Whatever happened to …

… real pinball machines?

Thanks, Sheila Stewart for sending me a couple of suggestions for a Sunday post. And, she tweeted about it.

I’m going to go with this one first.

Growing up in a small town (Geesh, starting to sound like Jonny Harris here), there were two places to spend your lunch during the high school years. One was in the cafeteria at the school and the other was at German’s Pool Hall. The decision about which way to go often depended upon the weather.

The Pool Hall was a popular place and definitely for males. The only time I can remember anyone of the other gender coming in was when someone’s mom was looking for their child.

In the place, there were three pool tables and either two or three pinball machines. It wasn’t unusual to see lineups for all of them.

While some of the pinball machines were replaced on a rotating basis, I remember one that was always there. Doodle Bug.

Now, there was skill in playing this. In theory, it was all timing and reaction. But, the best players had a great deal of body motion as they tried to will the steel ball to the desired bumper.

These things were absolutely mechanical which meant lots of repairs necessary. The whole gaming bed would raise to reveal the electronics underneath. Of real importance was this little ball on a piece of wire that would make contact if the machine shook too much and generated the dreaded “TILT” message, ending your game.

Today, as Sheila notes, it’s pretty difficult to find an actual working pinball machine. Even Niagara Falls where there always was a place to enjoy them seems to have moved on. Every now and again you see them pop up on Storage Wars and they sell for big bucks if they work.

For a Sunday, how are your memories?

  • did you ever play a pinball machine?
  • do you remember one by name like I did with Doodle Bug?
  • have you ever seen a person cheat at the game? How?
  • there is a presence of pinball these days but digital on portable devices or on computers. Do you have one?
  • pool halls did have a nasty reputation in the day. Why do you think this was so?
  • for the female readers, would you stay away from a pool hall because it was deemed to be a male domain?

I’d love to read your responses and memories of these things. Please do so in the comments below. You can revisit all the past Sunday posts here.

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Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

7 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. So many different questions I could respond to here, but it was your last one that caught my eye. I stay away from pool halls just because of the pool game itself. There is a lot of math needed to succeed in that game, and my spatial awareness skills (or lack thereof), often make me beyond frustrated in not that long a time. I think I’ll find a place to enjoy a coffee and a good book instead! 🙂 Curious what others say. Thanks, as always, for the trip down memory lane!



    1. You’re right. There’s a great deal of mathematics and science in playing pool/billiards. Angle of incidence / Angle of reflection. Maybe we should install pool tables in every geometry class?


  2. Pinball! Mary Kay Goindi and I share a misspent youth of playing the tables at the long-gone arcade in Sauble Beach. I loved playing pinball – The Black Knight, Pinball Wizard (with a sparkly Tommy-era Elton). There was also a great game (I should really source the era) with mechanical baseball players, who would move around the bases as you hit. I have been known to use a little hip movement to keep the ball in play.
    My family occasionally gathers at the Nottawasaga in for celebrations. My mom saves her quarters so her grandsons (now aged 13-18) can go play in the arcade. Mr 18 has decent mechanical skill on Back to the Future (traditional pinball) and my guys both like Galaxion and Ms PacMan. It’s a fun trip back in time. A colleague also has a basement arcade with traditional pinball and early video games.

    Pool? My mom’s husband has a table in the house and my spatially aware kids like to play. I played at the pub in university, and had a female friend who was one of the best players I’ve seen. A dear friend in high school’s dad ran the downtown pool hall in London, but it was not a place we were encouraged to hang out.


  3. Thanks for writing about your memories on this! For a few years during my teens, there was a pinball arcade in my neighbourhood (on the Drive-in site), so it was an accessible hangout and I played on the machines a fair bit with my friends. There was also a popular “soccer table” (the little men attached to sliding bars type) for 4 to play at. That was a rowdy corner! I don’t recall any pinball game names, but I remember I had some favourites. I do recall some cheating attempts, but the “tilt” often kept some in check. When I think of the arcade, I can almost still hear the bing, ping, ring, click, clack… as part of that memory.

    There was a pool hall on Main St. in Kenora during my youth. It wasn’t fun to walk by there.. usually people (yes, males mostly) hanging out front and it felt intimidating. I never set a foot in there. We had a small pool table in our home for a few years — I enjoyed the game. Another fav of mine was shuffleboard at a local bar.. when I was “of age” course 🙂

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  4. We have a pinball machine in our living room – John and his grandfather restored it many years ago. It’s lots of fun, especially in the winter when there’s not much to do.
    In San Francisco, we went to a pinball and arcade museum at Fisherman’s Wharf where you can play all the old machines. I played a Raiders of the Lost Ark pinball machine that was a multi-ball game with ramps and all kinds of cool gadgets!


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