My introduction to pinball began when I was about 9 years old. I grew up playing video games in the Nintendo era, and loved any game with a challenge to it. I was being picked up from school from my father and anxious to get home to continue playing "The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past". It was on that car ride when I was introduced to a broadway rock musical soundtrack, "The Who's Tommy". I remember saying to my dad, "Isn't that the song from the radio?" when I heard Pinball Wizard. Anyway, I borrowed the 2-CD set and became hooked. I begged my father to go see this performed, and we did. When we went to the show, we arrived early and in the lobby there was a real pinball machine. First one I ever actually played. It was called, "Tommy Pinball Wizard", and I believe it now that it may have been a prototype model. It was guarded by a security guard, was on a elevated platform with red velvet rope on stanchions surrounding the platform, and we inquired if we could play a couple games while the matinee performance was ending. The guard let me up to the platform, I played two games, and later that night we saw the show.
Back home, I began becoming interested in going to the arcades to play more pinball games. My father and I played a lot of Jurassic Park, Twilight Zone, Whirlwind and others. Then one day when we stepped into our favorite of the arcades, I see a Tommy pinball machine and about soiled my pants in excitement. My father gave me $20, and I played it over and over and over. We returned to that arcade about once a week until one day that machine was gone. I was determined to find it elsewhere. And sure enough we found another one at another arcade, which after a couple visits it disappeared from again. My dad found a Tommy machine at a nightclub, but they wouldn't let me in because I was 10.
My dad dropped the line, "If you can find a Tommy for under $1200, I will buy one for our house". Really???? A pinball machine in our house???? I looked everywhere that a 10-12 year old could and failed. And I kept looking for several more years.
At age 15, I gave up on finding one and would play any pinball machine I could find, wishing it was a Tommy machine. Suddenly, Tommy popped up at our local bowling alley. It wasn't in very good shape, and I remember that the blinders did not work. I was so excited to see one again. I returned to play with a friend and show him, and it was gone. That was the last time I would ever see one until I was much older.
When I was about 25, in a time period when anyone who remembers this musical only complains how it doesn't sound like The Who, and reading that there were only 4700 of these pinball machines manufacturered, I was determined again to start looking to buy one myself. I watched eBay, dropped by Pinside a few times, shopped at some overpriced online arcade resellers. I even called a few and often heard, "Oh, we don't have that one anymore, we forgot to update our website".
This one guy on Mr Pinball was going to sell me one for about $2200, but after I made an offer he disclosed that the playfield was cracked and that didn't happen.
I searched so often that searching for "Tommy Pinball Machine" on Google showed pages of purple results (viewed pages). Until one day there was a blue (unvisited) link to an ad on Pinside. Excellent condition, plays great, $2600. Cool! I offered him $2800 if he would help me arrange shipping and get it to California. We agreed, and about one week later STI delivered me a Tommy Pinball Wizard and carried it right into my living room.
The first day I was so excited I didn't even know what was going on other than it was in my living room, it played, it had a topper and the blinders worked and I finally owned one! But day two came and I started to learn more about how things are sapossed to work. I had no idea how many problems I would need to work through, but I knew that I wanted it restored the best it could be... so I started with one thing and...
... 46 corrections/modifications/upgrades later, and almost $800 on parts and such... it is finally "shopped" - I didn't know what that meant a month ago, now I fully understand. I had a lot of help and ideas from reading the forums on Pinside, and even made a couple posts when I couldn't find what I was looking for. I installed NOS Plastics, plastic protectors from Pinbits, new rubbers, new starposts, a NOS Translite with Anti-Glare Plexiglass and a new frame/trim, Cointaker premium non-ghosting LEDs (color matched for everything including GI, Backbox, Flashers, Controlled Lights), waxed the playfield a couple times, polished all metal pieces including ramps and the pinball topper, replaced GI lighting wiring (which GI was not working when I received it due to a burnt connector), touch-up painted the backbox and playfield cabinet sides, replaced a controlled light socket on the matrix, flipper button protectors, plunger protector, DMD Glare Shield, Flipper Fidelity backbox speakers and cabinet speaker, new Chromium steel pinballs, Cliffy hole protectors and more. I realize now that this is the Tommy I was hoping to own when I was a kid, and probably cost me less to fix this than to buy one already modded up for $5400 on eBay that probably doesn't have all NOS parts *rolls eyes*, good luck selling that.
Today as I write this, I got my highest score ever: 1,636,925,160. I would have been lucky to earn a replay when I was younger. And now it's all cleaned up, plays nice, in my house, it's a keeper, and that's my story.
P.S. Tommy (the production from broadway) was updated by the original director and creative team and brought back to the Stratford Festival in Ontario Canada in summer of 2013. Right after I bought the pinball machine. Good timing I suppose! I'm flying out in a month to go see it! Childhood memories rushing back faster than the left ramp on Tommy rejects your pinball into the outhole if you don't hit it up there fast enough.