Stepping into Howard Vangool’s basement, one is greeted by a multitude of flickering lights accompanied a disjointed chorus of swooshes, clicks, gunfire and the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 proclaiming, “I am the future.”
The lights and sounds emanate from Vangool’s collection of pinball machines. There are currently 10 machines, along with a vintage “cocktail table” arcade machine, a converted upright cabinet arcade machine, a Japanese three-reel slot machine and a pachinko machine.
While the Terminator 2 pinball machine may have been the future in 1991 when it was released, all of the machines in Vangool’s collection are both retro yet trendy, as pinball is seeing a resurgence, both competitively and as sought-after collectibles.
“Five years ago, pinball was basically unknown. Now, there are pinball stores running full time… It’s actually amazing, we’re almost at a renaissance, a new age of pinball machines,” said Vangool. “For pinball people, there are some machines that are coming out that are just incredible. Lord of the Rings started it off probably six or seven years ago.”
Five years ago, the Shuswap photographer picked up his first pinball machine, Data East’s Time Machine, a game that allows players to travel back in time from the 1980’s, to the ’70s, ’60s and the 1950s when the machine simulates an older, pre-digital pinball complete with bell chimes.
Vangool got into playing Time Machine and soon after found himself responding to an ad for a used Lethal Weapon pinball machine. And so the collection began.
“I have an electronics background, so people were phoning me and saying, ‘hey, I’ve got one of these in my basement but it doesn’t work. Can you come and fix it?” said Vangool. “So I’d go over there and take a look. Each one of these machines has its own story, basically.”
One of Vangool’s more memorable pinball purchases took him to Rossland in the West Kootenays. It was for Comet, a Williams Electronic Games Inc. machine from 1985.
“It was the first one (digital pinball) to have the million point shot on it… It was a big deal when it came out,” said Vangool. “So the guy said, ‘I’ve had this machine for 14 years and I’ve only made the million shot three times or four times in my life.’ So I get it home and start playing it and that night I got the million point shot three times.”
With their popularity increasing, Vangool said decent old pinball machines have become harder to find. When he gets them, Vangool has no problem lifting the playing field and doing the repairs needed to get them back in tip-top condition – provided the parts are available.
“I’m always looking for machines,” stresses Vangool. “If anybody has got a machine sitting in their basement or whatever, I always offer the fairest price I can. If it’s not working, I can’t offer a ton of money because – usually it’s a board gone or something like that, boards can cost $300, and then I have to put in $200 worth of LEDs.”
Vangool has had up to 15 pinball machines and sells them from time to time. There are a few, however, that will remain staples to his collection.
“I probably would never sell GoldenEye or Lethal Weapon and probably not Terminator – Each one of these is worth $3,000 and probably more,” said Vangool.
Asked if there’s a particular machine he’d like to add, Vangool says there’s a few, but the 1997 Williams’ classic, Medieval Madness, tops the list.
“Medieval Madness is actually being remade because it was named as the number one, most wanted pinball machine…,” said Vangool. “That one for sure. To find one in somebody’s basement or something would be awesome.”