A Real Wild Card

A Real Wild Card

By sd_jameson

May 11, 2017

1 year ago

My story? When I was very young my grandparents had a Williams Wild Card machine from 1977. I recall really enjoying it. It sat near the regulation pool table and the wind up antique phone that hung on the wall near the staircase. Across the room was a Formica countertop-laden wet bar. Come to think of it, this room was really kind of a "man cave" complete with the standard furnishings which constitute a living room (recliner, sofa, a pair of chairs there solely for aesthetics, stereo & TV, etc.) Funny how you remember things and sometimes even surprise yourself, huh? They sold the pinball machine years later (circa 2001?) unbeknownst to me. Anyways, I never really gave it much thought throughout my youth afterwards. I was pretty occupied with other things. I had occasionally thought how cool it would be to own a machine but was always driven away by prices and the inability of my nonexistent income to support anything but cheap thrills like putting fireworks in soda cans. Fast forward to my first semester as a college student at CSU, Chico. I joined my universities manufacturing program and spent a rather large part of my time at "The Bear", a local bar with more stuff on the walls than any Chili's or Chotchkies you'd ever seen (movies included). I got into arcade machines first. They had an upright Galaga near the front door and an upright Centipede near the back bar. As far as pins go, they had a Revenge from Mars, I also seem to recall a Nascar machine? I quickly learned that Galaga was my game. Eventually I would go to The Bear just to play Galaga. I got pretty good and I felt pretty good about myself. The Centipede disappeared one day and months later, Galaga had left the building. I was determined to own one someday but quickly learned another lesson in the coin-op hobby: looking for a particular title on Craigslist and finding it (for a reasonable price) is a lot like hoping that your Yugo will behave on a cross country road trip. Unlikely. Months after the disappearance of Galaga I realized that the answer (or so I had thought), was right in front of me: build a MAME cabinet. So, I built a cabinet from scratch and spent what was almost an entire summers worth of minimum wage income on what I thought would satisfy all of my coin-op wants and desires. Well, I hadn't even finished it and a Galaga came up in Sacramento for a fair price. After some negotiating I had just enough to buy it and that was it. I knew I wanted the real thing. Before I knew it I was spending every bit of expendable income on arcade cabinets. Who am I kidding, I still do. Eventually my brother sort of caught on. He thought the whole thing was pretty cool too. I caught him on Craigslist one afternoon "just looking" at pinball machines. This would have been the summer of 2014. There was a Future Spa for sale in Reno and we went for it. Well, he went for it, I went along for the ride. Eventually it came home and we had got it partially working. Over the next two years he restored the machine to showroom condition and I couldn't not play it whenever I had the opportunity. So cool. The noises, the feel of the whole thing, the satisfaction in nailing a lit spinner shot. Oh god. Those early solid state Bally's really do have a nice high quality feel to them. It was then I knew that I didn't want a pinball machine, I needed one. I picked up my first machine in December, 2016: High Speed. Of course I had no idea that the MPU was completely toast until it was too late (it might just be a busted fuse, or it might be a trashed board that you can't repair or replace just that easily). The whole thing left a sour taste in my mouth and I went back to arcade machines. Bought a Ms. Pacman and got my fix for a while but found myself still chasing the allure of the silver ball. I was flipping through a copy of The Pinball Compendium (1970-1981) and instantly recognized one machine: Wild Card by Williams, from the year of our lord 1977. I instantly remembered the side art on the machine - the cowboy silhouette, the cards and the saloon doors in shades of blue, orange and yellow. I knew what the game was that introduced me to pinball and I couldn't have been happier to now know what I was really looking for. It was then I had realized I was lucky enough to have a low production game be my holy grail machine. Just my luck, why couldn't it have been a Bally Eight Ball? With only 901 units produced, it is my understanding that this is the last single player EM that Williams produced. Lo and behold, it wasn't but a few weeks later after checking Craigslist and Ebay daily that a Wild Card machine came up near Salt Lake City, Utah. Maybe Yugo's aren't so bad with proper maintenance. In complete disbelief I made contact with the seller and gave him my story, told him I would make the drive to him as soon as I could, hoping he would have enough mercy to hold the machine for me until I could make the drive. Well, he obliged and the weather finally cleared up enough for me to make it over. Earl, if you're reading this, thanks again. So my roommate and I packed up and made the drive. The drive took us a little over nine hours but honestly, it wasn't that bad. If a Star Gazer came up and it was in the same area and the price was right, I would make the trip again without hesitation (if you have a Star Gazer you are willing to sell, I'm in the market for one. It's next in my wantlist chain of command). To be honest the trip was pretty fun too, I got to see a part of the country that I had never seen before. Now I can say I've been to Utah, and I think that's pretty cool. I really like the idea of going on long distance trips to pick up different titles. It's a journey, and I get to travel to places where I probably have never been before. To me, this is a big part of the fun in this hobby. Between the hunt, the art of haggling, the journey itself and the moment you get everything working on a machine that now belongs to you, there is an unparalleled sense of satisfaction, complemented by a collection of distinct memories that you will always associate with each new acquisition. All of this has made the coin-op hobby a big part of who I am, and with all the people out there who still can't seem to find themselves, I'm happy to say that I love pinball. Thanks for reading.

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1 year ago
Star Gazer, in the same area, at the right price = miracle
Now I believe in those, but just saying... ;)
11 months ago
Great Story !
9 months ago
How about a road trip to San Diego? There is a Sinbad with your name all over it. After reading this I feel like this machine was ment to be yours and not some pin flipper.
Great story either way.

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