It was 1982, and my parents just bought a foreclosed home in Coram, NY, a small town of Levitt tract homes on suburban Long Island. The house had been abandoned some eleven years at that time, and the "W Section" of Coram (named so because all of the streets started with a W) was a good place, so not a window in the home was broken. The doors were locked. By any standard, the home was a time capsule, with the remains of what the previous owners chose to leave behind.
Among the bits of furniture and other aging items was a Williams 4 Aces electromechanical pinball machine, inside of a room that should have been most of the garage, but was an extended form of a den. It was stunning and strange to see it standing there, pink, white, and black, like a sentinel of some other time and place, transported to a waypoint and left behind. It was in shockingly good shape, visually, and as this was more home than we'd had before, it wasn't taking up a spot we immediately needed. To me, this was a colossal find - an amazing thing that stood in stark contrast to the rest of the crap left in the home. It screamed to me, "I could be fun to play, you know." While my folks did have a dumpster delivered to the driveway, 4 Aces got to stay. My dad and I sent a letter, longhand, to Williams in Illinois, asking for any information or paperwork about the game. Weeks later, they sent us a reply - the game's schematic, no charge. Maybe it was then that Williams became my favorite pinball vendor, as most of my collection always has and always seems to be Williams machines.
My dad had a bit of technical knowledge, and we had a cheap Radio Shack analog meter. With the meter and the schematic, we were able to get the game out of an endless state of tilt, and got the number reels tumbling from play. We never figured out the ball launch button-to-relay connection just right, as I was 12 and my dad felt that a machine full of 15 amps of varied AC voltage was nothing to poke around in too much with my small fingers, so we simply reached under the playfield, blindly, to kick out another ball. It was the same with the mysterious worn round spots under the bonus scoring targets - why were they there? It turns out that 4 Aces has large electromagnets under the playfield to suspend a ball in play for bonus count, but the non-silicon-based bridge rectifier was a known early failure. Years later I'd find another 4 Aces, and this time I got the ball launch and the electromagnets working correctly, which felt like righting wrongs that had been rolling in my head from my youth. From 4 Aces, I learned AC voltage and basic state machine principles which would serve me well when I got to power supplies and then TTL/CMOS logic systems in high school and then the USAF.
In 1997 or 1998, a friend asked me how I got into the work I currently do, and I told him it started with pinball. He took me to a machine in his basement, a Gottllieb System 1 Buck Rogers, and demanded I take it from his home! Like 4 Aces, it was a miraculous find in my mind, and my friend told me he'd had enough toiling with it, trying to get it to work. I got it home, and quickly found myself on the rec.games.pinball newsgroup, hunting down details and ideas on how to make it work. Like most System 1 games, the MPU was fraught with buggy Rockwell "spider" chips, which led to erratic play and low reliability. I was nonetheless thrilled to be back into the swing of pinball, and I set out to learn how to touch-up playfields and backglasses, and make the machine look and feel like a solid player.
The boom of the late 1990s in my field led me to larger roles at work, and for a time, disposable income! I ran down a 4 Aces in Tennessee from a collector, and had it shipped to my home. I found that I was able to rediscover the sonic nuances of a counting/stepping Williams EM with ease, and my collection was underway. I'd soon add my favorites from my youth, played in the Nathans Hotdog restaurant in Port Jefferson Station, NY, like Williams High Speed and Cyclone. I kept going from there into games I'd played, games I'd only seen or heard of, and then into some unique video arcade machines, too. Now, we have an arcade in our basement at home, and I keep everything running as best I can when I can make the time to make repairs or improvements.
Pinball has been both the underpinning of my technical career, and a form of play that stimulates my sense of challenge, chance, and competition. I'm now married with three kids (who all play pinball) and I live in Metro DC. Boards like this help me to keep it alive! Say hello if you get a chance, too!