Omahan Patrick Buse paints American icons for a living.
He's been contracting with a Fremont fiberglass company, A-1 Fiberglass, for about 20 years to paint McDonald's arches for newly remodeled and built stores. Over the past 10 years, he's also painted a Spiderman ride for the Disney park in Japan and Transformers rides for the parks in the states.
And about five years ago, he expanded and opened his own shop — Extreme Paint — next door to A-1, focusing on custom paint jobs for classic cars.
The restoration of old cars and motorcycles is a hot topic, at least judging from the proliferation of cable network shows such as “Fast N' Loud,” featuring auto enthusiasts searching Texas and surrounding states for junky classic cars to fix up at their garage; “Philly Throttle,” which follows one motorcycle builder and his crew in flipping old bikes; and “Texas Car Wars,” in which four auto shops compete in flipping old cars.
That side of Buse's business has picked up in the past few years, he said. While Buse does all the painting himself, he has three full-time employees who help him with body work and preparation.
“Twelve or 15 (cars) a year, that's keeping three or four guys pretty busy,” Buse said. Some owners travel from as far as Canada or Phoenix to have Buse work on their car.
This fall, a candy apple red, 1950 Mercury that Buse painted will be featured in the 2014 DuPont Custom Finish calendar, which accepts submissions from owners and painters of cars that have been finished with DuPont paint.
The Mercury, owned by Carole Enfield of North Bend, Neb., has won 15 to 20 car show awards this summer, and about 10 of those were just for the paint job, said Carole's husband, Al Enfield.
“That's a pretty nice award, to have your car on that calendar,” he said. “My wife's pretty happy about it, and that's the main thing.” He added: “It's her car, my money pit.”
Most custom paint shops in the Omaha area also perform general auto body work. Custom Image Auto Body, which has been in Omaha for 11 years, is one of those shops. Owner Chad Engel said he'll do cars, boats, motorcycles — just about anything he can get paint to stick to — but he has been busy lately with hail repairs.
Buse said he often works with body shops in the area, including H.S. Dreams in Omaha, throughout the process.
“I've got everything from a '57 Chevy in the shop to a '70 Torino. It's just kinda whatever comes my way,” he said.
There's no rhyme or reason for what people want to fix up, although it's often for sentimental reasons: “It's been in the family for years, they had one in high school — that kind of people, for the most part, that want to spend money,” he said.
Cost often depends on the shape the car is in and what the customer wants done. The paint on the Enfields' Mercury was $1,000 per gallon, and it needed two gallons. That doesn't include primer, labor or any other costs associated with the job.
The shop also does minor fixes for a used car lot in Blair.
“You almost need to do that sort of thing” to stay busy, Buse said.
He also stays busy painting McDonald's famous golden arches. In the past month, he finished another semitrailer truck load of arches that will soon appear on restaurants.
“McDonald's could want five semi loads of arches next week or they might not take anything for two months, you just don't know,” he said.
Painting a bit of everything — McDonald's arches, Sea World and Disney rides, classic cars — isn't something Buse sat down and planned.
“It just kind of evolved into that,” he said. “I think a lot of people don't realize that in a town like Fremont there's something like that.”
Enfield said he has recommended many people to Buse. He lays out Buse's business cards in the trunk at car shows, and they “fly out.”
Most important, he said, his wife has gotten a lot of joy out of the makeover.
“She enjoys it. The public enjoys it. The best thing she likes about the car is it makes people smile, so that's the most important thing.”