THE VETERAN COLLECTOR
Dave Wolper has been collecting arcade hardware – mostly pinball, but with some well-known videogame cabinets also thrown in for good measure – for nearly 20 years, which means he’s watched the scene evolve from its early days as a hardcore hobbyist pursuit to the modern scene, which see sites such as Ebay strewn with options for the aspiring arcade machine owner. Along the way, his knowledge of mechanics has helped to keep his prized machines in prime running condition.
How did you get started? It was in the mid-1990s. Street Fighter II:
Championship Edition and a Capcom Final Fight were the first arcade machines I had, and then I bought a Night Rider pinball in 1999. When my friend moved, he sold it to me for 25 bucks. That’s how it started. How much do you think you’ve spent on your collection over the years? Well, back when I was buying the stuff it was relatively cheap compared to what it is today. You know, it was only $1,200–$2,000 for a
Twilight Zone back then. So maybe $20,000 to $25,000 on everything. Tell us about the rarest item you have in your collection. The rarest would be the Breakshot and the Pinball Magic, because I believe they made
1,000 Breakshots and 1,200 of the Pinball Magics. I got those at the Allentown Pinball Show. It was a package deal for both. Those would be the rarest games I have.
What type of pinball do you look for? Fast-paced and nothing clunky. There has to be something going on all the time, and it has to be hard. If the game’s easy, that’s no good.
How do you maintain everything? I’m a mechanical person in general. The learning curve was steep. Many blown-out transistors [laughs], blown-out board problems, and thinking that the stripped wire on a pinball machine is the positive when it may not be. It could be – you think it’s a ground but it’s really a positive wire [laughs]. So, yeah, there’s been a learning curve. I do everything myself except really technical stuff. When it gets deep into the boards and there are problems that you just can’t find and you need equipment to find it, then I’ll send it out. What kind of reaction do you get when people see the collection for the first time? I get the jaw drop at first because you don’t see pinball machines out in public very often any more. In terms of keeping the machines alive, I use a game at least once a day – once in the morning or once at night. Maybe eight to ten minutes per game, or it might be three games in ten minutes, depending how hard that I suck at playing [laughs]. Out of the 30, 40 pins I have, if you play one game once a day, they only get used 12 times a year, which isn’t really much. The people that are my age come down and they see Street Fighter II and games like Terminator 2 and they run to those. Twilight
Zone, The Addams Family – it’s always like, “Ooh, where did you get these games? How much did they cost?” [Laughs] And I explain to them that, when I bought them, they didn’t really cost that much. You know – mintcondition Terminator 2: $1,200 [laughs]. Do you get a lot of people who’ll see a game and say, “Oh, I remember playing that in an old pizza parlour!”
Mostly the arcade games. Maximum Hang Time,
the basketball one from when Dennis Rodman was playing – I’m not a sports guy; I just played a few of these games when I was younger, so that’s why I bought them. Lethal Enforcers was in every 7-Eleven and deli around.
Final Fight, the Multicade, and the Street Fighter games – people come down here and go right for those, for nostalgic reasons. How has the coin-op collecting scene changed in recent years? The pinball used to be a hobby – you know: buy one, fix it up. It was cool to have the machine. But I think to many people it’s almost like a business now – and I understand why – where you try to squeeze every dollar you can out of the game to make your next purchase. It may have hurt some people, because salaries haven’t increased at the same rate as the increase in pinball prices recently. If you’re new to the hobby and you look at a Twilight Zone or an Addams Family for $6,900 dollars, or Dr Who or Whodunnit for $3,500, it gets real pricey if you want to have five games in your collection. You know, it’s almost 20 grand for five games, whereas I’ve spent 20 grand on 30 games. What keeps you motivated to ensuring that everything stays in good shape? Like I said, I’m really mechanical. So, bringing things back from the dead, maintaining things like small lubrication points, and sockets that have gone bad, and connections that have gone bad is something that I like to do to keep myself busy. Some people will hunt for a hobby – maybe they’ll go bowling on Wednesday nights – and my hobby is to keep the game alive, and keep it in the condition that it was meant to be in when it was out in the field. Do you see this continuing as a hobby forever? Do you think about the future? Because I have most of my games, the hunt for the game – the late nights of driving hundreds of miles to get a game – has slowed down. By the time I’m 60, my vision will probably have changed to where leaning over and trying to solder something in the bottom of a playfield will be a much harder task then it is now [laughs].
What would be your Holy Grail game? Hmm… I’ll tell you, I’ve got all the games I want so far. Of course, there are games out there a collector would like to have just for the ‘I have it’ factor – not necessarily because the game’s great or even good. I’ve heard of a lot of these games, such as Haunted House, which sounds right up my alley because lots of things go wrong with it. Supposedly it’s hard to keep it in wonderful shape. But I have a Star Trek:
The Next Generation, which is enough to take care of – talk about broken parts!
“IF YOU’RE NEW TO THE HOBBY, IT GETS REAL PRICEY IF YOU WANT TO HAVE FIVE GAMES IN YOUR COLLECTION”
Name Dave Wolper Location Centereach, New York Three favourite coin-ops JudgeDredd, NoFear:DangerousSports, WorldCupSoccer
Cabinets in collection 38
NoFear:Dangerous Sports (Williams, 1995)
Owning a collection of pinball cabinets of this scale requires not just expertise, but plenty of spare parts
Original flyer for Judge
Dredd (Bally, 1993)