THE PINBALL FANATIC
Like most coin-op collectors, Brendan Bailey grew up in an era when arcade games were easy to find. Unlike most others, though, he started collecting at the age of seven. Today, he’s amassed 25 cabinets, and is focused largely on the lure of the silver ball.
How did you get started? Well, I got exposed to pinball at a really young age. The earliest I can remember, I was three years old and my dad took me to a Nathan’s hot dog place in Coram which had a huge game room attached to it with something like ten pinball machines in it, and I gravitated to those games right away. But arcades disappeared real quick. That Nathan’s closed. The game room went out of business. All the other arcades where I used to play pinball went out of business, so my dad made the fateful decision to buy me a pinball machine when I was seven years old, back in 1995. He bought me a 1978 Stern Lectronamo, and I still have it. It broke down around 2001, 2002, and I decided that I wanted to fix this thing. So I opened it up and I found the fuse that had broken, replaced it, and that’s sort of what got me into the hobby. From that point on, it was like, “Ooh, there’s other games I can go explore…” How much do you think you’ve spent on your collection over the years? Not as much as you might think. I’ve got a
Riverboat Gambler right behind me that I didn’t pay for – it was given to me. I’m thinking for all 25 games… I probably haven’t spent over $10,000 dollars. I think, if you factor in the money I’ve made from selling games after I’m done fixing them up, it probably works out less than that, so maybe it’s between $5,000 and $7,000 for all 25 games.
What types of game do you go after? Easy answer: late-’80s Williams pinball machines, also known as the System 11 era. Those are the games I grew up playing. They were really heavy in the arcades into the 1990s, with games like The Addams Family and Twilight
Zone coming out. The late-’80s System 11 Williams games were everywhere in the arcades – games like Pinbot, High Speed, Cyclone, F-14
Tomcat and Dr Dude. I just love the originality of those games, and I much prefer them to newer games with licensed themes.
Which of your games is the rarest? Without question, the rarest game I have is Bromley’s Little Pro, which isn’t a true pinball game but what’s known as a mannequin golfer. It was a redemption game that the company Bromley put out in 1990 or 1991 and it’s basically a miniature golf game. There are only 250 of those games on the planet, and who knows if that many are still in existence, but I’ve got one of them that’s fully working and in good shape.
How do you maintain everything? When it comes to pinball, I do all my own repairs. I try my hardest to fix it myself before sending a part out to get it repaired. I’ll experiment with doing circuit-board work even if I don’t really know what I am doing. I’ll look up what other people have done and ask for help and try to figure it out. With pinball, I do complete restorations and I do all my own work. When it comes to videogames, I’ll do restoration work like cosmetic restoration – changing stickers, painting stuff and refinishing stuff. When it comes to monitor work I haven’t done a ton of work in that area, so I’ll do some monitor adjusting, but if the monitor needs a cap job or something a little bit more complex I’ll either send that out or have a friend who’s more experienced work on it with me. Does having a collection of this size ever present any problems? Not really, because I know that if it ever became a financial problem I could get out of it because I’m very thrifty with the purchases I
“I’M FORTUNATE THAT I’M ABLE TO HAVE THESE AWESOME GAMES AND SHARE THEM. I DON’T TAKE THAT FOR GRANTED”
make. I try to go after games that are well priced so I know that when I’m done with it I can either get my money back or make some money. Not that I’m into the hobby to make money, but at my age and the amount of money that I make, I have to be careful not to really burn myself. But at any given time if I needed money and I had to sell a game, I know that I wouldn’t lose money on it. I’m really fortunate that I’m able to have these awesome games and share them with people, and it’s a luxury, and I don’t take that for granted. If things start to go badly, I know that they can be a financial resource, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
How much use does your collection get?
Well, in terms of the games that are in our office [at work], they get a ton of use because we host a monthly gathering here called The Long Island Arcade Club, which is a free group that anyone can join on meetup.com. We also have the website LongIslandArcadeClub.com, which redirects to the meetup group. Kids to adults, collectors, uncollectors – we have a huge variety of different people who join the group and come to the meetups and they see the games, they play the games.
Not one person that comes into this office and sees our games has a negative reaction. I mean, everybody’s eyes just light up. Clients of ours that see the games love to hang out and play them and chat with us. It brings them back to their youth, and it’s interesting to see who gravitates towards the videogames and who gravitates towards the pinball games, because you never know what somebody’s into. People joke about having all the games in the office – like: “How do you get any work done?” But obviously we do. The reaction that people have to seeing the games is always just immensely positive and exciting. It’s just joy. Is the coin-op collecting scene really competitive, or is it harmonious? It can be both. It’s competitive in the respect that when a great deal comes up, you know there will definitely be people fighting to get there, and you have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. I mean, I’ve seen a Craigslist ad, and within five minutes of contacting the person I’ve hopped in the car with everything I need to move a game, because there are certain types of deals that pop up and you know that they won’t last. I mean, you have to be on it. You have to have notifications on your phone for Craigslist and Ebay, for example.
But it’s also harmonious in as much as I’ve never met a group of people who are so willing to help each other out, especially when it comes to stuff that you’re unfamiliar with. I’ve made some incredible friends from the arcade club, and when I do run into a problem I’ve got friends that know the answer to it, and within a moment’s notice they’re over there helping me fix it. So how do people around you, especially people at your workplace who aren’t into arcade games, feel about your hobby? They sort of associate it with my identity, in a way – whenever something happens in their lives that involves pinball or an arcade game, or they see a game out in the wild, they’ll get in touch with me. They’ll take a picture with their phone and send it to me, or they’ll say to me, “Hey, a family member of mine is selling a game – are you interested?” I’ve ended up acquiring a bunch of games that way. What do you think lies ahead for your collection in the future? I just bought a condo, so the arcade collecting has slowed down significantly. I’m not really in the position to go out and chase down games on a regular basis, and that’s also due in part because I’m pretty much out of room at the moment. So, as far as the immediate future goes, before I buy anything else, something’s going to have to go. And how long it takes me to sell a game is different depending on how much I like the game. But something’s gonna go, and something else will take its place.
What keeps me motivated is, without question, the arcade club – having the monthly meetups and getting a rush of energy in here every month. You know, enthusiasm for the games and people playing them – that kind of keeps me going, and that’s definitely what gets me keeping them working and trying to get new games in here for people to play. It’s a life-long passion. If it’s lasted this long, it’s never going away! [Laughs.]
What’s your Holy Grail game? I already have it. I have probably the nicestcondition Pinbot pinball machine you’re likely to ever see. I bought it from this great guy named Steve from New Jersey who did an absolutely unbelievable restoration on it, to the point where he actually re-screenprinted the playfield by hand and completely restored the game to beyond like-new condition. He offered it to me at an unbelievably reasonable price given the amount of work he put into it. If there’s one game that’s never leaving the collection, it’s that Pinbot. It’s my favourite game, and it’s in unbelievable condition. So I think I already got the Grail.
Name Brendan Bailey Location Coram, New York Three favourite coin-ops Pinbot, MarbleMadness, BanzaiRun
Cabinets in collection 25
It’s not pinball, but it does at least have a ball in it: MarbleMadness
Keeping a collection at the workplace ensures plenty of interest from clients (and not a little distraction)