Memory Lane Restoration Owner Curtis Kauffman Brings Nostalgic Items Back to Life to Recapture the Age of Diners and Doo Wop.
My work has taken me on a journey. It has given me the
opportunity to have freedom in my life, to come and go as I please but
not taking that for granted. I get the pleasure to restore the past for
the future! Knowing what I do today will be around for others to enjoy
and learn from for another 100 years. I have a true passion for what I
do and you will see that in my work and my reward is self gratification
and for that I'm forever thankful.
Curtis Kauffman, Memory Lane Restorations
Reprinted From Hagerstown Magazine
Article by Jennifer Mellace and photos by Youngblood Studios
It was an era of poodle skirts, hula-hoops, saddle shoes and Elvis -- the era many people think of when sighing over "the good olí days." While the fads and fashions have come and gone, more substantial reminders remain, like flashy Wurlitzer jukeboxes, colorful Stoner candy machines, soda coolers and chrome-covered kitchen appliances. Through the years, these iconic relics have disappeared from many 21st-century spaces, but there are a large number of devoted collectors who pay top dollar to find and restore these vintage items. And thereís one local man who does all he can to help them.
Meet Curtis Kauffman, who works closely with clients to buy and restore everything from refrigerators to soda machines to gas pumps. With an eye for detail and an interest in 1950s memorabilia, Curtis has been collecting and restoring bits of the past for 15 years. His collection started with Coca-Cola products and quickly encompassed anything í50s related -- including a 1958 American LaFrance Fire Engine, which he cleverly transformed into a full-service, novelty bar.
Notorious for his impeccable attention to detail, Curtis is one of the few restorers in the business who has been able to earn a living from his work. "A lot of people are hobbyists who will refurbish items, not restore them. When you send me something or buy something from me, the item doesnít just look great, it works." So immersed is he in the details, Curtis will not only make the outside of a machine perfect, heíll make the inside just as beautiful -- replacing every working piece there is. "People never see the back part or the inside of the machine, but I will do it perfect. I always go above and beyond to make customers happy." Often acting as a broker for his clients, Curtis will find, restore and usually hand-deliver many rare pieces. "I have an eye for designing and love to help my clients outfit their basements with their pieces."
Curtis has gained a solid reputation as one of the best restorers in the business, working for collectors in America, Canada and England. Jerry McDonald of Winchester, Va., has been working with Curtis for the last year. "Iíve been collecting antiques for years, especially antique cars," he says. "But when I saw Curtisís Web site, his machines caught my eye." Jerryís collection currently consists of six or seven refurbished pieces, including a 1948 National Cigarette machine, several candy machines and a 1939 Frigidaire refrigerator. "Iím very picky, and Iíve seen other refurbished stuff that doesnít even compare to his work."
A client in New England, whose collection of Ď50s memorabilia is worth nearly $1 million, is equally impressed with Curtisí talents. "Iíve known Curtis for five or six years, and over 20 of my pieces have come from him," the New England client says. "His work is phenomenal." The New England client's favorite piece is an extremely rare old coffee machine, found and restored by Curtis. But his collection also includes the extremely rare Coca Cola Victor Kooler Grill. Designed as a cooler and luncheonette unit, the hot dog griller was one of 50 made in Hagerstown in 1954, and is one of only eight known to exist today.
The New England client's treasure was discovered by a local contractor searching for a soda cooler to use in his indoor pool area. Tucked away in a church basement -- and almost rusted beyond recognition -- the cooler was released for a donation of $50. Curtis and his friend, Steve Ebner -- author and aficionado in Coca-Cola collectibles -- were called in to identify the item in the late 1990s. "We stepped out of the car and got our first glance of what most people will never have the privilege to see in person -- the Holy Grail of Coca Cola, The Victor Kooler Grill!" While Curtis wasnít the first to restore the cooler, he got his chance in 2006 when the New England client asked him to find out if the owner was interested in selling. "I made contact and went to see it and it was still in the same condition. I paid him $30,000 the next day and loaded it up."
The opportunity to bring cherished collectibles back to life brings Curtis great satisfaction, as does his ability to make a living at what is only a hobby for most people. But the best part of his business is the freedom it affords him to spend time with his family. "Because I make my own hours, I can coach Little League and football and I have the freedom to be here for my son," he says. "Iím able to do what I love and have time for my family. It doesnít get much better than that."