Greg Peck Is Hooked On Pinball
Story and photos by SUZANNE BOYCE Special to The Ledger
If you ask Greg Peck of Mexico, how he got hooked on pinball machines, he'll probably tell you, "Well, it started with a dirt bike."
"I had this dirt bike, and with the family and all, I just didn't have time to use it much," Peck stated. "I always loved playing pinball on the computer, so I thought I could sell the bike and take that money and buy a pinball machine."
Peck admits he was never much of a "pin monkey" in his youth. Although there were machines in old country stores, he didn't often plunk down his nickel to play a game. Instead he waited until he was an adult, teaching drafting at Mexico Area Vocational-Technical School, to begin his adventure into flippers and bonus games.
When the dirt bike sold, Peck began his search on the Internet. He found someone willing to sell a Williams Rollergames which was "supposed to be in really good shape." There were a few bulbs burned out, which he was able to replace without much problem, but an overheating plug on a circuit sent him to co-worker Mark Murphy (electronics instructor) for advice.
Before long the machine was working so well, Peck showed it to a friend. This friend, also interested in purchasing a machine, made a trip to St. Louis, shopped around, then returned to Mexico and asked Peck if the Rollergames was for sale. After giving it some thought, Peck sold this machine and used the money to purchase a Stern Galaxy. The Galaxy, about 10 years older than his first purchase, "didn't look too good."
Peck began this challenging project by working on the game's processor board. He replaced chips and learned to solder. The entire board had been reworked before Peck discovered one of the first parts he had replaced was defective. Rather than being discouraged, Peck was elated he'd done so much and "didn't mess anything up!"
The playfield was the next area to receive attention. Most playfields are pictures painted over wood and then varnished. The steel balls wear away at the paint, and the Galaxy was missing quite a bit of color. In fact, in some places the design was worn away to the wood.
Peck began applying acrylic enamel model car paint, matching the colors carefully, and doing a lot of cleaning. He found "fantastic" information on the Internet to help complete the repairs and before long he was fixing, playing, and selling - always on the lookout for a new machine to play.
"I've never gotten the same machine twice. I just buy what interests me, then I fix it to my standards. The hardest thing is finding ones that are fixable."
Peck finds his machines by trial and error. A call to old vendors landed a chance to visit an old warehouse. While wife, Nicole, prowled the other old games, Peck found some machines worth working on. He has also contacted vendors who are still in business. As machines age and are taken out of circulation, they become just the type of treasure Peck is searching for. He is also aware of pinball machine auctions, but has yet to attend one.
"I sell and buy person to person," Peck stated. "These things are machines. If you ship it and something happens and it doesn't work when it gets there, you'd feel awful."
But every rule seems to have an exception. Peck was approached by a buyer in Massachusetts who insisted on purchasing a machine and having it shipped. A visit to the MoPinball Web site contains photos detailing the extensive packing details involved in delivering a Taxi pinball machine to its new owner.
"He already owned several machines and knew what to ask. I really wouldn't recommend shipping one."
In fact, Peck has very strong feelings about purchasing a game.
"Go see it and play the game. Ask them face to face if there's anything not working. Be sure it's fun to play. I've had people be too embarrassed to play a game in front of me because they haven't played that much, so I play it for them."
When pinball was at its height, Chicago reigned as the world's pinball center. Nearly 90 to 95 percent of all pinball machines ever made were created in the Windy City. Now Chicago hosts one company, Stern, and production has dwindled from several hundred thousand machines per year in the 1990s to 10,000.
Pinball machines have also changed from electro-mechanical with bells and buzzers, to complicated computer driven machines. Software drives the play of the ball, the length of play, and can diagnose problems with components of the game or regions of the playing field. Vendors can set the amount of play time to the minute, making players' skills reflected in high scores rather than lengthened play time.
"Most people think the whole game is keeping the ball above the flippers. To play well you need to hit certain shots - to control the ball. The new machines will even tell you what you need to do next. They have "combos" or sequences of shots. Skill is learning to control the ball to get it to go where and when you want it."
Pinball games have "modes" or levels similar to popular computerized games, and according to Peck, they can be just as popular for home use. He describes the construction as "sturdy" and "industrial" since most pinball games were built to survive hours of play in a public place. Machines can also be adjusted to suit the owner's skill level with variances in play time, number of balls, and free games - if you have the "know how."
But where do you get the "know how?" Try logging on to www.mopinball.com. Peck's Web site will tell you everything you need to know from transporting to purchase price. He provides suggestions, links to data bases, and a multitude of photographs displaying cabinet art and playing fields. Rules, dimensions, year of release, artists and designers are all included. Peck also advertises his pinball repair service and lets the public take a peek at his next restoration project.
So how long does he plan to continue?
"I'll probably stay in it to afford to buy some machine I haven't had before. I don't want it to get any bigger," Peck admits.
Which makes perfect sense, because if he got too busy he'd never get a chance to enjoy his handiwork.
Copyright 2003 Mexico Ledger. All rights reserved
Reprinted from Mexico Ledger with author's permission