At a high point in pinball’s popularity, a rock opera and a movie were made about it.
Mesa pinball machine restorer and collector Bruce Artman recalls those days with vivid imagery.
Now it seems bowling alleys, arcades and restaurants remain silent from the bells and whistles of pinball machines.
"I used to stand on a milk crate to play pinball when I was a little kid," Artman said. "I’d hang out at arcades when I was 16."
Artman began collecting pinball machines 15 years ago and started restoring them in 1999. To date, he has restored 25 pinball machines. Artman said his love for pinball fuels his projects.
"I started collecting out of necessity," Artman said. "You just can’t play pinball games anymore."
Even though Artman doesn’t need a milk crate to play anymore, the kid comes out when he talks about his pinball machines.
"My favorite pinball sound is when the turbines speed up for multi-ball in The Addams Family," said Artman about a particular machine. "It gives me chills."
The pinball machine is hooked up to an external sub-woofer, which amplifies the whirring sound so that it shakes glass in the room.
Also in the cornucopia of games — Pinbot, Indiana Jones and 12 other machines shine bright, occasionally grabbing attention by blaring out music in his home arcade.
Artman doesn’t "shop" the machines he buys, which means he only repairs a pinball machine minimally for resale, but he fully restores them.
His restoration process is meticulous. Sometimes he spends more than 90 hours making plastic ramps shine like glass, fixing the electronics and buffing and repainting the cabinet or playing field.
"You might have played some of these pins before, but they never looked this good," Artman said. "They don’t come out of the factory looking like this."
Artman, who works in repairing and troubleshooting computer hardware, said he sometimes sells his machines, but he’s a collector first. His current project is a replica of Elton John’s Captain Fantastic pinball machine featured in the 1975 film "Tommy.’’
He doesn’t plan on selling it — or any of the other machines in his arcade room.
"If these machines have made it in here, they’re not going anywhere," Artman said. "It’s a pain getting them through the laundry room."
Although Artman sells a few of his games, he plans on entering the pinball business by selling after-market modifications kits for the machines. He said improving older machines by adding new paints, graphics or neon lights gives them a new playability.
He said this is an excellent way to keep the machines up to date since companies stopped producing new ones. He said pinball is disappearing completely because arcades and businesses can’t profit from them as they did in the past.
"It’s like a piece of mechanical Americana is gone," Artman said.
Find out more
For information on pinball restoration, call Bruce Artman at (480) 380-2500 or visit http://groups-beta.google.com/group/rec.games.pinball.