My fun pinball journey

By jwalrath

April 14, 2021

66 days ago

Imagine a small arcade gameroom on the bottom floor of the student union at the University of Cincinnati.  My day in that arcade started with an insane statement leading to the start of my journey with an impulsive purchase.  One Friday afternoon, after spending WAY too much money on Funhouse, I simply blurted out "it would be a helluva lot cheaper to buy our own machine".  And that is exactly what we did.  

Freshman year, and day after day, my college buddy Jeff and I would spend hours in the campus game room between classes.  And all we did was play pinball.  We each had computers and played plenty of computer games back in the dorm.  However, the only pinball option was found at the game room.  Life changed on that fated Friday after a long day of classes and spending way too much on pinball.

This was pre-internet and we did not have a good idea how we would find a pinball machine.  Recalling those trader magazine racks that always crowded the exit doors of the local grocery store, we went to our local Krogers and got one.  We spent all Friday night scouring it for pinballs.  I think we were a bit sticker shocked as well as a little disheartened once we saw prices.  We were already poor, broke college students with little spare cash.  Luckily we found a couple of possible options.  

Saturday morning, we were able to reach someone and arranged to meet that afternoon.  The seller was involved in the arcade management scene and had just bought a number of games from a local arcade.  When we got there, he had a bunch of machines in assembled and disassembled states lined up in an old pole barn with a dirt floor.  I do not remember all the options that were available, but found that we could not afford most of them.  We got to the end of the row, and sitting there in pieces was a Stern Lightning.  The back glass was leaning up against it and had really bad water damage.  The cabinet was also a little beat up.  The seller said it mostly worked with one of the flippers not acting right.

Seller was still asking a lot of money for it, but we were able to talk him down to $250.  We quickly made the deal and proceeded to try and load this thing in the back of a '78 Pontiac Bonneville.  Now that car had a very large trunk, but it was still a struggle to get that thing to the dorms.  We spent the rest of the day getting it into our dorm room and assembled.  Lucky for us, it came with a really good manual.

Now imagine a small dorm room that was 11x15, with a closet, desk and bed lining each side of the room.  We setup the machine right between the two beds.  And the rest is history.  We took that machine everywhere including back and forth between Massachussetts and Ohio.  We were the arcade room for the dorm that summer.  Over the next 4 years, lots of people played Lightning and it was well loved.  At graduation, I sold my share to my buddy and that was the last of owning a pinball machine.

Fast forward to a 2020 family vacation where we spent a week down the street from a pinball musem arcade in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Returned home from that with the pinball bug restored, and now I am building my own little pinball arcade in the family room.  That is a whole other story...

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