THE MUSEUM CURATOR
Some collect for fun, others for profit. For
Gary Vincent, curator of the American Classic Arcade Museum, it’s about preserving the rich history of the arcade – and, crucially, making it available for others to not just look at but experience. It’s a mission that began 17 years ago at the legendary Funspot arcade.
How did the museum get started? The museum started with an idea I had in the fall of 1998. I’ve always been a history buff – I was one of those kids that liked going to the museum or the historic attractions that every state has, whether it’s an old seaport or whatever. Those things always intrigued me – I was always amazed at how people were able to gather collections together of old things. So it got me thinking, and I said to Bob Lawton, the owner of Funspot, “Do you have any objection if I take what’s left of the old games here and put them in the corner up on the third floor, to kind of make a museum?” He liked the idea, so that’s what I did. In late ’98 I started moving games around and putting them all together up here. We did the first tournament in May of 1999 and it was like a confirmation to me that it was a good idea, because people loved it.
People have often asked, “Well, why do you leave a game as rare as Computer Space out on the floor where people can play it?” And I say, “Well, you know, that’s what they were made for.” That was the intent – for someone to play. If we put it behind some red velvet ropes with ‘do not touch’ signs, people would be able to see it and take pictures of it, but they would have no idea what the experience is like. I’ve compared it to having a film museum where people come in and look at roll after roll of film and metal canisters on top of shelves, and when somebody says, “Oh, I’d like to see that movie,” the response is: “Oh, no – they’re too rare. You can’t watch these movies”. I guess there is a need somewhere for something like that, but I always thought you should be able to experience it. And that’s what we’ve done all along here.
What’s the rarest item here? Maybe our Death Race game. I’m sure someone will see me say this and they’ll say, “Well, I know so and so has one, and this place has one,” but every Death Race I saw until the time we acquired ours was either a white cabinet with black graphics or a black cabinet with white graphics. Ours is a yellow cabinet with black graphics – I’ve never seen a yellow Death
Race. And it’s original.
Was that a donation or a purchase? We bought that off of Ebay. I think we paid $1,500, and then had to have it shipped here. The game had led a rough life, you could say. When we got it, we couldn’t even take it off the pallet – the moment we tipped it back on the hand truck, the bottom fell out of the cabinet with all the gas pedals and everything attached to it. So we had to push it back onto the pallet, ratchet-strap it back down and bring it, pallet and all, up to the storage building at the back of the property where it sat for probably a year and a half because I didn’t know what we were going to do with it.
Then we just made the decision that we were going to rebuild it. A lot of people helped with that. I started posting pictures on www. klov.com, which caught the attention of Brian Jones down in Florida. He said, “Wow, I wish I had side art to scan for that – nobody has scans of it.” So I told him I could ship him what was left of the side, because I wasn’t going to use it. We had already had to replace the two sides of the cabinet – one was broken in half and rotted off on the bottom; the other one was rotted off on the bottom, and both top corners were broken off the cabinet. I said to Brian, “I’ll warn you ahead of time – it smells really bad.” It was like a combination of old basement and swamp. Anyway, I sent the side of the game to Brian in Florida and he scanned it, and then Rich Lint from This Old Game [thisoldgame. com] out in Oregon saw the thread on KLOV and said, “Hey, if you can vectorise those images, I can make screens for that.” So Brian did that, and then Rich got in touch to say, “Hey, I was planning on coming out this year and I’d love to silk screen your cabinet for you”. I thought, wow, this is amazing. So we brought the cabinet in the shop here and he silk screened both sides of it. I was just so thrilled that somebody would do that. What sort of reactions do you get from other fans of classic arcade games when they walk into ACAM? My favourite thing is always seeing the expression on someone’s face when they first visit, because there aren’t many places like this. In the main room, we have pretty much nothing in there that is newer than about 1988/1989. All of the posters on the wall are of games of that vintage; all the music that plays in there is
“I WARNED HIM AHEAD OF TIME – IT SMELLED REALLY BAD. IT WAS LIKE A COMBINATION OF OLD BASEMENT AND SWAMP”
the same vintage. For them to step into that room is kind of like stepping through a time portal. I just like to see that big smile when people walk in and experience that. Most of the first-time visitors have either never experienced the heyday of an arcade or they haven’t been in one in 20 or 30 years. It’s a great trip down memory lane for them. I always enjoy talking to people about that.
What sort of things keep you motivated? I think the positive input I get from people who come here, and the volunteers that come and help, are always a great motivating force. And then, finding one of those obscure things that somebody will just call you about out of the blue, saying: “Hey, I have this and I can drop it off today.” It’s like, OK, AWESOME! [Laughs] You get re-energised because somebody was thinking of you and the museum. Presumably one of the biggest issues in the future will be CRT monitors, because they’re getting harder to track down. Oh, yeah. And now you see people putting rebuilt, used monitors on Ebay for over $200, and people are buying them. That is a problem. I mean, you really, really don’t want to put flat screens in these machines. You can tell that it’s got a flat screen. Does it play? Yeah. Does it look the same? No, not really. So that is a problem. I have gone to the dump several times myself and stripped television sets for picture tubes. That’s a messy job, and it’s very time consuming, but what can you do? Nobody makes picture tubes any more. Nobody’s going to start making them again. A lot of companies have sprouted up making replacement boards for pinball machines and such, which is fantastic. I’ve converted a lot of those that had acid damage on the boards or just became flaky and unreliable. It’s like: $200, buy a new board, stick it in, problem solved. That’s nice and easy because you can put that board in a box and ship it for about $4. But CRTs are big, they’re heavy, they’re difficult to ship without a ton of packaging. And where’s the need? I don’t think you can generate enough need to warrant making CRTs again. The chances of those coming back again are slim to none.
What’s your Holy Grail game? I would love to have a Sega Periscope. It came out in the 1960s; I believe it was actually the first game Sega manufactured. And it is a monster – it must be at least four feet wide, about seven feet tall and about eight feet deep. Absolutely a giant game but, if somebody said you could have whatever you want, I would want one of those. Given its complexity, surely restoring one of those would be nearly impossible. The thing is, the difference between the old electromechanical games and the modern videogames – and this is in no way meant to discredit the effort it takes to design a videogame, because the effort is huge – but you could almost say that everybody is playing with the same hardware nowadays. You’re sitting at a computer and you’re writing code for a game, but you look at some of the old electromechanical games – somebody couldn’t sit down and just write a program for that. Take a look in the back of this one [points to cabinet] if you want to see something. It has lightbulbs, plastic see-through scenery, projector lamps, motors, gears, chains, belts – even this old game, which is Drive Master from 1969. For the lifelike audio sounds, it had a table-model radio mounted in the front of the game with what looks like an eight-track tape in it that is about a third of the size of a normal eight-track tape. I’ve never seen the format before in my life. That’s what they were using for audio. And it’s all relays, and somebody had to engineer that so that everything would work together. I guess every era has its difficult things, but with those old electromechanical games, it seems you really had to build something with your hands. It was a lot more physical, to get it to the point where you could produce it and it would actually run.
What lies ahead for the museum’s future? We greatly enjoy doing educational programs. We have a programme with Champlain College, and I’ve had smaller school groups – individual classroom size – in here. I’ve had groups here with at-risk students, trying to refocus them into a better, more positive direction. Sharing everything, the history and so on, with students is really nice, and it’s something I enjoy greatly. So I think we’ll be getting more into educational programmes in the future.
Name Gary Vincent Location Weirs Beach, New Hampshire Three favourite coin-ops CrazyClimber, AlpineSki, DiscsOfTron (environmental version) Cabinets in collection 250 on the museum floor,
plus 175+ in storage
Alpine Ski (Taito, 1981)
and Crazy Climber (Nichibutsu, 1980)
Original flyer for
DiscsOfTron (Bally Midway, 1983)
With 250 working cabinets on the floor, the American Classic Arcade Museum is simply unrivalled in its field
The DiscsOfTron environmental cabinet