Pinball machine adds zing to retro rec room

  • Story by Andy Rathbun Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, February 13, 2008 5:36pm
  • Life

The curtains were drawn and the lights were off in Kelvin Clark’s entertainment room, drawing the eye to a glow coming from the back of the room.

There, sandwiched between a foosball table and shelves of vintage toys, stood a pinball machine. On its back glass, a satanical-looking creature towered over a muscled hero, who cradled a damsel in a fur bikini.

Clark, an Everett resident, walked over to the machine, a Gorgar model from 1979. He called attention to details, like the pinball flipper buttons. He had replaced opaque white buttons with transparent red ones.

“It looks like you’ve got fire in your hands,” he said.

Propelled by a mix of nostalgia and some spending money, people like Clark can hunt down their teenage obsessions, turning a bowling alley’s pinball machine into an oddly attractive — albeit fairly kitschy — rec room centerpiece.

Signs of the machines’ popularity are abundant.

The Florida-based company BMI Gaming, a Web-based dealer, has seen revenues balloon from $852,000 in 2003 to about $10 million in 2007, founder David Young said. The company began in 2002 with sales of pinball machines.

People buying the machines are in their 40s and 50s, and sometimes looking to add a flourish that matches their game room decors, said Steve Martineau, a sales manager at Mountain Coin Machine Distributors in Auburn.

“Financially, they’re at a point where they can play with a little bit of money, and they’re saying, ‘I want to get that pinball machine,’” he said.

Nostalgia certainly was a driving force for Clark and his wife. The couple remember playing a Gorgar machine in high school.

“It became a Friday, Saturday night thing,” Clark, 48, said. “It went on for quite awhile actually.”

“That was what us kids would do,” Debbie Clark added. “Play foosball, play pinball, go to Herfy’s, cruise Colby, go back and play pinball. There was nothing else to do.”

The high school sweethearts drifted away from the game until recently, when Kelvin Clark played a Star Trek pinball machine in Seattle. He decided he wanted his own.

His wife, not a Star Trek fan, suggested he get a Gorgar. After some hunting, he found one in good shape for $1,200.

The machine adds a colorful splash of retro-chic to the family’s entertainment room. If it were up to Clark, he would get another. Granted, his wife isn’t sold on the idea.

“I said, ‘Then you’re going to buy me another house,’” she recalled.

Reporter Andy Rathbun: 425-339-3455 or e-mail arathbun@heraldnet.com

Buying a pinball machine

Expect it to need service at some point. Places like Mountain Coin Machine Distributors and BMI Gaming have service networks to help.

Be wary of sites like eBay.com. Misleading photos can make a rundown machine look brand new.

Ready your bank account. Pinball machines range in price from about $500 for used machines to more than $6,000 brand new.

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