My wife and I purchased a summer home in 2008 and wanted it to be a place where we could decompress. We planned carefully as researched the location, type of home, etc. One of the things we knew we wanted was a house that was "fun" to visit. We literally sat down and wrote out what "fun" would look like to us. Once we purchased the home, we ordered a Ping Pong table, built a hardscape and waterfall out back, bought a boat, went shopping for board games and ... bought a Pinball machine. Theater of Magic to be exact.
I grew up in the 70's and although not surrounded by Pinball, I was at least exposed to it. I played it on occasion in arcades and laundromats but was always intimidated by it. I never understood the rules. I was not very skilled at it and my games were typically short and generally disappointing. In short I never loved Pinball - heck I barely liked it.
I went off to college, studied Fine Arts, got my degree and graduated to a career in Marketing. My interests and hobbies throughout my adult years prepped me to finally both appreciate and eventually fall in love with Pinball. I've worked with wood to remodel houses, wired houses, wrote software, crafted commercial art, wrenched my own cars and even studied electrical theory to get my HAM license. The same things that interested me about these subjects would eventually align to cement my love for all things Pinball.
Fast forward 40 years and Theater of Magic is sitting in the corner of my new summer house. I'm stunned. I can't believe I have my own machine. I play a few games and that old "you’renot very good at this" feeling comes back. Then a few more games as I tell myself "who cares, it's YOUR game - just hit start again!" I played the heck out of that game and was from that moment on hooked on the hobby. I loved the art, the complex mechanics, the software/lights/sounds system, the randomness that Pinball has over video games. I loved everything about it - I found out later that just like cars, I liked working on them too. Good thing.
By the time we sold the summer house, I was up to 7 games and wondering what had happened to me. Was I a hoarder? Why was I compelled to keep buying games? I had no other answer other than I loved the hobby and wanted to go even deeper. So deeper I went. We moved back to our main house and with more space, the collection quickly grew to fill it. Within 2 years I was at 17 games and no space left to put them. I had 2 in storage and one literally sitting inside my home theater. I had to sell something. I finally was forced to sell 2 games to make space. Once they were gone, I was (briefly) resigned to keeping "just 15" machines and simply trading them out as new titles came up.
Shortly after the sale of the 2 machines, we began to search for a home that had more property. The property search was driven by our family love of horses. We owned 2 at the time and wanted to buy/build a horse ranch of our own. On Super Bowl Sunday we found a real estate listing for 44 acres of land that had been on the market just one day. We called. We looked. We bought it 2 days later. The property was stunning with one caveat. It had a small rancher house on it that would barely allow me to set up 8 machines let alone 15. No matter. We knew right away we would quickly build our retirement home on this land. In the meantime, I could put a few machines in storage in order to wait for the "perfect game room". So we set about building a functioning horse ranch. We ran 3/4 of a mile of 4 board poplar fencing. Bought 250 gallons of Lexington FenceCoat black acrylic lacquer paint and sprayed it twice (both sides!). Excavated and constructed a 36 x 60 foot 6 stall horse barn. We even built a smaller barn for our mini horse and donkey. I added 2 run in sheds for the horses and a built a concrete floor manure pit for good measure. Midway through the build I discovered that I had to have a quadruple heart bypass. I'm a lifelong runner so to say the least that was a surprise. I’m blessed to share that I came through just fine but 6 months of forward momentum was lost. Oh well, no need to whine about it. I had the operation and just over 100 days later was back running a 5K again!Importantly, I’m healed and healthy and able to lift and move 300lb Pinball machines again.
I took nearly 2 years to complete the horse ranch and while all of THAT was going on, I bought ANOTHER 28 Pinball machines! The property already had a 75' x 40' pole barn on it and in 2 years I did a pretty good job of filling it. Machines were stored in our office, the pole barn, in the basement, living room, dining room ... it was getting a little crazy. Toward the end of the ranch build, I was challenged personally with the passing of my neighbor, my best pinball friend (Andy) and my own father from the very same (rare) blood disease called "MDS". As you might imagine, it was a roller coaster of emotions during this time period. In fact, they all passed away during the same year. My perspective on life, relationships and "things" has been forever altered because of it - certainly for the better. If anything, Pinball became even more important to me. Not the games themselves, but the people I've met because of them. The people I now invite over to play them or to just sit and talk. Andy taught me that lesson. For him, Pinball was the means to an end. That end goal was to engage and know people in a deeper way. He was a genius at it. I'm still in Kindergarten.
We finally broke ground on our new custom home in October of 2018 and 11 months later moved in. It was everything we had hoped for. The game room WAS perfect and the "Pinball Loft" as it is called today can hold up to 50 games at any time. I like to keep it at 40 because it leaves lots of room to move around and work on the games. The room is over 1,500 square feet, has a sleeping loft, restroom, star gazing back deck, 200 feet of RGB LED lighting and recliners and sofas for guest comfort. It was engineered to hold the over 50,000 pound of weight generated by 50 pinballs and 50 guests. The wiring includes 8 dedicated 20 amp switched circuits so I can turn all the games on or off with 8 flicks of the finger. There is a dedicated HVAC system to keep the area comfortable no matter how many games are being played. I designed and built most of it and am feel blessed to be able to create something so fun!
So what's next? Interestingly, I can tell that something has changed in my feelings about the hobby. Now that I have this much space, I don't feel to urge to add more games. In fact, my focus has shifted into the "quality" realm. I want to make each game as perfect as it can be. There are larger collections than mine in the country (some incredibly larger ones) but I take pride in that all of the games in my game room are working. I don't collect "project games". From time to time I might buy one, but that game is earmarked to be restored and most don't sit long before they are complete. Now, I'm looking at some of my older games and either doing a deeper restore or putting them up for sale to get a better copy or different title. I'm also reviewing all the titles in the collection to make sure they are what I would want in a 40 piece Pinball collection. If not, I can sell or trade that title out for a more desirable one. I've also come to realize the significant challenge in keeping a collection this size working. I do all my own work including most of the soldering/board work. I really enjoy it as much as playing the games. At least I thought I did. All that changed with having all 40 games in one spot and all set up for play. Now the percentage of time spent working on the games has increased to become burdensome. Each issue that I repair reminds me that the condition of the games I buy is even more critical to me than it was in the past - I can't afford the time to repair like I used to during the days of "building the collection".
So what's the bottom line on "me and Pinball" today? I want to spend more time with friends. I want to share the collection. I think all collectors do. The advantages of Pinball is that you don’t just look at them, you play them. I'm now having more people over to the Loft to play the games. Heck, many times I will just hang out on the side of the machine and watch them. I enjoy teaching them little tricks, sharing the history of the games and the details of the company and people who created them. I'm trying to live out the lesson I learned from my buddy Andy. He showed me that Pinball becomes exponentially more fun with friends around and when the things you collect enhance your relationships, you are getting the most from your hobby. Pinball does that for me and will remain a lifelong passion.