The Impractical Guide to Living with Pinball Machines

The Impractical Guide to Living with Pinball Machines

By xTheBlackKnightx

June 20, 2017

1 year ago

"If you know how many pinball machines you own, you don't have enough."

- Unknown

Things to consider as owners embark into the wonderful world of pinball.

Most people do not realize the overwhelming amount of experience, space, and parts required to maintain dozens of games.  A handful of games is not a problem, until they begin to materialize out of thin air...

Time alone is basically a full time job, unless you store machines, and do not play them.
Particularly, if the machines are from multitude of manufacturers.

At one point, I owned titles from Bally (6 generations), WMS (5 generations), AGC, Zaccaria, Stern, LTD, Chicago Coin, Gottlieb (4 generations), Gameplan, Sega, Data East, and Interflip.
That is 24 different types of games, all with different parts and assemblies, EM and SS.
It was an absolute logistical maintenance nightmare even with decades of experience, both from parts managment and technical repair, as it required referencing nearly 55 years of pinball game design backgrounds.

Total amount of spare parts?
Over 10,000 lbs.
That's right, about 5 metric tons of parts!

Once you get to around 20-25 machines, realities of space and life, start to become readily apparent.

To put things into a visual perspective:

Games require a minimum of 40 inches of row clearance to get glasses to slide out (without lifting the front legs at an angle to gain a few extra inches), which applies to most EM and SS games except for EM metal framed playfield glasses.  Even in this case, if you have this type of constrained space, sliding playfield glasses are still required to go "sideways" a bit on the channels in order to remove them.
20 machines fill up a standard two car garage, tightly, with barely enough room to get playfield glasses out.
Six machines can fit in a 10X12 bedroom, dependent on layout, sometimes only five, the limitation is the backbox width, as every game is a standard 3X5 ft "box".
A 3200 sf, 5 bedroom house can put around 50 machines, but this is in a very highly uncomfortable manner with games in locations that are not optimal or recommended. Three bedrooms are dedicated "game rooms". Essentially games are everywhere, in every room, except the bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry.
Ceiling height, hallways, and door widths (or associated moldings) can also be also a problem.
Older game back boxes are wider than most modern doors, and hallways.
Stairways without landings are a challenge and painful without an Escalera StairCat.
Power consumption, breakers, and outlets are a challenge, you need multiple 20A circuits, no shortcutting methods are acceptable unless you like house fires or constantly resetting fuse boxes.

Practically, it would be better to own a british flat with no walls.
Essentially, modern homes are not built with pinball machines in consideration.

I know this because I became an expert at space maximization, as I moved around the world for over 20 years and owned four houses.
I have a 5X10 ft "closet" (in a manner of speaking) alone for my backglasses stored in vertical racks, which is a whole different challenge.
The only way for a person to effectively own more than 50 machines under "normal" circumstances is to rotate the games out of storage.
Most collectors start to "settle", begin to make plans for a larger house, or build another workshop, if they are reaching this point.
It takes over 4000 sf of DEDICATED pinball space to properly set up and run over 100 games.
Yes, you can compress the space down, quite a bit, but there are problems.

Remember, you have to have room to work on the games themselves, not counting parts space, and a workshop for tools in an organized fashion you can actually use effectively.  Something that is overlooked.

Keep this factors in mind when you head to the next pinball show flea market with a trailer.
That is the "#1 source for too many project games" now, since landfills and warehouse raids are becoming less prevalent than 20+ years ago.  Know your limitations, and you will always be successful.  Rows upon rows of broken pinball machines can overwhelm new owners, to the point that they exit the hobby entirely out of frustration.  Start simple, be methodical, move forward.  Stick with one manufacturer until you are very familiar with their design, then move onto another.

"Every pinball collector passes through the same six phases in their lifetime. "Curious George", Player, Owner, Collector, Restorer, and finally Hoarder. The place that you stop depends on when you start in the age of your life, and how many times you regress to a previous stage based on time, other life commitments, and of course, money."

Story photos

Out of Order.jpg
Expo Master.jpg


1 year ago
Wonderful story.
1 year ago
scary story but very good and educative !

love it!

would like to read more from your pin expirience
1 year ago
Where is the treasure trove of machines?! Thanks for sharing :)
1 year ago
The picture if from the Museum of Pinball in Banning California.
1 year ago
I think hoarder is just someone with storage space whom thinks they will live a long life . Takes considerable time to try and keep a working fleet running . And they break while sitting or in storage . To resurrect or restore projects takes the time commitment to another level . Good write up of concerns that only come from experience .Thanks for you effort . Shane
1 year ago
I think I'm currently somewhere between Owner and Collector, but realize 16 is the max I can fit in my dedicated game room (which also has a MAME and hopefully some day will have a SuperCHEXX and too). I peaked at 15 and will be down to 13 soon. Currently the plan for "when I run out of space" is to ship some pins to my brother for his game room after he finishes building his house, so that will give me a little more room and ensure that some of my favorites are well cared for.

I spent just over $9,000 on electrical upgrades to my home (which it needed anyway since it had not been upgraded since it was built in the late 50s) in the past year... I had been meaning to do this for some time, but the pins made it necessary and I'm glad the days of rolling around on the floor unplugging and replugging a mess of extension cords, making sure no one is using a kitchen appliance, or doing laundry, and running back and forth to the fuse box is a thing of the past. Being able to turn all my machines on, the overhead lights off, and bask in the glow is a reward in itself.

I agree with a lot of what @xTheBlackKnightx has said and suspect that I will agree with even more of it as I gain additional experience in the hobby. For now, my hard and fast rule is no more Gottliebs (which isn't to say that I don't love playing them, just that the three I have had have given me more problems than all my other pins combined).

I do think a seventh phase "Operator" should be added to the list. I'm starting to think of that as a goal for 2018-19! Still have a lot to learn about maintenance and repairs first though.
1 year ago
definitely REGERTS!
1 year ago
Working for a coin op business I agree with the 6 stages, but I jumped from player straight to restorer after years of working on them for work. my first owned pinball was a 1939 Bally Scoop and from there I've bought and sold a number of pinballs making repairs and improvements as I go along.
1 year ago
You must either be single, or have a VERY understanding partner/family. Thanks for sharing.
1 year ago
Some days I feel like it would be easier to collect refrigerators than pins! But I love it
1 year ago
Once I got into double digit quantities of pins I came close to selling them all a few times. I really enjoy playing and I found that I spent more time on repairs than playing. That had the added problem of my EM pins would break from non-use, so the problem would only get worse.

I dropped back to under ten machines and have been much happier.
1 year ago
Cool read....thanks for sharing
1 year ago
then you wake up one day and realize the tens of thousands of dollars just sitting there is a waste and sell off for investment, family vacations, etc.
1 year ago
Owning 13 machines forced me to buy a bigger house. In the bigger house there is one game room where 14 fit comfortably. So 14 is my limit, and in all reality that is plenty.
1 year ago
I am pinball collector and hoarder. Currently in the process of moving around 30 pins and several other games from storage to my new gameroom/shop building. Keeping up with repairs is a never ending battle when you have around 70 some odd pins from the 40's through the 90's. Most being 50's - 70's EM games. I hope to reduce the collection down to around 50 some odd pins with about 20 that are either projects or games that get rotated in and out from storage. Will be downsizing from 1300 sq foot of storage to about 450 once I move most of my working collection to the new 1500 sq foot shop/gameroom building. When you only have a few games you own them and keeping up with repairs is easy. When you get in the range of 50+ they start to own you and keeping up with them is a real challenge. I have several tons of parts to sort out as well.
1 year ago
>>then you wake up one day and realize the tens of thousands of dollars just sitting there is a waste and sell off for investment, family vacations, etc.<<

This item of interest was previously mentioned in one of my other articles.
1 year ago
I have been at it for 2 weeks & own 9 machines. So story fits me well.
1 year ago
Want to be a owner..........maybe 2-6 machines......want the best machines but just not sure how to go about it. Looking for one place to go where I can play many of the top machines and then pull the trigger and start my collection.
Too many unknowns with these machines .....need help from an expert.......Open to suggestions on where to go and how to proceed!
1 year ago
Want to be a owner..........maybe 2-6 machines......want the best machines but just not sure how to go about it. Looking for one place to go where I can play many of the top machines and then pull the trigger and start my collection.
Too many unknowns with these machines .....need help from an expert.......Open to suggestions on where to go and how to proceed!
1 year ago
In my 2400square foot house with 1700 sf basement and three car garage with loft, I had around twenty pins set up in the basement to play, a store room with about 15 pins that rotated, and a summer arcade in the garage. How silly that my x wife thought garages were for cars. I also stored machines at relatives and friends, mostly set up for them to play. A good friend with extra room in his storage unit still has a dozen or so machines stored for me. The pictures of the machines at his storage unit are on floppy disks, so you know they have been there a while. I now live in a 1400sf house with a 900sf basement I built a 16x28 two story shed (don't call it a barn the city doesn't allow it, we have three lots, and it was permitted, and inspected, but the inspector told me my plans would be rejected if I called it a barn and not a shed.) In the old house you would not have seen the tons of spares, stored games unless I was giving a tour, It just looked like I had an unusual hobby. Now I look like an out of control hoarder. I know it's time to start letting go of some, but it is hard.

Add a comment

Wanna make a comment? Click here to sign in or register.