Now he’s looking for a protege to take the reins – otherwise it’s game over.
Tim Arnold prizes his pinball machines.
Customers not so much.
He bought his first one at age 15 and soon began taking the contraptions apart to reveal their secrets.
Later in college he discovered he could make more fixing pinball machines than he could ever hope to make in any respectable job.
‘So I decided to sail off on that pirate ship’ he said ‘and I’ve been doing it ever since’.
Now 60 a wispy bespectacled man with a graying ponytail Arnold is among the planet’s most prolific pinball collectors with more than 1,000 machines – many of which are rare.
For years he has run the not-for-profit Pinball Hall of Fame in a 9,000-square-foot industrial palace just a few miles east of the Las Vegas Strip, this city’s better-known realm of high-rollers and bad breaks.
Staffed by volunteers it’s a buzzing ringing tilting mostly electronic wonderland where ageing pinball aficionados and their kids deposit up to four quarters to play 200 machines that Arnold has refurbished himself – including the prized Williams’ Black Gold – Bally’s Pinball Circus and Recreativos Franco’s Impacto.
The proceeds from the machines are donated to the Salvation Army.
Unlike that kid in the 1960s rock anthem by The Who Arnold isn’t deaf dumb or blind.
Still he faces a daunting challenge: these days, the old-timers have all retired or died off – leaving few wizards who can manage the machines’ precise workings.
Arnold knows he may be among the last of a pinball breed.
He’s looking for a protege with the skills to take over his arcade empire in an era where the 1970s and 80s electronic circuitry that are the guts of most machines have become as difficult to get as the treasure in a pinball pharaoh’s tomb.
One day at his cavernous warehouse where the lights are kept off (players prefer darkness to become one with the multicolored light show of their machines) Arnold stands under a workshop light – like a pinball Geppetto –
– laboring over a 1973 game called Triple X that operated on cogs and gears.