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Rick’s restorations breathe new life into old things

Las Vegan Rick Dale has spent decades breathing new life into pieces of the past and now he’s making History. The History Channel is chronicling his work with custom restorations in the new series “American Restoration.”

Dale’s Centennial Hills shop brims with activity as his team, which includes his fiancee, brother and 17-year-old son, works on about 20 restorations at a time. The shop’s yard is a veritable boneyard of restorations and a collection of old Coca-Cola dispensers, Dale’s first professional restoration.

The 52-year-old’s introduction to restoration was more a baptism by fire. His father gave him a “beater” bike when he was 9. The gift came with a condition.

“He said if I wanted a bicycle like my friends, I had to fix it up,” Dale said. “He helped me tear it apart, grease the bearings and repair it. He was about taking what you had and making it what you want.”

Dale graduated to soap box derbies, then restored a motorcycle at age 15 and a car a year later.

He worked in construction until 1983, when he met his fate.

Dale decided to fix up a rusty and rickety Coca-Cola machine that he had in his backyard to sell at a Southern California swap meet.

“I got it all purdied up and sold it,” he said.

Dale met a man during the swap meet who admired his work and requested more restorations.

Rick’s Restorations was established and his little hobby began paying his bills, Dale said.

He has restored so many Coca-Cola machines, he said he could finish one with his eyes closed now.

His business grew as Dale would scour the country looking for items to restore and sell. Now he strictly restores items for others.

“I changed,” he said. “All of a sudden, I realized I’m restoring a memory for them.”

California-born Dale moved to Boulder City at 13 and moved to Las Vegas five years later.

Although his new hometown is relatively young, he said he is surprised by how many antiques he gets in the shop. Despite decades of restoration experience, he never grows comfortable with the pressure associated with dismantling delicate items.

Now, there are cameras involved.

His foray into reality television came thanks to a relationship with other Las Vegas history buffs.

Dale connected with the Harrison family, the center of History Channel hit series “Pawn Stars,” and became an expert regular on the show. A restoration of an antique barber shop lamp commissioned by Rick Harrison was featured in the first episode of “American Restoration.”

Getting his own time in the limelight was never a goal, he said.

“I just never thought of it,” Dale said. “When it came up, I was a little reluctant. But I realized this is my next level.”

The series runs at 10 p.m. Fridays on the History Channel.

A list of past restorations and photos and videos of projects are featured on the shop’s website at ricksrestoration.com.

The most unique item to cross his shop, he said, was a discarded 1941 coffee machine from the El Rancho Hotel.

“I’m bringing out the past of Vegas in the piece,” Dale said. “It was there and moved around after the hotel burned down.”

The strangest item designation goes to a 1940s X-ray “shoe fitter.” The piece would pinpoint foot specifications for shoes based of localized X-ray findings. The technology proved dangerous and was quickly outlawed.

“It was the one of the 10 worst engineered pieces of machinery of the history of machinery,” Dale said.

Soon after the item was dropped off, state officials visited the shop and banned them from turning it on.

“We found out it gave off 10 times the radiation you’re supposed to get in a year in 10 seconds,” Dale said. “We did a lot of work on it, but we made it so it didn’t work.”

He feels so familiar working with products built around the 1940s, he believes he has been reincarnated, he said.

Dale says even the technology that ended up being mistakes of the past was better constructed than most items today.

“Nowadays, things are just junk,” he said. “Some of the stuff (I restore) lasts 100 years. It drives me nuts to think what we’re doing nowadays.”

Michigan native Jeff Skowronski saw Dale on an episode of “Pawn Stars” and immediately sought him out to give some tender loving care to his father’s vintage 1945 racing motorcycle. The ride belonged to Skowronski’s father, who died five years ago, and it was used in Daytona races throughout the 1950s but hadn’t been started in 10 years.

Skowronski reached out to Dale in August, and the big unveiling of the motorcycle was filmed in January.

“It was what I expected and beyond,” he said.

Skowronski paid about $8,800 for the restoration, which required rechroming parts, a new paint job and shipping in new parts from England. He plans to show the motorcycle at car shows this summer.

“He did that good a job that there is no doubt if there are British motorcycle car shows, it could take first (place),” he said.

Dale hires other restoration experts, and, like his “Pawn Star” pals, members of his family. Dale said his son Tyler, a student at Northwest Career and Technical Academy, 8200 W. Tropical Parkway, adopted his father’s tactic of imparting restoration wisdom by working with Tyler.

Dale hopes Tyler takes over the family business, and his grooming into the position is a story line in “American Restoration.”

Dale’s fiancee Kelly works in the office, her son Brettly helps in the shop and Dale’s daughter also helps Kelly. His brother Ron plays the role of misfit in the shop. They all appear in the show.

For more information, visit ricksrestorations.com.

Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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