Bob Halliday knows a thing or two about restoration. Halliday is the owner of Bob’s Garage in Marietta. Sound familiar? The garage and Halliday’s trademark gray beard, dark blue shop clothes and tongue-in-cheek humor are featured on the History Channel’s hit show, “American Restoration.
By Katy Ruth Camp | Photography by Kelly J. Huff
But the path to being an international restorer of old Coke machines, gas pumps, arcade games and you-name-it’s wasn’t always an easy one.
The Innkeepers Boy
Some may remember a grand, white-columned hotel called The Georgian Oaks that loomed over what is now Marietta’s auto dealership row off of U.S. 41, near Dobbins Air Reserve Base. The Plantation was right next door, a fine dining restaurant that Halliday referred to as the “best restaurant in Marietta.” He would know, since he lived in an apartment attached to the old hotel’s lobby from 1955 to 1965 as a boy.
“I had a great childhood there. My parents were the innkeepers, so I had a swimming pool, a good restaurant and new and old faces every day,” Halliday said.
“Every Saturday, my Dad made me fill up all of the Coke machines in the hotel so I got to know those old machines pretty well. I spent the rest of my time at Sinclair Gas Station next door.”
Halliday said that’s where his love for restoring the soda machines and gas pumps he knew and loved as a boy came from. After spending more than a decade in the diving business, Halliday said a friend gave him an old Coke machine. Curious if he could do it, Halliday got to work, restored the machine and sold it.
That first sale was the beginning of a new life for Halliday and the birth of Bob’s Garage.
“After I restored that first machine, I thought, ‘I could do this. I could sell this.’ So I started finding other machines and eventually started Bob’s Garage,” Halliday said.
At the time, Halliday and his family were living in New Orleans, La. For nearly 20 years, Halliday built his shop into a successful business and in early 2005, he bought an old gas station in the Historic District. The plan was to restore it and, for six months, Halliday worked tirelessly through government red tape, paint and projects to restore the station.
He and his wife and Bob’s Garage co-owner, Laurel, planned to retire a year later and live on the mountain property they owned in North Carolina.
Hurricane Katrina had other plans.
“For the 30 years I lived there, all I heard about was the 100-year-storm because the city was built below sea level. Well, we lost everything. We got out of there with a car, a laptop, three cats, two kids and the clothes we were wearing,” Halliday said.
Everything else was gone — their house, their business and everything those buildings held.
With his sister living in Marietta, Halliday moved the family to Georgia.
“I missed two weeks of work. I lost everything, but I was working again in two weeks thanks to the people I knew here. It took two years to get back on our feet. We shopped every weekend for two years, it was awful. People think it’s fun but it was work,” Halliday said.
During that time, he and Laurel bought a house in Marietta 10 minutes from the new shop at 4140 Jvl Industrial Park Drive, just off of Shallowford Road. That was 10 years ago and, while they expected to continue the success the shop had in New Orleans, they had no idea what was coming next.
An American Restoration
Three years ago, Halliday answered the phone and, instead of a potential customer or an impatient current customer, it was the History Channel on the other line. They had a show called “American Restoration,” and needed a new shop to feature. Was he interested?
Season 7 of the popular show was Bob’s Garage’s first and finished earlier this year, but that isn’t the last viewers will see of the Marietta shop. Halliday signed on for at least three seasons of the show and is even in talks — and hopes — for Bob’s Garage to have its own spinoff show. Season 8 started filming this summer.
According to the History Channel’s website: “American Restoration follows five of the best restoration shops in the United States as they not only restore pieces of America’s history, but create new and awe-inspiring works from vintage items. Each shop has a unique focus — from classic cars, to rare antique signs, to one-of-a-kind bikes. They’ll prove their prowess as masters of restoration, while exploring each item’s original glory, place in history and effect on pop-culture.”
Viewers get to know not only the talent and skill of Bob’s Garage, but also its personalities.
The shop employs seven people, including technicians, a bookkeeper (Laurel), a shop foreman, paint foremen and Halliday.
“Celebrity is not my forte,” Halliday says in his warm but gruff voice as he sits back in his office chair, the walls around him filled with old signs and funny sayings. “After the first episode aired, I went to my nephew’s basketball game and a guy turned around and said, ‘I saw you on TV!’ We even came up with souvenirs to sell since people keep coming to the shop and the showroom. (The producers) told me to expect total chaos once the show aired. But it’s been good exposure.”
Bob’s Garage even has its own brand featuring Halliday’s signature humor called, “Have an Attitude.” The shop sells souvenirs such as a drink machine with the slogan, “Have one … or don’t” and letterman jackets with patches sporting sayings such as “Do I look like a people person?” and “It’s not me, it’s you.”
The shop is far from hurting for business. There are 30 to 40 projects in the works at any given moment, and all restorations take between nine and 12 months to complete.
And the projects they take on span from the normal 1920s gas pumps and 1950s drink machines to the far more unusual, such as a gas-powered pogo stick that was featured on the show.
“We just took in an antique railroad crossing sign. A doctor in Tennessee brought it to us, he has a game house next to his house and he plans to run a long hose over the property so if someone runs over it, the crossing goes off. We’ve never done that before, but we’ll do it,” Halliday said, with a hearty laugh.
“The show is fun, but the people we employ, they’re artisans and they’re paid well,” Halliday said. “The supply of antique Americana is dwindling, but we’re doing our best to keep it restored and alive.”