HitFix Interview: Rick Dale of ‘American Restoration’ talks about making grown men cry

Rick Dale, the main man behind the History Channel’s “American Restoration” (Wed. at 10 p.m.) is clearly a pro at fixing almost anything — but he can’t do anything to stop the waterworks from some of his clients. “There’s crying [this season],” he admitted during a recent phone interview. “Even from me. It’s so emotional, and I’m very passionate about what I do. These people bring in a piece of their lives, and we’re bringing their memories back to life.”  

Of course, rehabbing everything from vintage motorcycles to old parlor games and antique signage isn’t something you can learn in a course. “There’s no training for this,” Dale says. “It’s the school of hard knocks. I started when i was 9-years-old and my dad gave me a bicycle out of the dumpster. We didn’t have a lot of money, and he said, to appreciate something, you build it yourself and you’ll appreciate it more. When I rode that bike in my neighborhood, I had the coolest bike. I started doing pinewood derbies and models and cars after that.”
But the path to his shop, American Restoration, wasn’t a direct one. “I was building stuff, and I got into contraction, founded a couple construction companies, then took on a different trade. But I was always working.” After discovering and remodeling a vintage Coca-Cola machine, Dale found yet another business to pursue — for a while. “I was running around the country because I needed pieces to restore and sell, then I’d run all over the country again.” When he realized he could fix almost anything using a similar method of taking machines apart, snapping pictures during the process, and keeping records as he went, he decided to let customers bring the work to him. “Now I have different pieces every day, and the challenge is way harder. It’s gotten more challenging, but the show has given me a chance to make a lot more people happy.”
One person on the show who doesn’t seem to make Dale very happy, at least not very often, is his helper Brettly, who seems more interested in goofing off than learning. “He’s my stepson,” Dale says. “He started with nothing, like most of my guys, and I’m very patient. He’s learning. He just learns at a different level… Brettly’s Brettly. We can’t all be too serious.” Dale is rougher on his son Tyler, who seems more determined to take after his dad. “I’m not as rough on Brettly, because from Tyler I want more,” Dale admits.
Viewers may expect more from the show during its second season, which started earlier this month, and Dale says they won’t be disappointed — though customers might be. “We have some pieces that are very, very complex,” he says. “One piece came in that I’m worried no one can figure out. I don’t want anyone touching it or taking it apart. Once you take it apart, if you don’t do it right, you’re done. It’s a press that made dog tags, and it’s got three million moving parts. I was afraid when I saw it.”
Not that Dale shies away from a challenge. His favorite repair? “I love doing museum pieces because they’re the most complex and rare,” he says. “Thousands and thousands of people get to see my stuff and see my work. I’m doing this stuff for a Nevada museum right now, and he brought in a speeder, something you ran around the railroad tracks, it’s a big piece and a handful. But I love it.”
Still, Dale doesn’t accept all jobs, admitting her turns away “maybe one percent.” “There’s a lot of little stuff that is almost impossible to do that’s wood. A lot of that is really, really hard, You almost have to build it again from scratch. Some people have brought in stuff that’s rusted out and rotten, and I’ll have older people bring in something they want you to bring it to life. That’s the hardest thing for me to do; I have a hard time saying no.”
Luckily, he doesn’t often have to now that he has his own show. Dale, who started as a guest expert on “Pawn Stars” before being approached to go solo, never thought of having a career in television but sees it as a way to help more people who need his services. “I think it’s that the one thing I love about it, that I have this avenue to reach everyone in the country who might not know where to take something and bring it back to life,” he says. “That’s what’s so fulfilling to me, being able to do it for everyone. I don’t look it as a chance to be a star. I get to make people the happiest when they leave. That’s the most fulfilling thing to me.”