(Topic ID: 271561)

Artifacts of Gene Cunningham/Illinois Pinball


By dudah

44 days ago



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#201 35 days ago

The Cunningham property kind of reminds me of the situation that surrounded the infamous Mike Tyson abandoned mansion situation in Ohio, which sat derelict and a site for urban explorers for years. There was simply no upkeep, and a 54 acre estate with a 19,500 square foot mansion plummeted in value, and eventually sold for a mere 1.3 million... AND the guy who bought it never moved in, as he went to jail for money laundering at the time (LOL).

So it continued to sit for years more. I remember watching many YouTube urbex walkthroughs. In 2016 a church group got it (given to them for free by the buyer, who gave up on the property), and have turned it into their 'megachurch' . 140 members did all the renovation work for free. They only had to pay $50,000 in back-taxes to take title. So at least it pulled through. But goes to show how even the most majestic of properties can plummet to essentially zero, just from shitty management across the years. 54 acres and 19,500 square feet for $50,000 in back taxes.... WOWOW

Former conditions at the Mike Tyson mansion in Ohio

#202 35 days ago
Quoted from flerp:

This is an awesome thread! Thanks to all knowledgeable participants for sharing the history.

I fully agree.

28
#203 35 days ago

Ok guys. Reading this is just bringing back more and more memories of my time there. What I say below is not elaborated. These are facts as I witnessed them.

Gene Gene The Dancing Machine (Tidbits About Gene Himself and BBB)
To understand Gene, you have to understand his philosophy and how he worked. People just didn't get it, and after trying to work with him, found themselves at a disadvantage. Lots of stories about this already. Understand that Gene ALWAYS tried to pay someone or reimburse someone for their time without paying cash out of pocket. It was always a barter system or a carat he would dangle in front of you. This way he would get what he wanted, not have to pay you much to keep your work going, and then have the outcome he wanted. I saw this first hand. However, on the flipside, he and Kim were super nice to me all the time I was there, and my compensation was clear and tracked. I made sure to deal with Kim on that aspect after hearing stories from others. Kim always held up their end and were super nice to me. They really did try and treat me like family and I appreciated it.
Someone in a previous post nailed it about the workers there. The people working at IPB were always family members with no interest in pinball, folks who were on the cusp of society and near homeless, or friends needing a paycheck. One of his standard things was to offer folks a place to live while working there. He would let them stay in one of his slum properties, and that counted as part of their compensation. I remember one time there was a guy who was seal coating the blacktop one day, then was working on the roof, and lastly was asked to come in a pick and count parts. Then there were others who had worked there so long, they knew exactly where everything was, and kept the place going. It was a real mix of characters.
I also remember one time I was invited to their Christmas party. It was a combination of IPB workers, and other workers who did stuff for Gene. These two guys were outside with me on the porch and were smashed drunk. Smoking with one hand and drinking with the other. The one guys says to the other, the only thing that would make this night better is if we had pistols. The other guy says, damn yeah, we could shoot them off in the air and no one would bother us cause it's Christmas. (Hand to god this happened.) I swear I couldn't stop laughing. These guys were dead serious.

BBB - It Almost Killed Gene and He Definitely Lost Money
I'm jumping ahead a bit but here are some tidbits about BBB. Gene always wanted to make a pinball machine. It didn't matter what game it was, he just wanted to be able to say he made games. He himself told me this one night at dinner. When he left from the table, Kim filled me in on the history. He had accomplished everything he wanted to do from a collecting standpoint, but always felt like he was somewhat of an outsider to the guys working at Williams. At the Expo dinner, these guys would go on about designing this game, being the head of this department at Williams, and other guys being recognized for lifetime achievements. You got to remember Gene was 100% ego. He always had to be the center of attention and the guy on top. Especially in front of Georgianna. His goal was to make a game no matter what. He tried this when he bought Capcom and tried making a game called Pool Player. Someone showed the flyer. This was right when Williams closed and he bought the parts rights. He bailed on that venture and focused on the parts business. Choosing BBB was just because he had all architecture diagrams, list of parts, etc. He thought it would be an easy thing. Money started flowing in from the parts business, Kim was handling the store, so he ventured out to make his game and his mark. This is fact right from Gene.

Note, jumping ahead again but here are some headaches during BBB, that added to his stress level and caused him to have a heart attack. Gene wanted church hill cabinets to run the playfields and cabinets. CHC did not want to do this for him and deal with 150 to 200 playfields. Small run for them and not worth their time. I know this from both parties caused I verified this fact later on with someone at CHC many years later. CHC wanted to make their own game and were designing Vacation pinball. Gene, while holdings Williams exclusivity, renewed one of their expiring patents for the ball trough assembly used on the later Williams 90s games. He now had exclusive rights on the ball trough. (Williams was pissed.) He made a deal with CHC where they could use his ball trough for Vacation, and in turn they would run the playfields. (I think he sourced out cabinets to a cheaper local company. More on that in a minute.) The following shit show occurred with this deal.
1. Gene shows up in Cicero IL, to pick up the playfields. He starts saying I want this one discounted cause of imperfections, I want this one for free, I want this one for discounted cause its lighter, blah blah blah. The head guy at CHC says basically take it all as discussed or F off. Gene then takes all playfields at original deal parameters.
2. Early in BBB game assembly, while ball geometry is being tested, the clear coat and artwork begins completely peeling off from the ball friction. Like one of those scratch off lottery tickets. They test other playfields, and then same is happening. Gene is pissed and starts blaming CHC that they did it on purpose to sabotaged his game. He tells Kim we have too much time and money invested in this. Words are exchanged with CHC, with no resolve. Gene says go with them as they are. Kim says I am the one who is going to get massive amounts of calls after game delivery and we are going to get sued. The solution is as follows. They take all 190 playfields to the local Ford dealership in Bloomington. They go to the collision department and make a deal to have all the playfields clear coated again with automotive clear. Luckily this takes care of this issue, but a lot of stress with this.
3. Prior to the above, the BBB cabinets arrive in Bloomington, and they look awful. The purple is off, the sidewall paint coverage does not go down far enough into the cabinet. The fading shows when the playfield is set at the target height. In addition the cabinets are rough as hell. The back box purple coverage does not extend to the edges, and inside the back box paint is missing. Gene says go with it as is. Kim and Gene fight for days, and finally someone is brought in to sand and repaint most of the cabinets.
4. The two aliens sitting at the bar in the game cannot be remade easily. The artwork is lost and engineering diagrams lost. The originals were made by an art studio, and the guy was no longer around who did it. They took the two off of Gene's game, and have them remolded from the originals. He has 400 or so produced and it was costly. When installed in a sample game, the ball runs off the track in their mouths. They spin, and the ball doesn't release from their mouths. Somehow the mouths are too deep. More issues to deal with and this is a showstopper. More arguing and stress on everyone. Solution is to add a blob of paint in the aliens mouths so the ball doesn't come to a complete rest. This works after a lot of tweaking.
More and more issues like this occur during production.

This entry is getting long so more to come covering the following:
1. Gene asks Gary to assemble BBB. Gary says 1Million to get him off his case. He doesn't want to help gene because it is competition.
2. They company who was going to assemble / populate the playfields screw Gene and asks for more money. Double original quote.
3. Gene wants me and my brother to create wiring harnesses for BBB. He shows us one giant spool of black wire he got at an auction. Says we can make color coated wires with sharpies and some paint. We pass on this. He has to outsource this.
4. The black light assembly is no longer available and company who made it is out of business. He has to buy some assemblies from China, take them apart and reassemble.

At one point Gene has to sell property, several parcels on his compound, to keep the project going. He has a massive heart attack and goes to the hospital. More on this to come. Quadruple bypass. Kim is real worried his not going to make it. I will post more tomorrow. The saga continues.

Thanks
Dougram

#204 35 days ago

Couple things that Rick missed that we dug up.

77BDA5E5-FE31-493E-A1E9-DA0ADA5C4118 (resized).jpegF2DEB8D6-4424-452C-9A70-1976E141042F (resized).jpegF9B4B730-4C0F-4F87-A766-F86ACB9166B2 (resized).jpeg
#205 35 days ago

I also have (or had) a Mega golf ball frenzy promo plastic
Gene had nothing to do with that game, it's a retheme of NGG created for charity by another pinball collector.

#206 35 days ago

I have had a BBB a couple of years ago.
I was stupid to sell it...as I just realize now I had a piece of pinball history.
Really great thread.

What I also wanted to know is who was Gene? How he got into this business?

#207 35 days ago

This is an incredible post, thanks to all the contributors for a fascinating piece of history.

Back in 2005 I had bought my first machine, an imported WH2O. I was spending a lot of time on RGP learning and asking questions. I started reading about Gene's attempt to make BBB, and exchanged emails with a guy who was looking to get out of his spot. I had the $4500 saved up and was really intrigued by the mystique behind the game. Ultimately I chickened out because I was worried about not being able to get parts, or how reliable the machine would be, and I didn't know jack shit about repairing machines and was having trouble with WH2O. Back then a lot of parts were hard to find and expensive, even for B/W machines. In fact there was a ton of B/W bias on RPG in those days and I never even considered other companies until years later. Plus there was a lot of speculation that Gene would never come through, which is why the spot became available in the first place.

I took $4400 of the $4500 that I didn't spend on BBB and bought both CFTBL and Scared Stiff in 2006 due to that B/W bias, and I'm okay with that, but I always wonder about "what could have been" and how awesome it would be now to have a BBB in my collection, since I have never got to play one.

Once again, thanks for pulling back the curtain. I agree with others that this is perhaps the best thread to ever appear on Pinside.

#208 35 days ago
Quoted from dougram69:

Ok guys. Reading this is just bringing back more and more memories of my time there. What I say below is not elaborated. These are facts as I witnessed them.
Gene Gene The Dancing Machine (Tidbits About Gene Himself and BBB)
To understand Gene, you have to understand his philosophy and how he worked. People just didn't get it, and after trying to work with him, found themselves at a disadvantage. Lots of stories about this already. Understand that Gene ALWAYS tried to pay someone or reimburse someone for their time without paying cash out of pocket. It was always a barter system or a carat he would dangle in front of you. This way he would get what he wanted, not have to pay you much to keep your work going, and then have the outcome he wanted. I saw this first hand. However, on the flipside, he and Kim were super nice to me all the time I was there, and my compensation was clear and tracked. I made sure to deal with Kim on that aspect after hearing stories from others. Kim always held up their end and were super nice to me. They really did try and treat me like family and I appreciated it.
Someone in a previous post nailed it about the workers there. The people working at IPB were always family members with no interest in pinball, folks who were on the cusp of society and near homeless, or friends needing a paycheck. One of his standard things was to offer folks a place to live while working there. He would let them stay in one of his slum properties, and that counted as part of their compensation. I remember one time there was a guy who was seal coating the blacktop one day, then was working on the roof, and lastly was asked to come in a pick and count parts. Then there were others who had worked there so long, they knew exactly where everything was, and kept the place going. It was a real mix of characters.
I also remember one time I was invited to their Christmas party. It was a combination of IPB workers, and other workers who did stuff for Gene. These two guys were outside with me on the porch and were smashed drunk. Smoking with one hand and drinking with the other. The one guys says to the other, the only thing that would make this night better is if we had pistols. The other guy says, damn yeah, we could shoot them off in the air and no one would bother us cause it's Christmas. (Hand to god this happened.) I swear I couldn't stop laughing. These guys were dead serious.
BBB - It Almost Killed Gene and He Definitely Lost Money
I'm jumping ahead a bit but here are some tidbits about BBB. Gene always wanted to make a pinball machine. It didn't matter what game it was, he just wanted to be able to say he made games. He himself told me this one night at dinner. When he left from the table, Kim filled me in on the history. He had accomplished everything he wanted to do from a collecting standpoint, but always felt like he was somewhat of an outsider to the guys working at Williams. At the Expo dinner, these guys would go on about designing this game, being the head of this department at Williams, and other guys being recognized for lifetime achievements. You got to remember Gene was 100% ego. He always had to be the center of attention and the guy on top. Especially in front of Georgianna. His goal was to make a game no matter what. He tried this when he bought Capcom and tried making a game called Pool Player. Someone showed the flyer. This was right when Williams closed and he bought the parts rights. He bailed on that venture and focused on the parts business. Choosing BBB was just because he had all architecture diagrams, list of parts, etc. He thought it would be an easy thing. Money started flowing in from the parts business, Kim was handling the store, so he ventured out to make his game and his mark. This is fact right from Gene.
Note, jumping ahead again but here are some headaches during BBB, that added to his stress level and caused him to have a heart attack. Gene wanted church hill cabinets to run the playfields and cabinets. CHC did not want to do this for him and deal with 150 to 200 playfields. Small run for them and not worth their time. I know this from both parties caused I verified this fact later on with someone at CHC many years later. CHC wanted to make their own game and were designing Vacation pinball. Gene, while holdings Williams exclusivity, renewed one of their expiring patents for the ball trough assembly used on the later Williams 90s games. He now had exclusive rights on the ball trough. (Williams was pissed.) He made a deal with CHC where they could use his ball trough for Vacation, and in turn they would run the playfields. (I think he sourced out cabinets to a cheaper local company. More on that in a minute.) The following shit show occurred with this deal.
1. Gene shows up in Cicero IL, to pick up the playfields. He starts saying I want this one discounted cause of imperfections, I want this one for free, I want this one for discounted cause its lighter, blah blah blah. The head guy at CHC says basically take it all as discussed or F off. Gene then takes all playfields at original deal parameters.
2. Early in BBB game assembly, while ball geometry is being tested, the clear coat and artwork begins completely peeling off from the ball friction. Like one of those scratch off lottery tickets. They test other playfields, and then same is happening. Gene is pissed and starts blaming CHC that they did it on purpose to sabotaged his game. He tells Kim we have too much time and money invested in this. Words are exchanged with CHC, with no resolve. Gene says go with them as they are. Kim says I am the one who is going to get massive amounts of calls after game delivery and we are going to get sued. The solution is as follows. They take all 190 playfields to the local Ford dealership in Bloomington. They go to the collision department and make a deal to have all the playfields clear coated again with automotive clear. Luckily this takes care of this issue, but a lot of stress with this.
3. Prior to the above, the BBB cabinets arrive in Bloomington, and they look awful. The purple is off, the sidewall paint coverage does not go down far enough into the cabinet. The fading shows when the playfield is set at the target height. In addition the cabinets are rough as hell. The back box purple coverage does not extend to the edges, and inside the back box paint is missing. Gene says go with it as is. Kim and Gene fight for days, and finally someone is brought in to sand and repaint most of the cabinets.
4. The two aliens sitting at the bar in the game cannot be remade easily. The artwork is lost and engineering diagrams lost. The originals were made by an art studio, and the guy was no longer around who did it. They took the two off of Gene's game, and have them remolded from the originals. He has 400 or so produced and it was costly. When installed in a sample game, the ball runs off the track in their mouths. They spin, and the ball doesn't release from their mouths. Somehow the mouths are too deep. More issues to deal with and this is a showstopper. More arguing and stress on everyone. Solution is to add a blob of paint in the aliens mouths so the ball doesn't come to a complete rest. This works after a lot of tweaking.
More and more issues like this occur during production.
This entry is getting long so more to come covering the following:
1. Gene asks Gary to assemble BBB. Gary says 1Million to get him off his case. He doesn't want to help gene because it is competition.
2. They company who was going to assemble / populate the playfields screw Gene and asks for more money. Double original quote.
3. Gene wants me and my brother to create wiring harnesses for BBB. He shows us one giant spool of black wire he got at an auction. Says we can make color coated wires with sharpies and some paint. We pass on this. He has to outsource this.
4. The black light assembly is no longer available and company who made it is out of business. He has to buy some assemblies from China, take them apart and reassemble.
At one point Gene has to sell property, several parcels on his compound, to keep the project going. He has a massive heart attack and goes to the hospital. More on this to come. Quadruple bypass. Kim is real worried his not going to make it. I will post more tomorrow. The saga continues.
Thanks
Dougram

I mentioned earlIer Gene lost Big time on BBB , but but oh man nearly his life to. I do not remember off hand hearing about the heart attack and quad bypass....

#209 35 days ago
Quoted from pinballlife:

It's not my place to say what the winning bid was since it was not PBL.
I was simply clarifying that other bids could have been made once the original bid was placed. Were they? I don't know. I didn't end up raising the bid. That's my business and I feel comfortable sharing that bit of info. Beyond that, I am not at liberty to say, sorry.
I found it odd that Gene had so much stuff left in ~2012. About 4 years earlier he had supposedly sold everything to another pinball parts seller(s), yet he still had rooms, no buildings, full of parts in his possession when I took the pre-bankruptcy tour of his properties in ~2012.

Was it an actual federal bankruptcy auction? How did it all work. I was around at that time but never even heard of the actual auction happening.

I knew of the cash sell offs prior, and of course the PPS sell off (or attempted sell off? Of the junk they did not want). But I never heard of the actual auction from the bank. Would be interested in seeing how far in front of that auction the cash sell off was happening.

#210 35 days ago
Quoted from Mr68:

While it's true Gene was a compulsive weaver of fiction, I believe a ratio of 90% is harsh. But I take your meaning.
Gene would base his stories on the truth and make them grandiose using exaggeration and yes, pure invention. The majority of his dishonesty were in gray areas that could neither be proved or disproved. Consequently he was rarely challenged and he never matured as a person in that regard.
- Life lesson alert for some people if they care about reputation.
One of the most common and repeated stories from Gene was that he lost a million dollars remaking Big Bang Bar. I can’t disprove that but many of us believe he actually made a tiny profit, broke even or lost a much smaller amount. - Gene was Gene and his being pretentious in no way diminishes his legacy of resurrecting and building those high-quality, beautiful BBB machines.
As far as Dougram recounting his history here, I find him highly credible. I’m hanging on to every word he writes and memories are now coming back for me. I don’t know who he is but he was definitely there based on his detailed descriptions and accuracy. Please carry on, Dougram.

We were talking about the Wizard Blocks whitewoods and you may be confusing that with parts.

That's exactly what I have

#211 35 days ago

I was in on buying Gene's BBB remake. Knowing some on the inside, I was told things weren't going well and the quality of the game was questionable. Initially, I think we put half down and the remainder was due on completion. At some point during production, we all received a letter basically saying Gene wants the balance or else. Needless to say, many questioned whether the game would ever be completed.

The straw that broke the camel's back, as they say, was finding out that Williams had bought the rights to BBB from Capcom. I was told by more than one, there were people in pinball that wanted to see Gene fail big time and they wanted to hurt him financially. The plan was to wait until the game was nearly complete, then take Gene to court claiming he had no rights to make BBB as it was a Williams/Bally game, not a Capcom game.

I never received my game. I sold the rights to it to a guy from Australia. I thought all Gene had to do was cross my name off my number and add the new owner's. I was wrong. It was quite the process I went through with Gene's wife to get things transferred. It was such a hassle, Gene said they wouldn't allow that to happen again. If you ordered a game, you had to take possession of it.

Mistake on my part? Yup. But I made a nice profit on my spot without doing anything, so I can't complain.

13
#212 35 days ago

BBB would never have been made without one person Kerry Stair

Also I was involved in the Bid for IPB and withdrew my bid at 500,000 US letting Matt and rick buy it

#213 35 days ago

Mr. Gillard:

You have previously expressed an interest in the assets of Gene and Georgianna Cunningham and/or the stock in Illinois Pinball. I am writing to inform you that I have received an offer of $500,000 for assets of Gene and Georgianna Cunningham including the stock in Illinois Pinball and have asked for Court permission to accept it. Attached is a Notice of Intent to Sell which sets forth the assets being sold and the conditions of the sale. Anyone who wishes to bid more than $500,000 for the assets listed will have to do ALL of the following:

1. File an objection to the sale on or before May 29, 2014
2. Bid an amount in excess of $500,000
3. Accept the same terms and conditions as the current bidder
4. Be willing and able to tender earnest money in the amount of 10% of the bid
5. Be willing and able to pay the balance of the purchase price within 3 business days after an Order is entered approving the sale
6. The successful bidder will have to remove all of the property from its current location within 45 days from the date an Order is entered approving the sale.

ALL OF THE PROPERTY INCLUDING THE STOCK IS SOLD “AS IS” WITHOUT WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, ORAL OR WRITTEN, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, WARRANTIES OF TITLE, QUALITY, MERCHANTABILITY, AND FITNESS FOR ANY PARTICULAR USE.

Please contact me if you need further information.

#214 35 days ago

So after Capcom went out of business two guys from Michigan got their hands on a stack of BBB backglass translights . Because they were from a game that would never be any more made , they were just a novelty . They were selling them off one at a time on ebay ! I thought one would make a great momento of a game I would never see . I put in a bid of $100. but won the bid at $35. I ended up building a false backbox and added Christmas tree lights to light it . So when Gene's dream to remake BBB came true I think he had to make a deal to buy them all back to make his game . I'd like to know the rest of that story .

#215 35 days ago

Wayne
I have a inventory of the pinball Machines
In the Cunningham personal bankruptcy
estate ...
This consist of 302 pinball machines
As far as Illinois Pinball is concerned
The only asset that was personally
Owned by Cunningham is the stock
In Illinois Pinball which would make the
Buyer of the stock the owner of
Illinois Pin Ball which includes the parts
And tooling,
However their is a pending law suit against
Illinois Pinball in the area of $200,000. Pinball Inc
So this would be a concern for the buyer,
And out of the purview of the Trustee
Because I P is not in bankruptcy .
We have been engaged with buyers who
Have expressed an interest In buying
The stock and the inventory .
Would you be interested in this package?
Thanks

#216 35 days ago
CUNNINGHAM ASSETS.pdf
#217 35 days ago

I must say this is a great thread, I really enjoy stuff like this and I believe I can make some interesting additions. My story starts on the way to lunch one day back in the what I assume was late 1999, back then wasn’t keeping track. A good friend of mine is a “larger than life” operator here in town and we were getting together for lunch one Friday and he had to make a “quick” stop at the local distributor Brady. He roamed the place freely and I was his side kick that day. We made a stop in the parts department and wondered in the office of “Cha-a-Lee.” He was looking through a bunch of papers and I noticed they were from Williams. Conversation was made, said operator got his parts and “Cha-a-Lee” was invited to lunch. During lunch we did the typical b.s. ing, said operator harassed all the wait staff and “Cha-a-Lee” and I struck up a conversation about pinball and he indicated that his employer was looking into purchasing the remaining parts inventory from Williams along with all the rights to reproduce parts and even complete machines. He had received a list of inventory on hand along with all the assets associated with Bally/Williams including equipment associated with the manufacturing side. That is what he was evaluating when we wondered in. He indicated Brady was very interested and he along with a few Brady execs were going up to look everything over and figure logistics up, etc. My uncle was in logistics and rigging at the time and I offered his services if needed, fast forward a week or so and I was on the road for 12 hours headed to Chicago to meet my Uncle and the Bally/Williams people to see what was involved and now my story begins.
We meet up with 5 execs from B/W and were given a quick tour of the facility and then went across the street to what used to be the pinball manufacturer side, now in the process of being converted to produce what I later learned was gaming equipment. There were still parts of the “line” there mostly disassembled, tons of pallets/crates of parts, wire spools, tooling, etc. We then traveled to another warehouse that was very dark and poorly lite. This housed a ton of stuff, I remember seeing about 20 machines in different states, along with tons of pallet/crates of parts, test equipment and tooling. My uncle did his calculations and we had lunch and later returned to B/W where they gave him a banker box with all the information he needed to further calculate the logistics. My Uncle indicated he would look the stuff over tonight and if needed would it be possible to get together in the morning to take one last look at everything in the older warehouse. I remember him expressing some concern over the loading aspect of it as if memory serves me correct, the loading dock was in at a corner and a side street had been installed which would mean a 52foot trailer would block the street. He later learned a permit would have to be pulled to shut the street down for a 2 hour period between the hours of 2 and 7 am. Well that evening my Uncle and I poured through a ton of information and what amount to (9) 52 foot tractor trailer loads of just what he called “movable and stackable” parts and equipment. He then went on to figure (5) open flat trailers to move misc. equipment and fixtures. We did not return to the warehouse as he had everything he needed, but did return to B/W to drop off the banker box and inquire about a few loose ends. At the time I of all this I had not really engulfed myself in the hobby, I had a few machine in the house for the simple enjoyment. I had never envisioned were my road in the pinball business/hobby would take me. Later to come the future of pinball as Brady was concerned and my dealings with Gene.

#218 35 days ago

click to view all

FILEDNOTICEOFINTENTTOSELL.pdf
#219 35 days ago

Click to view

Game-Sale.pdf
#220 35 days ago

nice, the link in the last document to the picture gallery at pinball.com is still online

#222 34 days ago

I never met Gene before, but the story is fascinating. This would make a really good documentary. A sequel to "Tilt! The Battle to Save Pinball"

#223 34 days ago

I cant help but wonder if as was previously stated that people in the Pinball industry wanted Gene to fail ... what if there really was something to Gene's assertion that CHC or someone who was just working there did in fact sabotage those playfields to purposely wear that way ??

#224 34 days ago

The debtors list was insane as well. I remember places like the local donut shop being on the list. Crazy.

10
#225 34 days ago
Quoted from Whysnow:

Was it an actual federal bankruptcy auction? How did it all work. I was around at that time but never even heard of the actual auction happening.
I knew of the cash sell offs prior, and of course the PPS sell off (or attempted sell off? Of the junk they did not want). But I never heard of the actual auction from the bank. Would be interested in seeing how far in front of that auction the cash sell off was happening.

It was the offical bankruptcy auction. Are those federal? Heck, I don't know. Luckily I have never had to gain much of an understanding of what is all involved in bankruptcy proceedings.

Nothing was sold before the *auction*. It wasn't an auction in the typical *live auction* sense. PPS had put in a bid and that bid had to be topped before a certain date. I think Wayne cleared up how it all worked with the documentation he posted.

Gene was also not able to sell or even touch his stuff during the proceedings. I remember us walking by a pile of ladders and Gene asked the guy from the auction house that was leading our tour if he could borrow one of them for something he needed to do. He was told *NO* in no uncertain terms. Wow.

My biggest fear about buying Gene's stuff was that the second I became the new owner Gene would be my mortal enemy. Basically, the second his stuff had a new owner the bank would no longer be keeping Gene from the stuff, so it would now be my responsibility. Guards at multiple locations would have to be installed around the clock until and as the property was removed. Gene had a long history of hiding and stealing his own stuff.

"You don't do business with Gene as much as you do battle with Gene" someone once told me, and truer words were never spoken.

#226 34 days ago

Not only were the pinball machines, pinball parts, and building included in the bankruptcy sale, so was his house and everything in it. We're talking forks, blenders, plastic plants, cheesy-as-shit artwork, guns (yes, guns), etc, etc, etc.

Some of the rooms upstairs had been pretty much cleared out, so I don't know what happened to that stuff. Also, the master bedroom walk-in closet was empty as well. To say this was a *closet* doesn't really do it justice though. It was probably 400 square feet. Maybe I'm stretching it a bit, as memory can be a funny thing, but it was BIG and empty. Both hot tubs were still there; one in the grotto and another in the master bedroom. There was a stairway that led directly from the grotto to the master bedroom, so make of that what you will.

#227 34 days ago
Quoted from TenaciousT:

So after Capcom went out of business two guys from Michigan got their hands on a stack of BBB backglass translights . Because they were from a game that would never be any more made , they were just a novelty . They were selling them off one at a time on ebay ! I thought one would make a great momento of a game I would never see . I put in a bid of $100. but won the bid at $35. I ended up building a false backbox and added Christmas tree lights to light it.

Bought this at Expo in '98 I think?

IMG_4929 (resized).JPG

#228 34 days ago

I love the way this all blew up. Thanks so much for all the great contributions!

I'm curious about IPB and how long they were around for. I hear so much about how difficult they were to deal with and it seems like they never knew what they were doing. Were they making new parts? Mostly selling NOS stuff? Were they making anything themselves, or were they just using the master list of Williams' vendors?

#229 34 days ago

Just for the people like me reading this who do not know any of what is being described here, my question is:

People are saying that the Bally/Williams pins were just rotting away in GC's possession. Was this stuff in dis-repair before he bought the stuff or was it just not taken care of when in his possession, stored incorrectly or what? Thanks!

#230 34 days ago
Quoted from KozMckPinball:

Just for the people like me reading this who do not know any of what is being described here, my question is:
People are saying that the Bally/Williams pins were just rotting away in GC's possession. Was this stuff in dis-repair before he bought the stuff or was it just not taken care of when in his possession, stored incorrectly or what? Thanks!

Both. Seemed to me he would just haul games home simply for pride of ownership and they just sat there. I never once saw him play a single game or talk about game play. His warehouse was not climate controlled and had roof leaks in several areas. It was dusty and dirty inside with a mold and mildew odor to it. It was more of a huge Tuff Shed than anything else.

#231 34 days ago
Quoted from TecumsehPlissken:

I cant help but wonder if as was previously stated that people in the Pinball industry wanted Gene to fail ... what if there really was something to Gene's assertion that CHC or someone who was just working there did in fact sabotage those playfields to purposely wear that way ??

I can tell you that Brady Distribution and one other private entity put in a higher bid then IPB/Gene and it was not accepted. I guess one could say maybe WMS saw the writing on the wall.

#232 34 days ago
Quoted from KozMckPinball:

Just for the people like me reading this who do not know any of what is being described here, my question is:
People are saying that the Bally/Williams pins were just rotting away in GC's possession. Was this stuff in dis-repair before he bought the stuff or was it just not taken care of when in his possession, stored incorrectly or what? Thanks!

Gene did not care if they worked or not. Most were never plugged in. It was all sad, sad, sad.
So in short, whatever condition he bought them in, things were only going to get worse. All his buildings leaked. During one tour it was raining outside and there was literally *A River Runs Through It* situation going on. We would joke that the only reason he had pinball machines was to keep the ceiling from hitting the floor, because LOTS of ceiling had fallen and was just sitting on the machines.

One of his buildings was an old horse stable. He hadn't changed a thing, except that horses were no longer in the stables, only piles of heaped together pinball parts. It was a total mess.

#233 34 days ago
Quoted from Mr68:

Both. Seemed to me he would just haul games home simply for pride of ownership and they just sat there. I never once saw him play a single game or talk about game play. His warehouse was not climate controlled and had roof leaks in several areas. It was dusty inside with a mold and mildew odor to it. It was more of a huge Tuff Shed than anything else.

If he was not a player and didn't care about rules, nor the game itself,etc., it seems odd he strived to become the premier collector, built a machine, bought a massive amount of inventory, and then let it destroy him financially, mentally, and physically. All for a hobby he didn't partake in.

Sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy.

#234 34 days ago
Quoted from dougram69:

It was always a barter system or a carat he would dangle in front of you. This way he would get what he wanted, not have to pay you

Every time they contacted me for pictures or help. They always said to let them know if I ever need anything.

Of course they didn't say they'd do anything about a request, even if I offered to pay.

I kept helping. Hoping people would get their BBB's.

LTG : )

#235 34 days ago

Someone better be taking notes. This story is just as intriguing as tiger king. There’s a documentary in all of this I’m sure.

16
#236 34 days ago

During the dark days of pinball parts supply I began importing pins. At one time I had 5 Funhouses in stock and all had broken head parts. Eyelids were unobtainable. I reached out to Kim and she indicated they did not have the mold for any Rudy parts and had bigger fish to fry. I inquired if there would be any resistance if I attempted to make the eyelids or front/rear of Rudy’s head. She called me back about 2 days later and said I would be fine as long as I send them a sample to approve and agreed to sell them the first 100 at an agreed upon cost, which I would provide them once I got the mold built. Steve at PBR had a few NOS eyelids in his stash and he sold me a one, but warned they were very brittle due to shelf age. I had a good front and back face/head. I had a friend who was an engineer for a local plastics company and he made a short term use mold that would make about 20 eyelids, this would give me some good product samples to send out. I contacted Rick who was running Bay Area at the time, Mark and Steve. All where willing to look at what I had and felt like it was a part that would sell. All indicated there would probably be a rush for the first 100 or so then may take a few years to sell the 1000 minimum I had to commit to. We made 17 eyelids and the mold broke, but had several color options including “Red” and “Ted” versions. I sent 6 eyelids up to Gene and he gave me the green light, nothing in writing just verbal. I ordered a more robust mold which as I learned is very expensive, but if I made 1000 (minimum number) I could profit about $2.00 a set, more important get some of what now had amassed to 13 Funhouse running. At 123 eyelids the mold broke again. I shipped IPB the first 100 and we agreed to barter the cost for parts as Kim indicated I would be in a much better place, especially since I stood to lose about $8500. Gene later called me and we spoke for the first time, he was impressed at the effort I put forth and the fact that I actually got them done. We discussed the Williams acquisition and I told my story of visiting WMS with my Uncle to price the logistics for Brady. He told me a few other stories then offered an open invitation “lunch on me” anytime. I took him up on it a few years later.

10
#237 34 days ago
Quoted from Methos:

Sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy.

This, exactly.
If Gene sold his parts and/or machines then he wouldn't able to parade you past them while saying *I own all this stuff and you never will*.
His pride and stubborn nature cost him everything in the end.
I know what he paid for all the WMS parts (a fair amount of people do). I also can somewhat guess what the street value ~2006 was when they would have been worth the most, before tons of stuff got remade because of his hording and his impossible nature as a businessman. He should have died rich on a yacht, but he died penniless in a rundown ramshackle place.

#238 34 days ago
Quoted from Isochronic_Frost:

Renters take advantage of those with less money and benefit by simply owning, passively earning. Banks take advantage of folks who over-leverage, sometimes their own fault sometimes not, again totally legal but from an objective point of view it can be seen as ethical and not.

I don't see this as taking advantage... landlords assume risk and responsibility by owning property, and are subject to many tenants-rights laws. Renters do not have to worry about maintenance, taxes, etc. and can move much more easily than owners. What you are describing are basic service transactions - many people WANT to rent just for these reasons.

#239 34 days ago

As far as IPB being difficult to deal with for purchasing parts. I called twice about obtaining a FunHouse playfield. Each time I got Kim and she said she'd call me back to complete the transaction but she never called back. I ended up driving down there and picked it up in person. This was the first run of FH playfields, no dimples or T nuts. When I got there they had about a dozen playfields left. Kim picked thru them showing me the registration issues each one had. She said we thought we could make them all perfect but silk screening playfields is hard, there's always some issue. When I was there two guys were going in and out with boxes of Big Bang Bar parts heading off to the building they were using to build them in. The warehouse was huge. Parts as far as the eye can see. They had a fence set up to keep the small kids close while they worked the phones and computers.

#240 34 days ago
Quoted from pinballlife:

but he died penniless in a rundown ramshackle place.

I have to wondered if that even bothered him?

I have to guess in his mind, he enjoyed himself along the way and was fine with it? no idea, but that is the impression I got.

#241 34 days ago

It sounds like Kim was running this business while Gene was around to fund it and collect all the bragging rights.
Which podcast wants to hunt down Kim and see if she wants to do an interview??

14
#242 34 days ago
Quoted from Whysnow:

I have to wondered if that even bothered him?
I have to guess in his mind, he enjoyed himself along the way and was fine with it? no idea, but that is the impression I got.

Another insightful question, Hilton.

I believe it did bother Gene.
Periodically over the last few years of his life, myself and others would get a phone call from Gene.
He had lost everything with the exception of his parents home that he and Georgie lived in and that house was small and run down. His calls were disguised as some type of purpose but really he wanted to talk about glory days or some fantasy scheme he had for a come back. But I could tell that his life had no direction, nothing for him to control and no one seeking his attention. He seemed desperate to be relevant again but I think he secretly knew it was over.

It's all very sad and I've reflected on that as a life lesson for my own failings as a person.

#243 34 days ago

I don’t believe that she is with us anymore. She and I both had non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Gene and I had a couple of discussions about our common experiences. I pulled through but I don’t believe that she was able to do the same.

#244 34 days ago
Quoted from Mr68:

Another insightful question, Hilton.
It did bother Gene.
Periodically over the last few years of his life, myself and others would get a phone call from Gene.
He had lost everything with the exception of his parents home that he and Georgie lived in and that house small and run down. His calls were disguised as some type of purpose but really he wanted to talk about glory days or some fantasy scheme he had for a come back. But I could tell that his life had no direction, nothing for him to control and no one seeking his attention. He seemed desperate to be relevant again but I think he secretly knew it was over.
It's all very sad and I've reflected on that as a life lesson for my own failings as a person.

Interesting and thx for sharing.

#245 34 days ago
Quoted from hlaj78:

I don’t believe that she is with us anymore. She and I both had non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Gene and I had a couple of discussions about our common experiences. I pulled through but I don’t believe that she was able to do the same.

I think your talking about Gene's daughter Tami and yes she did pass but I'm not sure of the cause. Georgie told me yesterday that Kim is around and doing well.

#246 34 days ago
Quoted from pinballlife:

It was the offical bankruptcy auction. Are those federal? Heck, I don't know. Luckily I have never had to gain much of an understanding of what is all involved in bankruptcy proceedings.
Nothing was sold before the *auction*. It wasn't an auction in the typical *live auction* sense. PPS had put in a bid and that bid had to be topped before a certain date. I think Wayne cleared up how it all worked with the documentation he posted.

Yes its federal... they basically were liquidating his assets... trustee is responsible in trying to obtain the best outcome in terms of return for the creditors. Sounds like in this case they went around soliciting bids from buyers to try to arrange a sale. Like you said, not a live auction... but auction in the sense the assets were sold off to the highest bidder by the trustee.

What we really need is james and darrin (sp) from Phoenix arcades to tell us about james days before the “north amercian pinball parts alliance”... how that whole three way came together... fell apart... and the closing chapters of how he helped pushed gene into bankruptcy

#247 34 days ago
Quoted from flynnibus:

What we really need is james and darren (sp) from Phoenix arcades to tell us about james days before the “north amercian pinball parts alliance”... how that whole three way came together... fell apart... and the closing chapters of how he helped pushed him into bankruptcy

Kerry Stair with Mantis Amusement, James Loflin with Pinball Inc and Darin Jacobs with Phoenix Arcade. The three if them could write a book about dealing with Gene.

#248 34 days ago
Quoted from Bryan_Kelly:

Kerry Stair with Mantis Amusement, James Loflin with Pinball Inc and Darin Jacobs with Phoenix Arcade. The three if them could write a book about dealing with Gene.

Kerry has a book all to himself.

15
#249 34 days ago

I'll give you a pinball consumer point of view. I bought my first pin, a TZ, in 2001. I jumped right in not knowing anything about pinball other than I liked playing at the arcades as a kid. I paid $1800. A really nice one mind you, not a beater project. I didn't even know that Williams had closed it's pinball division like 2 years before that TZ purchase. There was no manufacturer or distributor to got to for help. You had to learn for yourself. At the time, there was no Pinside. There were no leagues. There were no pins on location. No local experts I knew about. Really, to me, there was
rec.games.pinball and Clay's guides. I read that forum every day and read through Clay's guides, and these were incredibly helpful for me the noob. I had TZ for about 2 years before getting the itch to buy another. I ended up getting IJ and MM. The IJ was just over $3000 and the MM was just over $4000. Both were in immaculate shape. True "collector quality." In the early 2000's, MM was like a holy grail and I got one. Having multiple games at that time made me come to the realization that parts were almost impossible to find. There was a whole black market of parts that came and went over time. It was weird because no one was "officially" making parts, under license. The black market manufacturer would eventually get shut down for making parts without a license. No parts from the person with the license, and if you decided to make your own and sell them, even out of sheer need, you'd get shut down. So in this environment of being able to get really good Bally/Williams games for a few thousand dollars and knowing that parts would be hard to get, BBB gets announced. I must have read about it on rec.games.pinball. I do remember that you had to email Illinois Pinball and they sent you a return email that you faxed back as a commitment. I'm just about positive the game was going to be $5000 and limited to 180 games total. At the time, I thought that was a huge amount of money. It was the highest amount I had ever heard of for a pin. There were no $8000, $10,000, or $15,000 NIB pins at that time. $5000 was a huge amount of money to ask, especially because they were going to be build, not built and ready to ship. I passed. Everyone who forked over the $5000 took a huge risk and my hats off to them that it paid off, but the machines took well over a year to get from time of payment. A lot of uncertainty, especially for the buyers. Now I see them going for $20,000 and I think good for the person who took the risk. Sometimes I regret not buying a BBB when I had the chance, but that could have easily ended up a $5000 loss. I do remember sometime after BBB got made, Illinois Pinball had an "open house" and they were selling parts for either one day only or a weekend. I saw pictures of parts that were socked away and you could actually buy and I couldn't believe it. It may have been a bankruptcy sale. Now THAT I regret not going to. There was a time not long ago, that pinball was dead from a pinball consumer point of view. I'm very appreciative of those who somehow kept it going and even getting it back into the mainstream. Amazing.

#250 34 days ago

Fascinating thread.

I don't have any direct Gene Cunningham stories to tell. However, I will pass on a couple that Keith Johnson shared during the charity stream Special When Lit ran a few months ago as they were pretty entertaining and I've not seen them mentioned in this thread.

The first is that Gene originally was looking at buying Williams pinball and keeping it going. Initially this had a lot of interest with the engineers who had been working at Williams. Over time as the discussions continued the group shrunk down (as folks found other jobs and such) to Gene plus four others (one of which was Keith) that were committed to making it happen. It all was looking good until the equity split. The four non-Gene individuals all went in assuming equal equity stakes (so 20% each). At a subsequent meeting Gene stated he was getting 50%, the four other partners would have 49%, and Gene's daughter would get 1%. The potential partners insisted it needed to be equal and Gene said no. Keith stayed at Stern, the other three formed Pat Lawlor Design, and Gene did what Gene did.

The second involves Cactus Canyon. Years after the first story another company was looking to remake Medieval Madness and Cactus Canyon. Gene owned the rights to the patent on the Cactus Canyon drop targets (which were a single-coil design unique to that game). Gene wasn't paying the upkeep on it but still would have been able to keep it. But Keith had interest in the coil design for a possible game in the future, and wasn't pleased with Gene's prior behavior, and never told him and the patent expired.

Here's a link to my source. Keith tells the story far better than my summary. There's a brief gap between story one and story two. Link should take you to the very start of story one and story two ends about ten minutes after that.

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