I've never had a family vacation that included a pinball excursion. It's January 2018 and the unseasonably cold weather in central Florida shortens the list of choices for what to do outside. But it's a blessing in disguise and a great excuse to play pinball with my 41-year old son.
I knew for some time about a pinball restoration shop in Eustis, FL and hoped to visit the place next time I was in the area. It doesn't take much to talk my son into the short drive from Orlando, especially since we would get to see and play a collection of great games.
"Pinball Restorations" owner, Joe Ruggiero, is a most gracious and welcoming host. I called him a few days in advance and explained that I collect and restore vintage 60s-70s EMs, so he was happy to talk pinball. Joe specializes in restoring mid-60s to mid-80s Williams, Bally and Gottlieb games. He takes us through the various stages of his work: from ones in cue through finished machines ready to be shipped to clients. Joe does most of the art and mechanical work himself, including playfields and cabinets. He gets help on solid state tech issues from journeyman tech, David Morse. I tell David my specialty is restoring EMs. He scowls, "Too time-consuming." Then he shows me some of the intricate SS tricks he uses on Joe's machines and fans a few pc boards at me. I'm as confused as a deer in the headlights. I turn away and fire up one of Joe's latest EM restorations: Williams A GO GO. I've never played it before. It's beautiful. And it's a blast.
Then Joe, Dave and even my son gang up on me to consider restoring SS machines. I resist. David pushes me to try a Williams Jungle Lord. I flip and fumble badly through my first game. I shrug. David laughs, "Yeah, I can tell you're an EM guy." But with his coaching and encouragement, I'm racking up big points halfway through my second game. I've played plenty of digital pins before, but never with a coach. Then I try Hollywood Heat. Then another. I was hooked.
Joe Ruggiero is generous with sharing his pin restoration knowledge. But he admits he doesn't want his shop morphing into a big operation: it's more of a sideline or avocation for him, even though he spends countless hours at it practically every day. "It's a passion," he says, "and I really enjoy the work. I'm in it more for the love of the art than for the money." I can relate to that 100%. Thanks Joe and David for a great afternoon!
Joe encourages anyone to stop by and play his showroom games to keep them in good shape. Just call ahead and schedule a visit. Pin fans can check out his handiwork and inventory at his website: pinball-restorations.com. The shop is located at 2750 Dillard Rd., Suite 4, Eustis, Florida 32726. (407) 618-4971. He's got a ton of great photos of various stages of his restoration work on his website, too.
Photocaption: All pinball smiles, from left: Owner Joe Ruggiero, SS Tech & Coach David Morse, and me at Pinball Restorations shop in Eustis, FL.