*poot*, Need I Say More?
© Copyright 2002
By John L Patton, tiltjlp
Almost everyone who has written to me in response to these pinball-related articles has the same question, “When are you going to do a profile about BJ?” So I figured, Hey, why not! And since he doesn’t need a buildup, here is BJ, ears, sense of humor, and all.
Billy Joe Hughes describes himself as “6’ 2” tall, and due to my metabolic rate catching up with my fifty-three years, I’m now at the ‘happy weight’ of 235-240, depending on what time of the week I weigh myself. I’m not fat, I’m fluffy!”
He also has gray eyes, brown hair, and “a raging case of tinnitus, probably from all that rock music I played as a younger pup.” And betraying his finely-crafted image, he “made it through all 12 grades in only 12 years.”
BJ boasts that he is “quite proud of the ‘Country Bumpkin’ aspect of my culture. Dad was a pure redneck hillbilly from out of the hills of southeast Kentucky, and mom was a farm- girl from the rolling knolls down in eastern Kentucky.”
“I’ve turned many a turnip patch, toted plenty of water in from the well, and cleaned many an outhouse in my days, on weekend visits to my grandparents. I fondly remember often falling asleep in the warm folds of a real down mattress as a rain fell in a staccato drone upon our tin roof. I would awake to the aroma of handmade biscuits with sausage and eggs cooking on Mamaw’s wood burning kitchen stove, as she hummed some now obscure hymn in the most angelic a cappella I’ll ever hear until she welcomes me with open arms at the Pearly Gates,”
In spite of his humble beginnings, and with his wild sense of humor, BJ is far from the Hick he may lead some of us to assume he is. As one of his e-mails put it, “I eagerly wait to see the profile you’re writing, I’m anxious to see who I really am. BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA POOOooooOOOT*!”
BJ has a background in electricity and electronics, and “I tried my hand at attending KY State, but got bored with all that pre-requisite poop, and so decided to change paths and attended Boyd County KY Vocational School instead.”
He began his working life as an outside plant engineer for General Telephone Company in his hometown of Ashland, KY. “I made field visits to places without close-by telephone service, and prepared sketches and cost estimates for the establishing of service. Then I spent some time working for Armco Steel in Ashland, trying to get into the electrical shop, but there simply wasn’t any attrition. I spent a few years as part of the Quality Control team until some major back problems gave me reason to rethink my career.”
“I next worked for a local construction firm estimating the project costs for both concrete and piping work, based upon client drawings. Based upon my materials and labor sheets, the client firms would decide who would win the contracts, based on the lowest bids, naturally. When the economy hit a nose dive, I decided a new start was in order, and so based on some promising job leads, we landed in sunny Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My new beginning was as a high-reliability certified electronics assembler.”
“I threw myself into this new beginning, and learned every facet of their manufacturing process I could. In no time, I knew everything there was to learn, and I hoped for a brand new challenge. About then, one of the engineers invited me to learn a software package called AutoCAD, an electronic drafting package. During lunch and after work, I adapted my prototype drawings for use with AutoCAD at my workstation. I really opened the eyes of the design engineers to my meager ‘skills, and they suggested to management that I be set up to develop computer models based upon their hand-written notes and sketches.”
“I learned to avoid most all of the repetitive ‘start-up’ procedures using a built-in programming language called AutoLISP, my first exposure to any type of program coding. Once I proved myself a very productive draftsman, I was at last promoted, (read ‘snatched up’) into their engineering support group as an associate engineer. I worked closely with the senior engineer to set up new drafting standards, practices, and procedures for the entire department. Now I seemed in a rock-stable position, where promotions would be regular as clockwork. Yeah, right.”
Shortly after my big promotion, a friend who had recently left the company called from Huntsville, Alabama. He knew what I was capable of, and he just happened to need a guy like me to strengthen the new company he worked for. They had just received delivery of a large system dedicated to electrical and mechanical design, and wanted me to oversee its operation. ARGH! Move from the sunny beaches of Florida
To the hills of northern Alabama? I began to turn him down, but he used a very dirty tactic . . . and quoted me a hefty starting salary. DANG! Hello Huntsville. BWA-HA-HA!”
“The next year was dynamic and dramatic, to say the least. I was their ‘golden boy’, and had an active role in the selection of draftsmen we would train, and even learning a new facet of the manufacturing process, ‘printed circuit board design’, which really kept me on my toes. Things were moving along at a very nice pace; new contracts were being won, and our productivity and quality was building us quite a reputation. And then we hit a bump in the road, when the company president sold the whole works to a fellow from Texas, and rumors began to fly.”
“Someone had heard the new owner’s name somewhere before, and the name carried with it some ominous baggage. And of course, it wasn’t long after his first ‘Rah, Rah, We’re Number One And We’re Going To Stay That Way’ speech, that some strange things began to happen. Contract deadlines now began being missed due to non-delivery of needed materials, and people in both the commercial and government divisions were laid off. The same productivity was now expected from fewer employees.”
“Then came the day I tried to order drafting supplies and I was told by our best supplier than they couldn’t ship, since our company owed too much from previous orders. Even I saw the writing on the wall, realizing it might be time to move on, before this new and once very promising company closed up shop. My worst suspicions were proven true when a truck arrived to reclaim the equipment the company had been leasing. The tailspin now was really a nosedive, and it was every man for himself.”
“I phoned some relatives living in Columbus, Ohio, asking about the job market. I then polished my resume and sent several to promising prospects, since I had two weeks of paid vacation coming, in which to job hunt. Or so I had thought until I was called into the office. Instead, no job, no paid vacation, no severance, and not even a hand shake. I decided that it was now Columbus or bust.”
“Four days and nine resumes later, Columbus wasn’t looking as promising as I had hoped. I had one resume left and no real prospects. Then my cousin’s husband told me about an engineering firm that did a lot of work for the company he worked for. With nothing to lose but a few minutes of my time, I called the number he had given me. My timing was perfect, and I was given an interview that same day, for a spot as an electrical designer”
“My interview consisted of talking with several department supervisors, and a walk-through of their facilities. They said they’d contact me within a few weeks, after the board approved the new position. I drove home, feeling that the interview had gone well, and believing I really did have a chance at the job. When I got home, I was told they had called, and asked to speak to me again, that they were now ready to make me an offer. As it turned out, the electrical supervisor had contacted each board member and pushed for approval to hire me on the spot. And so, I’m happily an electrical designer in the capital of Ohio.”
Aside from his work, BJ has a love of music, preferring a mix of classic rock and the British Invasion, and from Abba to ZZTop, and a cappella to Zydeco. He says he’ll listen to anything once. A close second to music is photography, and then Visual Pinball.”
“He discovered Visual Pinball while some fellows at work began downloading racing demos. “Several great games were found and downloaded, so I decided to see what other games might be on the ‘net’. That’s when I found Randy’s Visual Pinball website. It sounded great and I had liked some of the other pinball games the fellows had brought into the office. So I downloaded it and the rest is history. VP is my only game. I even gave up on those racing demos.”
In addition to doling out as much help and knowledge as he can, and being one of VP forums new Moderators, BJ is also a member of the Digital Playfield Sanctuary VP Development Team. Or as he puts it, “I just hang around the forums help sections offering up my small tidbits, and learning from the Masters.”
While BJ doesn’t remember specific details, has first pin experience was at corner drugstore near his aunt’s house in Ashland, Kentucky. “When we’d go visit, my cousin would take me down there and we’d get ourselves a cherry Coke at the soda fountain. Then we’d play the two tables they had in the corner. Being only 8 or 9 at the time, one table was pretty much the same as any other.”
He’s taking a breather after releasing Uranium235, and his self-proclaimed ‘goofy Bash-O-Rama’. And while he has some kernals of concepts, nothing is fleshed out yet. He plans on enjoying the newest table additions, which just might get his creative juices flowing again.
As for the kinds of features he prefers in tables, he “is really drawn to the Originals. It’s interesting to see how others are using VP, and how they incorporate their ideas into a new design. But, a lot can be learned about layouts and playability from many of the great recreations that are available. Druadic’s Contact holds me in fascination. The wealth of information and references and help is wonderful to learn from. I wonder if Randy had any idea all of this would grow from his brainchild?”
As for features he likes and hates, BJ said “I find ramps most difficult to use. Many designers make very fluid use of ramps, but I have a hard time working with them. But on the other hand, the one feature that I would like to see more of isn’t actually a feature, but the inclusion of a definitive help document. There are many great references available to us, such as the shivaEngine, Cold1’s Visual Guides, and similar things, but it would be nice if it were all combined into some useable, explain-it-all, objects-properties-events-script sort of training manual. That would add so much the VP.”
BJ said that he is constantly amazed with the wide range of friends he has met and made since he found VP. “People who I would have never met otherwise, from all corners of the globe, in places I’ll never be likely to visit. Even with the disruptions and distractions we’ve had, the cooperation and ‘teamsmanship’ that is seen on a daily basis simply is mind blowing. Having collaborated with a virtual stranger from Germany who volunteered to help me with some graphics on one of my tables was a joy. The friendship that resulted form our working together is something extremely rare other than here at VP.I consider myself truly privileged to be part of such a dynamic and flourishing community. My recent post of ‘We Be Really Fortunate’ kind of sums up all that I feel for the folks involved with VP and the forums.”
For the past six years, BJ has felt blessed to share his life with his spouse Susi, his second and Best wife. One of his favorite quotes arose from the introspective period he spent after his first marriage disolved, and comes from Richard Bach’s A Bridge Across Forever. “We think sometimes there’s not a dragon left, not one brave knight, not a single princess gliding through secret forests enchanting deer and butterflies with her smile. So crafty have such appearances become that princesses and knights can now be hidden from each other, can be hidden from themselves.”
Reflecting upon such thoughts, BJ concluded, “It tends to happen much too easily that we become merely wanderers on this earth, disguised by everyday circumstances that wrap themselves around the magnificent creatures we really are. In spite of how the world presents itself, I tend to want to search out that Princess, that Knight, who has become hidden from themselves, to reveal to themselves who they really are so that we may go off to vanquish their dragons whatever they may be. All this with the hope that they may someday return to help vanquish a few of mine with me.”
I think you’ll agree with me that there is so much more to Billy Joe “BJ” Hughes, than simply his Big Ears. He very definitely has an ever bigger heart.
And in parting, I’ll simply add BJ’s parting words of his eight page response to my inquiring e-mail: No animals were injured in the completion of this questionnaire. It is submitted purely for recreational purposes, so please, no wagering. Void where prohibited. Taxes, title, and license are extra.
© Copyright 2002 By John L Patton, tiltjlp.