When Times are Tough...

By Crash

December 18, 2012


6 years ago

I didn't know it until a couple of years ago, but I've always had a deep fondness for pinball. My father works for a fledgling amusement company that is now on the edge of going bankrupt, and when I was younger he used to take me to work with him. I got to play a whole host of games for free either in the shop or out on location, all I had to do was ask and he would put some credits on a game for me. I eventually learned to do this myself, of course and kept myself occupied quite often. This is in the mid to late 1990's.

At my young age I didn't really "get into" pinball. I enjoyed playing it, and remember a few games I used to play that are now long gone. Smacking the ball around hitting targets, making lights and flashers go off, hearing the sound effects and voices. That was what pinball was to me, smack the targets and make stuff happen. Like a 70's electromechanical game. At the time I was barely high enough to see the playfield but was always fascinated by the ball, seeing it whiz around ramps and loops while not having a clue that a ruleset and storyline even existed. At the time, all I could do was play. I used to watch my dad work on these things all the time, asking questions and showing moderate interest. I didn't know how to do a darn thing but put credits on a game, press start, and use the flippers.

When the business was started, we were supposed to get some nice games from an amusement company arcade deal in the early 90's. That went sour, and instead we ended up with a bunch of secondhand junk. Mostly Data East games, several Williams alphanumeric games, and a few nicer Williams DMD games. We continued to buy pinball machines used up until about 1997 or '98. We didn't buy any new pins that I know of. Back then we had locations left and right with these things, the money was flowing. Unfortunately what little help we had back then was a generic "git 'er done and move on" employee. He didn't really care about the games, and when he worked on something he would rig up some crazy hack that would have to be fixed later when a location called in and that same thing broke because it wasn't fixed properly the first time.

This trend continued through the years and with the death of arcades, we lost many locations. The pinball machines, as we saw them, we pretty much spent but all we could do was shove them in a corner or behind another game in the warehouse as we ran out of space and time to fix them, going off of nothing but faint memories of "what went wrong" at the time a game arrived at the "graveyard." Eventually the lazy employee was laid off and the company fell into financial ruin, yet the boss was determined to keep it afloat.

Among the games was a nice Indiana Jones. From what I remember, the cabinet was still mostly unfaded and in fairly decent condition. The only thing I remember about the game were the sounds and music, and maybe some bits from the playfield. Sometime around 1998 I saw this thing in the shop and thought "Indiana Jones? Seems a bit boring, doesn't look some something I would understand." I never gave it a second thought. Eventually it was destroyed and according to my dad it was too much trouble to maintain and a major failure eventually caused it to blow smoke from the backbox. Man, now I'm wishing I had actually given it a second look. Perhaps I could've convinced him to save it.

By the new millennium I had moved on to other things and completely forgotten about pinball until about a decade later in 2010. As I finished high school I had more time to once again spend time with my dad at work. We had a Bram Stoker's Dracula at one of our locations, and I played it a few times. I didn't find it appealing, and the game kept displaying errors on the DMD. It was shortly brought in to the shop where it still remains. To me it was just another game. "Meh, it's just a crappy old pinball machine." I was ready to go home and play more console games.

Then a year later something clicked. I can't recall what got me interested but for some reason I started searching for pinball stuff on Google, probably because I was bored. I came across RGP I believe, and had no idea there was such a big community of enthusiasts. Then I stumbled upon Pinside and was REALLY impressed. I was a little hesitant to register at first because I didn't know what to expect. But it didn't take long for me to realize Pinside is the friendlist and largest pinball forum out there. I joined in April 2011, just when I had discovered that arcade.

Wait... arcade? In 2011?! Yes. I happened to be watching a YouTube video of someone playing a route pin. Then I saw in the description that it was shot at Game Galaxy in Hickory Hollow Mall, Nashville Tennessee. When I saw that I was stunned. An arcade, with several pinball machines, only an hour from me?? I knew I had to get down there right away, and the first day I was almost trembling as I put quarters into these games that I have never even seen before. Growing up in the 90s I never had a real opportunity to visit an arcade, and to me this is my last chance to participate in a REAL arcade, which happens to be the last non-redemption business in the state. I had a blast, and knew I would be coming back for a very long time. Game Galaxy was my new vehicle to play some awesome pins in great working condition. In fact if you dig deep enough you will find my first thread asking for pointers on how to record footage with a lowly iPod touch. Later I went on to create this thread, and met a bunch of local pinheads:

http://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/pinsiders-in-the-nashville-tn-area

As for the amusement business, I was aware that pinball was making a comeback but something happened that neither I nor my dad saw coming... people actually started playing pinball again. The game went from a burden to a necessity for us over the past 2 years, and it happened FAST! All of a sudden people started calling us asking for a pinball machine at their location, collectors started asking us to sell our pins and fix games of their own. Something like this is exactly what we needed. We had built up a sizeable collection of these things sitting in the warehouse in dirty, nonworking condition. But I saw a massive opportunity to bring this old junk back to life and back on route for others to enjoy. It has been an awesome adventure so far and a great bonding experience with my dad. It has even improved his morale for this hobby.

The resurgence hit us head on. We went from buying expensive parts from a very limited selection in a catalog which were never guaranteed to work to browsing the now numerous online parts stores (as well as Pinside) to get everything we needed to bring these games back to life. With the absence of the internet in the past we have never had access to this much information on not just pinball related topics, but everything else we deal with. I quickly became proficient in my repair skills and and can do a lot of things on my own now. I've spent hours just reading up on various repair guides on the internet. In the past I always had this idea that our games were fine the way they were and didn't need anything done. Boy was I wrong, especially with all those leftover hacks! It's a constant task correcting everything. The company is in the process of reinventing itself and we hope we can stay in business if things continue in this direction. And ever since, I look forward to working with my dad on pinball machines and any other salvageable junk we still have. After all, there IS money to be made with these old things now.

Story photos

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Comments

6 years ago
Awesome story Crash!!! It's heart warming whenever I read or hear about stories like this, especially when it involves pinball! Hope everything keeps going in the right direction for you both, but ya know even should pins drop out of favor again you'll have gained something very few of us ever get the chance to experience until it's too late, a second connection with our fathers. Good luck and looking forward to your post on pinside.
6 years ago
Hope 2013 is a great year for you and your Dad. Thanks for sharing your story.
6 years ago
Awesome story! My dad had an old EM Gottlieb and we worked on it when I was little. Good bonding time for sure. : )
6 years ago
I recently shared my collection of 4 early SS pinball machines with my Dad. It was awesome watching him play. And he was even interested in how I got these old machines running. I've only had my collection for a year and it definitly has been a fun experience to share with my kids, wife, and friends. That was a great story. Thanks!
6 years ago
Yes nice story
6 years ago
Very nice story! Best of luck to you and your Dad!
6 years ago
Awesome story Crash
6 years ago
Good to hear Crash!
Keep up the good work and don't forget to hug your dad. ; )
6 years ago
Keep on flipping Crash!! Pinball is way better than any modern games out there, it will always have its niche in the gaming world! Once you play and beat a modern game it loses it's appeal, pinball as we know it is always a new experience. You might play a pin for a few seconds or several minutes, but one thing is for sure, you will never forget the awesome times!!!
6 years ago
Great story. It's fond memories like those that you'll always want to remember. Here's to hoping 2013 is a great year for your family!
6 years ago
Great story Crash, another warehouse saved! I do quite a bit of pro-bono work with a longtime operator here in my town simply because of the comraderie. We have saved a bunch of his pins that were destined for parts, and likewise hes sold me several pins at about half market value, and given me a couple truckloads of pins out of his warehouse to "get em out of my way". I think he gets enjoyment out of coming to my gameroom and seeing the junk after its been restored ;-)
6 years ago
Great story, thank you for taking the time to write it up.
4 years ago
Very touching story. Gets if luck with your business. Cool to know people like you are keeping machines out there keeping the hobby alive.

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