By Ken de la Bastide Kokomo Tribune
---- — 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.
“When people come to visit, they want to play,” he said. “The younger kids are fascinated by the machines.”
Talbert said when he went on one of his first dates with Beeson, they discussed what things they liked.
Beeson’s grandfather owned a vending company in southern Indiana supplying jukeboxes, pool tables, pinball machines and vending machines to local businesses.
“I remember going with him to get the money out of the machines,” Beeson said. “I would love to find a game that has one of his stickers on the back.”
Beeson restored the shooting gallery game and regularly tops Talbert’s.
Talbert and Beeson revive the graphics and paint and the electronics are repaired by a friend in Russiaville.
“The parts are hard to find,” Talbert said. “There is a network on the Internet where you can find machines to purchase and get tips on making the repairs.”
Each of the games Talbert owns is a little different, each offering a different challenge to its player.
His favorite game is “Night Rider”, which they found for sale in Iowa.
Talbert also owns “Space Mission”, “Flip Flop”, two “Freedom” machines and is restoring a Grand Prix game that can register a score of up to 999,990.
Talbert is hard to beat on any of the games in his collection. He admits to having a “home field” advantage because of the amount of time he spends playing the machines.