REMEMBRANCES, BY RUSS JENSEN
Every once in a while I start thinking of my early association
with pinball and remember little things, such as games I used
to play and the environments in which they were located. I have
decided to share some of these "remembrances" with you to give
you some insight into "where I came from" when it comes to pin
games, at least as far as my childhood was concerned.
FIRST PINBALL - As far as I can remember, the first pinball
machine I ever played was located in the Eagles Lodge hall on
Broadway in Glendale, California. I was about 8 years old and
once a week my mother took me for violin lessons in Glendale. At
some point in time the location of these lessons was moved from a
downtown building to the Eagles Lodge hall. The lessons were
given in one hour classes, and if you arrived early you had to
wait in the "lobby" until the previous class was finished.
While waiting in the lobby I noticed two interesting machines there.
One was a large console slot machine, and the other a pinball game
which had a picture of a street intersection on the backglass. I
remember on several occasions asking my mother for a nickel and
playing this machine.
It fascinated me; especially the little cars which
mysteriously appeared in the picture and advanced as the bumpers
were hit; a form of "light animation" with which I was to become
quite familiar in the future. I also remember the manufacturer's
name of this game as being Genco.
Several years ago, when answering an ad in the newspaper, I
found, and subsequently purchased, the game I had played at the
Eagles Lodge. It turned out to be Genco's STOP AND GO from 1938;
not to be confused with the game of the same name they put out in
1951. As soon as I saw the backglass of this game I knew it was
the game I had played as a kid. The machine, however, had a
repainted cabinet and I eventually traded it off after trying to
restore the cabinet art myself. In a way, I wish I had kept this
game as it was in very good shape, except for the cabinet art,
and was an excellent example of early backglass "light
ROCKET - When I was about 11 years old, some friends and I were
"exploring" an abandoned building in the small town of La Canada
where we lived. The place had once apparently been an automobile
repair shop of some kind and had not been used for anything for
many years. Out back of this place we found what looked like an
interesting item, so we went and got a "coaster wagon" and hauled
it to my house.
Well, it turned out to be a pingame with the name ROCKET on
the playfield, which of course, was Bally's first electric payout
pinball machine from 1933. We could not at that time make it
work because we were unaware that it required battery power to
operate. So after playing with it for awhile, I guess we
probably dumped it, although I can't remember for sure what
happened to it. This game, however, was the first pingame that I
actually had in my possession.
MR. CATLIN - As a child I always had an interest in electrical
things. My father, an electrical engineer in the telephone and
later the aircraft industry, had taught me about electrical
circuits from the time I was about 5 or 6. And when we moved to
La Canada (when I was in the fourth grade) I had my own workbench
in the back of the garage.
At that time my mother would many times take my sister and I
to downtown Los Angeles on the bus, which required us to change
busses in the neighboring town of Montrose. It just so happened
that the corner where we waited for the bus was also the location
of the shop of a local coin machine operator, a Mr. Glenn Catlin
The area where Mr. Catlin put out his trash for collection
was right behind the bus bench and I soon discovered that he
threw out various electrical items which I often recovered and
brought home to experiment with in the garage. On several
occasions I even got bold enough to knock on his door and ask him
if he had anything that I could have. He was always very
friendly to me.
Once I remember being invited into his shop and seeing many
slot machine mechanisms (without cases) setting on a long bench.
When I asked about them he told me that they were there awaiting
pickup by the Sheriff's Office to be destroyed as they were
illegal. The one thing I remember clearly about them was that
many, if not all, of them had pictures of various animals (lions,
monkeys, elephants, etc) on their reels.
Another thing I remember about Mr. Catlin's shop is going by
there several times at night and noticing a lighted sign in the
window reading "All Electric Pingames, $10 and Up". Once, when
waiting for the bus, I saw an entire pingame out in the trash. I
remember it had a short backboard with pictures of horses on it.
I knew it was too big to carry home on the bus, so I waited until
that evening and asked my dad if he would go get it for me.
Well, we drove to Montrose but, as luck would have it, it was
Shortly after that, Mr. Catlin moved his shop out of that
building and into a "quonset hut" building on the same lot as his
home, about a mile away. One day I went to his new location and
knocked on the door. He answered and invited me in. When I
asked if he had any electrical parts he wanted to get rid of he
surprised me by offering me an entire pingame if I could haul it
away. Well, I went home and again asked my dad for help and we
went back to Mr. Catlin's. He then gave me two pingames,
Bally's VARIETY and VOGUE, both from 1939. Pinball machines had
been outlawed in most of Los Angeles County years earlier and he
could no longer legally operate these games.
NOTE: Since pingames were illegal in much of Los Angeles County,
other types of amusement machines were operated in their place.
These included various "gun games" made during World War II
(which had just ended a few years earlier) and "roll down" games
put out by Genco after the war. These games somewhat resembled
pingames, having a lighted score-indicating backboard, but they
delivered to the player five wooden balls (about the size of
tennis balls) which he would roll down the playfield to drop into
scoring holes at it's back. These holes were covered by a glass
to keep the player from touching the scoring contacts.
After setting up these games in my garage, and using my
electrical knowledge to get them going, other kids in the
neighborhood played them and asked where I had gotten them. Two
of the boys who lived near me soon went to Mr. Catlin's and got
their own games. One got Chicago Coin's MAJORS OF '41 and the
other Genco's VICTORY. Since these fellows had no knowledge of
electrical things I was called upon to get their games going, and
keep them that way.
Well, as you can imagine, word of these games spread quickly
throughout our small town, and before long there were quite a few
pingames in the hands of young boys. News of my repair knowledge
also spread, and I ended up working on most of them at one time
or another. Other games I specifically remember working on
during that period were Bally's CROSSLINE, Chicago Coin's ROXY,
and Genco's METRO (a game which I now own). I eventually traded
my VARIETY for Genco's SEVEN UP (another game I currently own).
After a while I got tired of VOGUE and SEVEN UP and sold
them to an ex-neighbor who had moved. A while after that I went
back to Mr. Catlin's and he gave me a "console style" game by
Stoner, called ZETA. This game, made in 1938, had a circular
playfield with a crude "pop bumper" in the center of it. A very
novel pingame indeed. I eventually traded ZETA for Exhibit's
LANDSLIDE which I took with me when my family moved from La
Canada to Inglewood in 1951. That game a friend and I eventually
dismantled when we were in high school.
MEMPHIS - My mother's family lived in Memphis and our family
often took summer vacations there. Once or twice I spent the
entire summer with my relatives, returning home to California on
the Greyhound bus. My uncle worked as a door-to-door salesman
and I often accompanied him on his daily rounds. He liked to
have a beer two or three times a day at local bars. At that
time, the late Forties and early Fifties, almost all of the beer
bars in Memphis had "one-ball" horserace pingames.
Even though it was technically illegal for kids to play
these machines, my uncle was friends with the bar owners and they
would generally let me play them with nickels he supplied. One
game which was found in many of these Memphis bars at that time
was a Bally game called EUREKA. Other Bally one-balls I remember
playing were CHAMPION and TURF KING (a game I currently own).
One-balls weren't the only pingames operated in Memphis
either. The local "country store", up the road from where my
relatives lived, also had an amusement type pingame. The one
game I specifically remember playing there was United's pre-
flipper game SINGAPORE. I used to like to play this game at the
store. My grandmother, however, was somewhat "old fashioned" and
didn't believe that young boys should play pinball.
She eventually let the store owner, Mr. Terry, know that she
didn't want me playing the game and threatened to stop trading
with him if he continued letting me play. This angered me and I
wrote a letter to my father complaining about my grandmother's
unreasonableness in this matter. A few years ago my aunt found a
copy of this letter which she gave to me, which I now have as a
souvenir of that incident.
A "famous" game I remember playing in Memphis was the first
flipper pinball, Gottlieb's HUMPTY DUMPTY. I first played this
game in the Raleigh drug store in Raleigh, Tennessee, a Memphis
suburb. I also played other flipper games in various
restaurants, drugstores, etc in Memphis. Two games I
specifically remember playing there were Genco's PUDDIN' HEAD
(1948) and United's BLUE SKIES (1948). I also remember playing
Gottlieb's HAPPY DAYS (1952), but didn't remember the name, only
it's tic-tac-toe format. In those days almost every cafe, and
many drugstores, in Memphis had pins, as well as the beer bars
with their ever-present "one-ball".
Also, during one summer-long visit to Memphis, my cousins
and I paid a visit to the back alley behind one of Memphis' well-
known coin machine companies, Southern Amusement Co., which was
located a few blocks from my great aunt's home in the city. We
found in their trash a small baseball machine, Bally's HEAVY
HITTER, and the backbox of a Chicago Coin's KILROY, both of which
we brought home to my grandmother's house in the country. I got
the baseball game to partially work, however I believe some parts
were missing. The KILROY head was just a souvenir, however.
Once, for my return bus trip to Los Angeles, my uncle gave
me a five dollar bill with instructions to use it only for
playing pinball, a gesture I greatly appreciated. Almost every
(if not all) Greyhound stop had pingames so I really "had a
ball", excuse the expression, playing pinball during this trip.
I can recall that many of the games I played at those bus stops
had names of cities and states, a popular theme for pingames of
the late Forties and early Fifties, which seemed quite
appropriate to me for these bus station locations.
BANJO - When I was in the ninth grade my family moved from La
Canada to Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles. At that time there
was only one high school, Inglewood High, in the city with a
second one, Morningside High, under construction, which was to
serve the area of town where we lived starting the next school
In order to get to and from Inglewood High I had to ride a
public bus for about three miles. Directly across the street
from the school, where I waited for the bus to go home, there was
a malt shop where many of the high school kids hung out. One day
I noticed a pinball machine in this place with kids crowded
around it. I went in to see what it was and found out that it
was Exhibit's BANJO, one of that company's early flipper games
After that, I started going in there each day for ten or
fifteen minutes, before taking the bus home, and watching the
kids playing the game. There was, of course, also a jukebox in
that shop and I remember hearing one song played over and over
again. It was "Rose, Rose, I Love You", which was either by Guy
Mitchell or Frankie Laine, I believe. The next time I heard that
song, by the way, was in the late Sixties in the movie "The Last
One day about that time I remember going to the shop of the
coin machine operator who operated that game. I talked to a man
there who was working on a pingame. I asked him if there was any
chance of my getting a part-time job working on games, and told
him of my past experience working on the pinballs owned by us
kids in La Canada. He told me that they couldn't hire me if I
wasn't in the Electrician's Union, which I believe was just an
At that time, around 1951, Inglewood was one of the few
cities in Los Angeles County which allowed pinball machines. I
also remember several machines at a local miniature golf course
there. Well, about a year later, the city of Inglewood also
outlcwed pingames! After that, the only nearby city where pins
were still legal was Long Beach.
THE "PIKE" - Up until just a few years ago, there was an
amusement area on the waterfront at Long Beach known as "the
Pike". When I was a teenager, in the late Forties and early
Fifties, I would often travel to Long Beach, either by streetcar
or hitchhiking, and visit the Pike.
I remember that they had two fairly large amusement machine
arcades. One of these arcades had all pre-war, non-flipper,
pingames (probably 30 or 40 of them) all equipped for 2 cent
play. These games had a wide push-in type coin slide in which two
pennies were placed side-by-side.
I enjoyed playing these machines because they reminded me of
the games I had owned and worked on when I was younger. I even
recognized some of them as being the same as those machines. One
game I specifically remember being at that arcade was Gottlieb's
PARADISE, which had a large picture of a peacock with his plumage
spread all over the backglass. I just found out recently, by the
way, that my friend Richard Conger now owns one of these
The other arcade, I remember, had the more modern games set
up for nickel play. I do remember, however, that they had a one-
ball horserace machine equipped for penny operation which I
played on several occasions. I have heard stories in the last
several years that there were also bingo pinballs operated at the
Pike in later years which were also set up for one-cent
operation. The only time I visited the pike since the Fifties,
however, I remember that the arcades were closed.
PICO ST. - Ever since the 1930's, Pico Street in Los Angeles has
been the location of that city's "coin machine row". I remember
as a young teenager taking many walks down Pico and exploring the
coin machine distributorships there. Places with names such as
Siking, Luenhagens, and C. A. Robinson, to name a few. Little
did I know at that time that the great Harry Williams once had a
shop there, the location of which I probably walked by many times
without knowing it.
I can remember entering some of those distributorships with
their showrooms displaying lines of brand-new wood-rail pinballs.
I would, when I was brave enough, (and nobody seemed to be
looking) sneak a game or two on one of these shining new
beauties. I remember Pico being a very fascinating street for a
young pinball fan in those days.
It is interesting to note that at that time those pinballs
could not be legally operated in the city of Los Angeles, or many
of the surrounding communities. These machines were there,
however, for purchase by operators in other parts of Southern
California without such restrictive laws.
Well, there you have it, a "trip down memory lane" with
yours truly; recalling the many incidents, places, and games
associated with my early interest in pinball. An interest which
lay dormant for almost twenty years after I took apart Exhibit's
LANDSLIDE in the early Fifties, only to resurface again in the
early 1970's when I bought another pingame, and which has
continued for the past 15 or so years. And it is still going