Pinball lives on with collection

NORTH HILLS- Stephen Scohy’s North Hills basement is a step back in time.

The walls are adorned with late 1970s, early 1980s memorabilia including glass placards advertising arcade games, candy and gum machines.

There’s also a soundtrack. Scohy bought recordings of the 1980s American Top 40, complete with advertisements.

And then there’s the games, more than two dozen vintage pinball and arcade machines. The machines in the basement are only part of Scohy’s collection, most of which date between 1976 and 1984.

“It’s a crazy hobby that keeps me sane,” he said.

Scohy has acquired and repaired about 60 pinball machines and close to 25 video arcade games; most were games he played as a kid at the Escape Hatch, the Corner Pocket and FunLand. His Dig Dug machine used to sit at Skate County in south Parkersburg.

He started collecting pinball machines in 1999 when he rediscovered his love for the games.

He bought his first pinball machine, Rock.

“Growing up in Vienna there wasn’t much to do,” he said.

As a kid, Scohy would mow lawns and shovel snow to earn money to go to the arcade.

“Pinball was the first game I was good at,” he said. “I had a crowd that would watch me play.”

It wasn’t long after he started purchasing the machines that Scohy got into repairing them.

“The second game I got broke,” he said.

Scohy learned how to fix it from the Internet and from a friend in Boaz, William McCormick. He has learned to repair the machines and now prefers to purchase ones that no longer work.

“It’s more fun to play detective and fix them,” he said.

In the 14 years he’s been collecting, Scohy also has amassed a collection of parts and play fields. Scohy will scout the Internet and want ads for machines he can repair.

His favorites are people who call him offering to sell machines that used to work.

“One day it worked, and next day it quit,” they’d say, he said.

One of his most-recent completions was the Big League game that sat in the cafeteria at G.C. Murphy’s at the mall.

“My fingers touched it as kid,” he said.

Scohy bought it off the former owner of the Escape Hatch. He looked for parts for years before locating another machine in South Carolina. Refurbished, it now sits in his living room.

Some games are impossible to fix or not worth fixing, Scohy said. The batteries in the machines, which sat dormant in a warehouse for years, can leak and ruin the wiring.

Other machines, he said, were sabotaged by operators who didn’t want to sell them for fear it would show up in a competitor’s game room.

“It was worth more to them to sit in a warehouse,” he said.

Scohy’s most recent purchase is a 1976 Elton John-themed Captain Fantastic pinball machine. He bought it from a family in Pittsburgh that had it in the family room since the early 1980s.

Scohy’s wife and stepson also enjoy his hobby. His wife is a fan of Ms. Pac Man and Centipede. His 9-year-old stepson enjoys almost all the games and likes to help work on and refurbish the machines.

Scohy enjoys the arcade games, but it’s pinball machines that attract him.

“With pinball you could win free games, which is fascinating to a 10-year-old,” he said.

Scohy can close his eyes and recite the Escape Hatch’s wall of pinball machines.

“Twenty of them,” he said. “And that’s from 1981.”

His favorite machines are Rock, Rolling Stones and Black Knight, one of his favorites as a kid.

Scohy owns a pair of rare machines: a 1982 Spectrum and a 1981 Solar Fire. Less than 1,000 of each were made.

That’s compared to KISS and Rolling Stones pinball machines, of which more than 19,000 were produced.

He bought the Spectrum outside Charleston a few years ago. It was featured in a book about pinball machines. The Solar Fire, made by Williams Electronics, is a beautiful game, but was inferior to the competition at the time, Scohy said.

“It was a bad year for Williams,” Scohy said. “The Solar Fire was part three of a four-part series. It has no speech, and generic sound effects. The company didn’t have the money to make upgrades.”

The company went under in 1985.

Pinball machines, a one-time staple of arcades, are disappearing. Scohy said there’s only a handful of manufacturers today.

New machines cost $6,000-$8,000. They are more for home use rather than arcades.

Scohy’s games are not set to free play; there are cups of quarters on each machine. The quarters and the sounds they make to start the game are part of the nostalgia, he said.

Only a third of his machines-more than 30-are at the house, spread over the main floor and basement. The rest are in storage in a warehouse.

He has no interest in selling his games. His long-range plan is to open an arcade, though he has no plans to quit his job as a real estate appraiser.

For players of Scohy’s age who grew up visiting arcades, they are becoming a thing of the past.

He hates to walk through arcades now.

“You don’t see Gorf or Joust,” he said. “Wow, where does the time go.”