weeks to the refurbishing time.

“These are their memories, and I’m restoring their history or the memory,” Dale says. “And to be a part of it is just like them (being able) to relive getting it for Christmas.”

It’s a noble effort, and it’s one that Dale doesn’t take lightly.

“We’re taking American history and building it back,” he concludes, “one piece at a time.”

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@reviewjournal.com.

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