I was first exposed to pinball when I was around 6-8 years old (I'm 25 now) after my dad brought home a Whirlwind from a local coin-op warehouse. We had it in our family room and got a lot of enjoyment out of it until we moved, after which it ended up mostly sitting in our storage shed, my parents' musty bowling alley basement, and finally our garage. I remember a point where I actually had it in my bedroom as a young kid at the new house, but that couldn't have been for very long.
At any rate, fast forward to almost 3 years ago when I dug it out of my garage to play it for the first time in a very long time. It still worked, but it was in a sad state. The whole machine was dirty inside and out, and the playfield and cabinet were badly water damaged and even had some mold in spots. Although the machine was in pretty bad condition (actually, at the time it seemed okay..it wasn't until later I really saw how bad it was) I had a ridiculous amount of fun playing it. The setting was pretty great too. It was late on a nice summer night, and with my newly-sparked excitement I played into the night with the garage door open..possibly pissing off the neighbors.
While I was looking at it in the dim light in the garage, I thought after cleaning up the playfield a bit it'd look and play like new. Well a few thousand dollars and almost 3 years later, the restoration is almost complete. It's taken so long for a variety of reasons: finishing up college, an internship, working a 80-100 hours a week to pay off student loans/save for a house, along with burning out on it 3 or 4 times along the way. Not to mention, this is basically a 100% restoration by someone who's never done it before. It's been a long road, but it's been fun and it's pulled me closer to the hobby for sure. I'll end up posting before and after pictures of the Whirlwind soon. So little of it is still original (once you see the pictures you'll see why) that I should have just bought another Whirlwind and scrapped ours for parts, but hindsight and all that. I can't say it was a waste, because I learned A LOT about these machines along the way. Of course that'll come in handy for all the pins I'll be buying over the years.
Now I regularly attend any pinball expos I can find in the midwest and am planning on buying a JJP machine soon. It looks like these are the early years of a fun, rewarding, and lifelong hobby.