With strains of The Who’s classic “Pinball Wizard” in the background, the bells and electronic sounds of several pinball machines fill a storage building belonging to former Howard County Sheriff Marty Talbert.
Inside the building is Talbert’s collection of six pinball machines and an arcade shooting gallery game. Some he has restored with girlfriend Paula Beeson and the pair is always on the lookout for more unique machines.
Before computer-generated games hit the market in the 1990s, pinball machines were the game of choice.
Just about every shopping mall was home to an arcade, and candy stores and taverns usually had a collection of the machines.
At the height of their popularity, 1932, there were 150 companies producing pinball machines in the U.S., most of them located in Chicago. Two years later that number dropped to 15.
Pinball games were banned in New York City from the 1940s through 1976. A former New York City mayor was concerned school-aged children would spend their hard-earned pennies and nickels on the games. The ban was lifted after a court case where a company president showed pinball was a game of skill, not chance.
“I was visiting a guy on the west side of Kokomo who had an old-style machine,” Talbert said while working the flippers and gently bumping one of the machines in an effort to boost his score. “It brought back a lot of pleasant memories.”
Talbert said when he was a teenager in the 1970s, he would get off work at United Parcel Service and head to the Cedar Crest Bowling Alley.
“They had a game room,” he said. “We would play pinball and bowl all night. It was just a lot of fun. I got hooked.”
Talbert said it was a simpler time when pinball was the king of action games in the U.S.