Well, I've been an avid pinball fan pretty much all of my life. The first place I ever played pinball was at a pizza shop near my house. My mom always worked late on Tuesday nights, so Dad and I would make Tuesday nights Pizza Night. I'd always get two slices and a small soda. Dad got the same, but with pepperoni, the daily newspaper, and a dollar in quarters. The newspaper was for him and the quarters were for me. While I played my 3 games for a dollar on Funhouse or Addams Family, Dad passed the time by reading the paper.
We had two malls near us, and both featured the well known “Boardwalk Boulevard” arcades. The one arcade always had five pins, and I can still remember the lineup from left to right: Funhouse, WH2O, Comet, T2, and FT. I never cared about T2 or FT. The other mall always had a changing lineup. Sometimes there would be four, and other times there would be ten. Some of the titles included IJ, TZ, FT, FH, WH2O, Heavy Metal Meltdown, Millionaire, Fire, and Big Guns. I always liked going to this arcade because I never knew what surprises were in store!
Saturdays in the fall were always a treat because my family had season tickets to the Penn State football games. Now, most kids would be excited for the game, but all I cared about was the lineup of festivities that followed. After the game we went “downtown” for dinner, and while my mom and her friends went shopping, the dads took us to the arcades! This was when pinball in State College was in its prime. There were easily 50 games between the two arcades, and each game was only a quarter! Unfortunately, by the time I was attending college at Penn State these arcades were a thing of the past. I can only imagine how many classes I would have skipped and how much money I would have gone through if the arcades were still operating while I lived out there. (Maybe it was best for my college career that they arcades had closed.)
The other winning location that lit up any child’s eyes was the much anticipated trip to Knoebels, a very popular amusement park in the area. The rides, the food, and yes…the arcade! Every year the four game pinball lineup would change, but every year it was great! TOM has been there for as long as I can remember (I would have been 10 when it was released), AFM was a regular returning candidate, and other titles included STTNG, NBAFB, MM, and SS to name a few. The later years of Knoebels, the Stern era I suppose you could call it, brought the same titles each year as the pinball fad continued to drop. The lineup included TOM, Monopoly, and Nascar for a couple years before LOTR and POTC were later introduced and replaced the other Sterns.
My first “home” pinball experience was the purchase of a Rollergames by one of my friends when we were in 10th grade. My own first pinball machine was Gottlieb’s “Drop A Card” that a neighbor gave me for $5 because he was going to throw it away (I was probably 16 at the time). My friend (who is also an avid pinball player) and I fixed it up and added it next to Rollergames (my mom wouldn’t let me have any pins in the house because there was “no room”, so Drop A Card stayed with Rollergames). Throughout the years money was saved and trades were made, and today Rollergames and Drop A Card have turned into BOP, The Shadow, BF, and TWD.
As avid pinball fans, we visited Knoebels many times during the summer to play the pins, and many times inquired about purchasing a game. There was no interest in selling, but our enthusiasm for the hobby certainly paid off. Knowing that we had knowledge about the games, the owners asked us to work on TOM, which had been giving them a lot of headaches. This opened the door to a whole new chapter, and over the years we have been able to bring the pinball lineup back to what it was during our childhood. We now work on pretty much all of the games in the arcade, but we always give extra attention to the pins. The park now has 6 pins, and we try to make at least some type of change to the lineup each season. It’s always great to see people coming in to play the pins, but the real winner is seeing those dads bring in their kids…it really brings it home.