How I got back into Pinball and started repairing arcade/pinball games

By ArcadeWhisperer

April 16, 2019

40 days ago

Sorry if this is long and pointless, this is my first post and I am basically condensing 30 years of my life into one page of writing!

Before I was even a twinkle in my parents eye, my father was as big into pinball as anyone could be.  He and his friends would go to "Pinball Alley" and play for hours (basically it was a long hallway filled with pinball machines which I consider antiques now haha).  One of his friends were as good as him so they would typically end up playing one game, rack up a bunch of credits on it, catch someones attention in the process and they would start watching, and then give them the machine with all of the credits on it for the 5 or 10 cents it took for them to start the game.

Fast forward 15 years, I am now about 8 years old, my brother is 6.  My father played on a bar league softball team every Tuesday, and after every game we went to the bar that sponsered them (the 6:00pm games were always better than the 7:00pm games because we would get Little Ceasers pizza and the toys they always gave away!).  The bar always had 2 arcade games to play...Street Fighter or similar fighting game that rotated and a pinball machine that rotated.  Aparently, my brother and I sucked at Street Fighter and would go through quarters like crazy so my dad kept trying to get us to play the pinball machine that was there.  We weren't having it becuase we sucked at pinball too, so my father decided to show us how to actually play.  He put a quarter in, played that same game for about 30 minutes, and walked away with 4 credits for us to play.  After that, sibling rivalry kicked in and it was a compitition to see who could be that good first.

My brother and I were still pretty rough at pinball, until the Christmas we got a pinball machine.  The home electronic version of Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.  After that it was not long until we needed to tape a high score sheet to the back of the game becuase we were rolling the score over, and a quarter at the bar would last us an hour instead of 5 minutes (my dad jokes the pinball machine paid for itself in the first 3 weeks of going to the bar after softball).

Throughout the years after that, we got 3 more pinball machines for our house.  My brother and I kept getting better and better, and then our dad would step in and show us up again somehow, which would make us get better even more.  We finally got as good as our father by the time I got to high school.

Well, the 3 more pinball machines we got for our house did not work.  My dad would buy them broken and fix them so it was affordable to have.  He was (and still is) and electrical engineer, so he would just pull out the schematics for the game and start fixing it.  I was interested in what he was doing, so I would watch and help a little.  By the time we got the 3rd game, my dad had taught me enough about electronics I was basically fixing it all myself and he was just watching and giving me pointers.

After I graduated high school, I had very little free time while in college.  My only free time was spent playing volleyball on the team they had, so I basically stopped playing pinball.  On a questionair for the team they asked what my hobbies were, I listed fireworks and pinball.  Everyone on the team was given a nickname, mine became "Pinball" because I hit the ball so hard it would bounce off of 3 players and fly off the court before anyone had a chance to blink an eye.  The nickname still follows me around to this day...

After graduating college (becoming an Electrical Engineer) and buying a house, I had a housewarming party.  One of my friends since middle school who has always been into arcade games asked me if I could fix a broken arcade game if he ever got his hands on one he wanted but it was broken.  I said yeah I can, and much easier if it has schematics.  Well, 2 days later I get a call from him saying he picked up a broken arcade game from Chicago, and is 15 minutes from my house to drop it off (for those of you who don't know, Chicago is about 2 hours from my house in Milwaukee, so instead of giving me a heads up of "hey I might be getting a game but it is in Chicago so I'll let you know" or "I just got a game I'll be there in about 2 hours" it was "I'll be there in 15 minutes" haha.).  Overall, I ended up fixing 3 arcade games he had.  He then introduced me to a group of guys who have tons of pinball machines, and when one of them stopped working I was able to fix it without really thinking about it.  They were impressed, and offered up a few pinball machines that 6 or 7 people had attempted to fix before and had gotten nowhere on.  When I was able to fix those, it blew their minds and suggested I start advertising to do repairs for people.

I listened and started doing repairs for people.  Unfortunately, me advertising for it only lasted about 2 years because there are so many ungrateful people (one person offered me a soda to drink, and then deducted a dollar from what I asked because it was the cost of the soda).  So now, I've turned into the underground repair guy who does the "Hitch" thing and only goes by word of mouth, or when I see a random advertisement on craigslist that sounds like they are desperate I'll reach out.  I've also since landed a gig at a local arcade bar to maintain and repair the pinball machines there, which has turned very enjoyable becuase the craziest shit can go wrong when the pinball machines end up getting played that much!

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38 days ago
It seems you like what you do, there are a lot of people out there that will need your help in the future.
23 days ago
Good read , myself no pinball as a kid, but my background in electrical and mechanical restoration, troubleshooting and repair, has me hooked. Oh and playing is only icing on the cake.

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