I didn’t really get into to pinball machine collecting until maybe 15 years ago, but when I was a freshman in college, video games were really big. I went to Purdue University. They had a huge arcade there. I always said that Space Invaders and Pac-Man took so much of my money—money that I really didn’t have—that it would have been cheaper to just buy one of those machines.
So one day I went to an auction of coin-operated video games. They had pinball machines there, too, including a 1980 Spider-Man machine. This is about 1988, so the game’s only eight years old. They started bidding at a hundred dollars, and nobody’s bidding. I drag it home and set it up, and sure enough a few things don’t work on it. And of course I don’t know how to fix it, but I go through it, figure it out, and it’s rewarding.
So I started buying these machines, tried to figure out how to fix them, and started to network with other guys who were buying games. I’d say, “Hey, I have this problem, how do you fix that?” You couldn’t find anybody to repair them. As time progressed, I just started buying more games, figuring out how to fix them, and I would run an ad in the paper—“Buying pinball machines, broken or working.” I would get a zillion calls.
Over the course of talking to people, I was developing this library of repair information. Then, in about 1995, I got a new job, and they had this crazy thing at work called Internet access. I’m like, “Wow, I can post all my repair stuff on the Internet.” I made a database and it just kept growing until I ended up with this huge website called PinRepair.com.
As part of the hobby, I went to the Pinball Expo in Chicago. This was about 1999, and they had all these seminars with people involved in the industry—programmers, game designers, service guys. The next year we presented a demonstration at the show about repairing games. As a joke, we said, “We’re going to make a videotape,” just a goofy, comedy videotape on pinball repair. And so we came up with this Norman-Shaggy thing, where I was Shaggy, the guy with long hair, and Norm was the guy who you never, ever saw, but he talked with a Boston accent. It was loosely based on This Old House, so we called it This Old Pinball. It was a weird morph of a bunch of ideas.
We showed the tape after our repair seminar, and people just went nuts, saying, “Hey, can I get a copy?” And we’re like, “We’re not selling this. It was just a one-time thing.” So then this guy comes up to me and says, “Look, I’m running this pinball hall of fame thing in Las Vegas. I’ll sell your video, and I’ll give some of the money to the Salvation Army and some of the money to our nonprofit pinball hall of fame, and you’ll help a lot of people out.”
So we started making these videos, and we turned them into nine, two-hour DVDs. We’ve sold 5,000 of them, or something. It’s unbelievable.
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