Background Story - How I Became a Pinhead

By Pinkitten

August 26, 2018

3 years ago

I grew up in the 1980's, a child of the video game era.  I was 8 years old when Pacman came out.  Pinball had been around for decades, and later I would learn that my father was a fan of the 1950's and early '60's EM pins that featured bingo-style rules.  Early on, I was mesmerized by video games.  The originality, the endless possibilities that video games offered really consumed my attention.  I generally ignored whatever pinball machines may have shared space with Galaga and Dragon's Lair and other games of that era.  By the early 1990's, I was in college and video games were moving toward home consoles.  I had the original Nintendo in the mid-1980's, then a Super Nintendo, then a Sega.  By 1992 or 1993, I really only played a couple sports games on Sega, and ignored all other video games.  They felt empty to me, mindless.  Something was missing.  I was never a big fan of the early 1980's style pins, but a few caught my eye.  Haunted House in 1982, and Baby Pacman around the same time.  But generally speaking, smacking the ball around to hit a few bumpers and some stand-up targets was dull to me.  It wasn't until 1993, when Twilight Zone was released, that I discovered pinball.  This pin was different. Magnets, ramps, scoops, trap doors, etc.  Pat Lawlor was changing what pinball was about, to me, anyway.  The previous year, The Addams Family came out, and when I discovered that game, I was hooked.  I played that pin more than any other in my life until 2008.  While I enjoyed TAF, I was only a casual player.  I never intended to collect machines, and I certainly never dreamed that I would understand the complex inner-workings (or under-workings) of a pinball machine.  In 2008, I returned to Ann Arbor to spend time with my fiance, who was attending grad school there.  We would visit Pinball Pete's often, and we began to discover pinball together.  Funhouse, Pirates of the Carribean, Theatre of Magic, Monster Bash, Spider-Man and others were there.  We loved playing 3 or 4 favorites, such as Funhouse, TOM and Monster Bash.  Later, they added Tron and other pins.  She graduated in 2012, and I moved on from pinball again for awhile.  However, in 2016, I decided it was time to own a pinball machine.  I had considered buying Funhouse, or something like it, in 2013.  At that time, a decent one was $2,500 to $5,000.  I didn't realize pinball values would change considerably in the next 2-3 years.  New pins at that time were about $4,500.  By 2016, the market had changed and the pinball machine that caught my eye was Wizard of Oz, by Jersey Jack Pinball.  I had never played it, but it appeared to be state of the art, and beautiful.  If I was only going to own one machine (we'll see about that) I wanted it to be special.  I spent $9,000 on a brand new standard Wizard of Oz with a shaker motor and Invisiglass.  I needed help simply unboxing the game.  I didn't know the first thing about owning a pinball machine.  I couldn't set it up or even take the glass off the playfield.  I was very green.  Wizard of Oz proved to be a very nice machine to own.  The game is a challenge, but simple and easy enough for everyone to do something on it.  It looks amazing, and we still own it today.  After our first pin purchase in the spring of 2016, we did not purchase another machine for more than a year.  With WOZ, I did feel that one was enough, and that someday, we may sell it and buy something else.  It was the summer of 2017, and Ghostbusters was the pin that made me change my mind.  I had heard mixed reviews.  It was a killer theme, and a gorgeous game.  I liked the look, the art package and the familiar story and theme.  I heard it was a hard game, and was somewhat problematic.  I was intrigued.  We played it once at a local Pinball Pete's arcade.  It was difficult, but it made me want to get better at it.  I decided to buy a new Ghostbusters Premium and add our second pin in as many years.  Our GB didn't work properly out of the box.  A faulty board or VUK coil was the problem.  It soured me on Stern and GB for weeks.  It took about 6 weeks to resolve the problem and replace the coil and board.  But Stern replaced the parts, and I learned some simple repairs and how to use a voltage meter.  Taking the glass off to work on GB was a big step toward owning more pins.  I was starting to feel comfortable taking the glass off and lifting up the playfield.  In the year I had owned WOZ, I had never removed the glass to clean, repair or do mods to WOZ.  Only after we bought GB did we go back and add mods to WOZ.  With GB repaired and working, I began to think about how fun it was owning more than just one machine.  I now had two, the start of a collection.  I joined Pinside, and began to read about pinball machines.  I read about the ranking system and I began compairing and researching older pins and new releases.  In the late 2000's, my fiance and I had played alot of Medieval Madness and Funhouse, TOM and Monster Bash.  POTC was a favorite of ours.  But we didn't know much about pinball, and we didn't know about many great pins that we were ignoring.  We totally ignored Lord of the Rings and Scared Stiff, for example, because we thought Scared Stiff was silly, tacky and cheap and LOTR wasn't our kind of movie.  Later, I would own a LOTR, and now I respect Scared Stiff greatly.  As I learned more about pinball, I started thinking about what pin would be our third.  I wanted a highly regarded pin, one that was challenging but popular and had a theme we both knew well.  I settled on Spider-Man.  I paid alot for a very nice SM with powdercoat armour and nice mods.  We enjoyed it.  It needed some work, and I learned more about working on the playfield and how to adjust lights and care for an older pin.  Up until that point, I had only owned two new pins that required little upkeep, once GB was right.  We stayed at 3 pins for several months, through the winter of 2017.  By early 2018, in February, I was looking around for a bargain to be our 4th pin.  I found a very nice CSI, a relatively unknown pin, that was for sale locally and for a reasonable price.  It was in nice condition, but needed a few things cleaned up.  I bought it and we transported our first pinball machine by car, a skill that would come to be very useful later.  CSI played perfectly, but really benefited from a new lockdown bar reciever and some new bulbs and decals.  I began to learn more about upkeep and maintenance as we improved our 2 "older" pins.  Neither was really very old, 2007 and 2008.  I did fear owning anything older than 10 or so years, due to the concern about finding parts and needing heavy maintenance.  In March, I decided to spend some money and add 2 pins.  These would be our 5th and 6th pins, and our 5th in 8 months.  I wanted LOTR by now, having read so much about it and becoming convinced it was the best pinball maching ever made.  (I still feel it deserves consideration for it).  I also visited a barcade in Grand Rapids, and played several of the latest pinball machines, including Dialed In!, Houdini, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hobbit, Star Wars, Batman '66 and others.  I thought Hobbit was gorgeous, but a bit floaty and too wide open and emply, and GOTG was too simple, uninspired and fast.  Star Wars depended on it's video and code too much, and BM66 felt cheaply made.  I really like Dialed In!, but felt it was an odd theme and overpriced.  Houdini was gorgeous, but also a first offering from an upstart company.  I was a bit unsure about the staying power of that pin.  The machine that blew me away, and made me purchase a second pinball machine in the same month, was Metallica.  I loved the shot variety and music, along with the hardcore theme and feel of the game.  It was rock and roll pinball!  I ordered a new MET pro within days of playing it.  I picked up LOTR in Ohio, and we unpacked LOTR the same day we unpacked MET.  Talk about pinball heaven!  We now had 6 machines...and we were only getting warmed up.  The next month, in May, we attended a pinball expo near Ann Arbor.  We played a hundred or more pins in about 5 hours.  We saw some great, great machines from all eras.  I was really taken with 2 Pat Lawlor pins, Monopoly and Ripley's Believe it or Not!  We decided to order a new pin, Dialed In!, which I chose over Aerosmith and a few other pins because my fiance really liked it.  We picked up Dialed In! that day at the expo.  It was such a great day of pinball.  We played so many pins that we had only read about to that point.  My mind was spinning and I wanted to own just about all of them.  We unboxed Dialed In! (350! Lbs.) and were blown away by the innovation and originality of it.  Fantastic shots and layout from Pat Lawlor, yet again, after 10 years away from the industry.  We now had 7 pins, but I had my eye on others very soon after that.  We decided to sell a pin to make room for another, so Spider-Man became our first ever pinball machine sale.  I learned alot about packing and handling pinball machines in that deal, and ended up making a good friend in Dallas by dealing with him fairly and taking extra care to prep and pack that machine.  I also added a color DMD to Spider-Man before selling it, and that added skill was something I would use again and again later.  I eventually added color DMDs to Metallica and 2 other pins.  With SM sold, we found a mint condition Shrek and I drove 10 hours, each way, to New York to pick it up.  It was beautiful and almost brand new.  We were back up to 7 pins.  In June, we added Monopoly, followed closely by Big Buck Hunter and Indiana Jones (Stern) in July.  We had now reached 10 pins in our "small" collection!  In less than one year, we had gone from owning one pin, WOZ, to owning 10 pins.  The hobby had firmly taken root in me, and I was enjoying every minute of it.  I loved talking pinball, reading about pinball, and emailing and messaging pinheads on Pinside.  I explored trades for several pins, including WOZ (which I nearly traded for a Hobbit).  We traded LOTR for a beautiful Ripley's plus cash, and sold Monopoly after making several key improvements to it.  Down to 9 pins, we decided to try to stay at 8 due to space.  One pin needed to go, but trading pins appears much easier than selling pins outright.  I agreed to trade MET for a very nice Tron machine, and also to sell or trade Dialed In!.  We are now exploring trades for Big Buck Hunter also.  The hobby is a welcome retreat for me from my work and my other stressful obligations.  Soon, we will be married and welcoming our first child.  I hope my pinball ride continues without much change into 2019 and beyond.  This past year has been a wild ride and I've gone from a very green, one-pin owner with no knowledge about pinball repair or upkeep, and little knowledge about pinball machines in general, to a not-incompetent owner of 9 pins.  I've grown comfortable working under the playfield, and I enjoy changing lights and doing minor repairs and adjustments.  I love adding mods to pins, and I'm always looking for the next great machine.  I have great respect for the craftsmanship and hours of devotion that go into making these incredible machines.  When a pinball machine is the product of inspired people, it shows.  The art, the animation, the mechanics, the electronics, the game concept design, it's all such an incredible collaberation of talented people.  When it works, and the right people are put together to build a machine, the results are pretty magical.  These are playable works of art, and few creations in our world are this delicate, complex, serious yet whimsical, and deserving of proper care and upkeep.  Some pins are more incredible than others, but even "bad" pins are usually amazing in some respects.  They all require many people with tremendous talent and experience to create them, and they deserve respect.  I'm a huge fan of pinball now, and I'm so fortunate to be a private collector with the means to own my own pinball machines, something 25 years ago I never would have believed possible!  

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1 year ago

I enjoyed reading your story. I bought a Ripley's new in the box back in 2005 and still own it! Hope you still enjoy yours.

3 months ago

Fantastic story mate. It’s one of those things that just happens like a lightning bolt striking and we just know we are hooked.
I’m waiting still for 2 machines coming from US. NGG possibly HUO and another (check my history uggh! ) HulkLE HUO and goodie bag still stapled inside. Who would have thought that would become important, well not really but you know what I mean. Also decided to bite the bullet on Fathom Mermaid Edition. Great collection you have there mate.

Kind regards Scott from Australia

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