It all started with our third annual summer vacation trip to Blue Ridge, GA. We have loved going to Blue Ridge each year as we constantly find new things to do each time we go. We have visited the breweries, eaten great food, rented pontoon boats, hiked trails, shopped downtown, and enjoyed the gorgeous Appalachian mountain views. This year while searching what new things Blue Ridge had to offer we found Vertigo Pinball, a bar that served local brew and had tons of pinball machines that you could play for an hour or all day. Excited to find a place that was family friendly, we went right away. Not knowing how my two young sons would take to pinball we opted for the hour and set out to play all kinds of vintage and new pinball machines. We had no idea how quickly the hour would fly by or how quickly we would all get bit by "the bug". I enjoyed playing Foo Fighters, The Addams Family, and Attack From Mars, but one machine kept pulling me back in. The 1976 Gottlieb Buccaneer. This unassuming machine dwarfed next to the flashing LEDs and fast paced sounds of Attack From Mars and Dr. No just would not let me go. I would play a few games, walk away, and before I knew it I was back completely entranced by the chrome ball being launched by the slingshots and battered by the pop bumpers. The chimes ringing, the score reels shuttering THIS was pinball and I instantly understood. Before we knew it our hour was up and all the kids, the young and young at heart were begrudgingly ushered out of the building.
That night I scoured FB Marketplace and was in shock at the prices I saw for these machines, even the "old" ones. There was no way I could pay that for a pinball machine and WHERE would we put it!? I later closed the app and filed “pinball machine” away in my pipe dream folder. In reminiscing the fun we had at Vertigo Pinball, we stumbled across the back story of the owner who once housed all of the pinball machines in his basement and all of those machines at Vertigo Pinball were a fraction of the collection he had. The others, it turned out, were now housed at a museum which just so happened to have opened one month before our vacation and was 5 miles from our rental. The next morning on a "lazy cabin day" the boys eagerly loaded up and set off to the Georgia Pinball Museum and played pinball for hours. My oldest son fell in love with a Williams Sorcerer and my youngest was hooked on a Williams Pitch and Bat.
For months following that vacation I kept an eye out on FB Marketplace and watched pins come and go. I started watching youtube videos demonstrating how pinball machines work and how to fix them. I loved watching the old become new again and seeing machines days away from a landfill being completely restored and played as they were intended. One day while looking on FB Marketplace a 1976 Night Rider project was listed for sale. It was in my small town and it was cheap! This was the one, but WHERE would we put it? It didn't matter, we would figure that out when I got the machine home. I messaged right away. There was no response. I gave it some time and I messaged again. No response. I watched as the listing was marked as sold within a few hours. After months of looking I had missed "the one". I spent the next few days moping around the house fantasizing about the one that got away and just two days later a 1978 Joker Poker project was listed on marketplace. It was more than I wanted to spend on my first project but it was in much better shape than the Night Rider. I messaged right away and got a response! The pin was an hour drive away and there was rain in the forecast, but there was no way this one was slipping away. I looked up cabinet dimensions, dropped the seats in my wife's highlander and took to measuring like a frenzied carpenter. It would fit! When loading the pinball machine in the back of the car it was like this vehicle was made for transporting pinball machines and not for shuttling kids to and from practices and school. It all fit perfectly and my first pin was coming home.
The pinball machine was home, but WHERE would we put it? It was determined the pinball machine would go upstairs in the playroom, but sacrifices would have to be made. Luckily I was willing to make those sacrifices on behalf of the kids and wife. The printer and its stand had to go. This is 2023 after all. The kid’s teenage mutant ninja turtle chair had to go. It was more of a jungle gym to them rather than a chair anyway. The whole room would be rearranged, but it would fit.
Now came the time for repairs. After attempting some easy repairs, probing every possible wire I could with a multimeter, and struggling to understand the schematics it was still broken. I had a daily reminder of the pinball’s state every time the kids would ask “Did you fix it yet dad?”. It was clear I needed help and what I hoped would be an easy repair was turning out to be something much more substantial. I quickly stumbled across Pinside and realized it was time to make my first ever forum post. I was taken aback by how quickly I received help from complete strangers and how knowledgeable and willing to share knowledge this community is. Within a few weeks, and with much help from this community, the Joker Poker was repaired. It now had new connector pins, new boards, and a new life. A pinball party was thrown to celebrate. High scores were broken, laughs were had, and many many games were played. My two pinball wizards call downstairs often to ask me if I want to play pinball, which is always a resounding “Yes!”. Within a month we have played 1,000 games and don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
I now wake up to pinball chimes at 7 am on the weekends and they have become the soundtrack of the afternoon while dinner is being made. My two little pinheads often beat their old man, but I still hold the high score on the machine for now. It is so unreal that the pipe dream has come true. The Joker Poker may have some wear on the playfield. It may have some flaking on the back glass. It may not be a museum piece, but it has to be the coolest thing I have ever bought. I still find myself perusing FB Marketplace to see what treasures it may hold. Who knows I might just find one I can’t pass up. But WHERE would we put it?