Warm on the tongue, full of fizzy energy and a bittersweet aftertaste, root beer has been a part of American history since it was first sold in the 1890s. Just like the distinct sweetness of the all-American classic drink, Iron Horse Antiques has its own brand of unique surprises sure to bring back familiar memories.
Owned by local collector and photographer David Davis, Iron Horse Antiques is the newest antique shop on Provo’s Center Street. Walking into Iron Horse Antiques for the first time is like stepping into a grandfather’s old house. The wood floors creek and echo with every step. On the brick walls hang pioneer prairie art and classic photographs of cars from the 1950s. The air smells faintly of oil and metal as a friendly, white-haired man looks up and smiles.
Davis, a lifetime collector and professional photographer of old-fashioned cars, has turned into an antique-store owner to share his love of Americana, furniture and relics with nostalgia-seekers like himself.
“I like old stuff,” he said. “I like to preserve stuff that worked really well. Especially items from mid-century America.”
Looking over the treasure trove, which holds some pieces on consignment and some from his personal collection, Davis explained that he decides what to display in his store simply by looking. With years of experience under his belt, he has truly developed an eye for bringing bittersweet memories out of old items.
Davis specializes in purchasing surplus furniture, industrial pieces and mementos from school districts, garage sales, Deseret Industries and private estate sales. Often going out on the hunt himself, Davis frequently finds items in poor condition and then repurposes and repairs them to be in tip-top shape again. “I’ve found anything and everything you could imagine,” he warmly laughed.
Indeed, he has. His store currently features unique and rare vintage items such as green army filing cabinets, bottles, books, a wooden desk with metal feet, photography enlargers and a 1960s styled airplane fan. Several wooden shelves hold dozens of glass bottles, reminiscent of days when root beer was king. Two of the most unique pieces include a neon clock in the style of an old jukebox and a classic crème and chocolate Vespa motorcycle, which is waiting for the owner to come pick it up.
One challenge Davis and other antique dealers face is putting a price on precious items. “A lot of people think prices are arbitrary, but they are actually based on research. I look at records from auction houses, places like Ruby Lane or antique magazines and forums. You want to maintain the integrity of the item.”
But the pieces that hold the most value for Davis are his vintage bicycles. His favorite piece in the store is an 1899 Iver Johnson track bicycle. After noticing the increased demand for vintage bicycles, Davis is excited about showcasing numerous racks of old bikes in his store. Davis also enjoys supporting the Provo Bicycle Collective, an organization that educates people on how to care for bicycles.
“I like the odd and quirky, the things you don’t normally find at a traditional antique store. Something that when you come shopping in my store and you see a special piece, you find it very difficult to leave without it,” Davis said.
Though the store focuses on items from the Mid-century and Victorian eras, Davis has a penchant for anything late 19th century and forward. On the way out the door, the last hidden gem to discover is an old boxing-match bell. The sound of the metal arm hitting the brass bowl is sweet, like good old-fashioned root beer. Iron Horse Antiques on Center Street is certainly something worth drinking in.