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Popbumper Pinball Expo 2003 REPORT!!

This report is written with input from the dynamic duo that helped me represent the Southern Illinois pinball interest of Popbumper.com - Ken Hall and Dennis Blankenship


NOTE: All pictures are "thumbnails" so right click - open in new window - to see the "big picture".

 Are 4-wheel drive vehicles required on Chicago toll roads?

Man, I hate the roads through the Chicago area! This time, we took 2 vehicles on our 6 hour journey to pinball paradise and along the way dropping off a few machines. And what a bummer it was to miss the opening day seminars. Hey, we were there for the first opening of the exhibit hall which was still good timing - and this time the Ramada provided us a dorm room style economy room. This is important since Expo is more than what is experienced in the seminars and exhibit hall. I found this out while walking the halls look for ice, vending machines, phones, or whatever. And there's other benefits like getting a discount on parking at the hotel. Yes you heard that correctly. There is a price for parking at the hotel EVEN IF YOU HAVE A ROOM!!! This is one of several things that will irritate you about the hotel. Trust me that the experience will far outweigh these setbacks.

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I was very pleased with the way Joust plays. I found it lots more fun that others have commented about. King Kong didn't impress me much but the graphic artwork was a beauty. Q*Bert's Quest was pretty fun too. Lot's of waiting on the ball but really a neat concept. Flat screen pinball? No thanks. I was not impressed at all. I would rather play Visual Pinball on a plasma or a laptop for that matter. Vacation had a good flow for a home-game. And the Ramp Warrior would have been a better game to produce than Truck Stop in my opinion. I owned a Truck Stop for a while and now find the Ramp Warrior theme a little more attractive.


Further up was a graphic design company with a full printing set-up for printing on the fly pinball goodies. Keep walking and you'll see the Lisle, Illinois crew with a few machines and parts and then Don Murphey with his incredible array of plastic goodies. In the back of the main exhibit all was Bieza and friends with price guides, EM parts, old SS boards, and much more. Just across from them was a row of prestino machines many of them coming from Duncan Brown. Meteor is one of my favorite machines and Duncan's sure made mine look like a piece of poop. The playfield was perfect and the game played fast and furious. There was a Bow and Arrow Solid State short run there. I never got to see the innards but it seemed to run stable. DSC01120.JPG (158544 bytes)  DSC01127.JPG (156620 bytes) DSC01126.JPG (155013 bytes)


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DSC01121.JPG (160254 bytes) DSC01130.JPG (157072 bytes) DSC01131.JPG (154177 bytes) DSC01132.JPG (151586 bytes) Walk around the corner and you'll see the multi-boothed inventory of Mayfair Amusements with the usual load of parts for just about everything solid state. Adjacent from them was Tim Arnold selling tapes and T-Shirts (including the beloved Popbumper tapes) and then Chicago Pinball (with shuffle alley and jukebox!) &  Mantis Amusements with their glossy playfields and kickout hole protectors. Mantis also had a two of a kind machine. It was a custom Data East Tommy-playfield pin called Kabuki. I don't ever recall seeing anyone play it which was the case last year with a few Mantis machines. Our good pal Jim Schelberg from PinGame Journal was not there this year. This created a noticeable hole in the atmosphere of the central exhibit hall area. I missed you pal! Finally Rob Berk's corner which had a good number of quality games (ToM, Monopoly, pitch and bat game, other EM's, etc.)


Walking into Exhibit Hall #2 we see a larger than usual number of games. Some of the usual venders were present along with a new one  PinLED. PinLED is currently developing an alternative technology to the original displays in solid state games. Popbumper received a System 11 set of alpha-numeric LED's to review here! Mark of Marco Specialties is the US distributor of the product - it was good to see him at that show along with his German friends. Other vendors were For Amusement Only, Illinois Pinball, Pinball Express, Pinball Inc.,Pinball Exchange, and a couple of the other usuals. But what was impressive was the large number of games in the hall that were quality players.

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Seminars on Day 2 started with Dr. Scott Sheridan telling war stories of game repair and sales, then a little Mark Bakula presentation on reproducing spot area of playfields with a camera and printer (and a little PhotoShop). His partner Don Caldwell was not able to make it due to family illness. Stern support was there to talk about TOPS and the difficulty in getting operators to give it a try. Tim Arnold gave quite a comprehensive speech on the "true" history of Williams, but the highlight of Day 2 seminars came right before with a panel discussion on the Demise of Williams. You won't have to hear about from me as there is a professional video documentary nearing completion that will explain the entire death of this company in plain black and white directly from the employees that Williams dumped on that black day. If you didn't get enough of my feelings from that last sentence, bump over to the one-sided forum for a short synopsis.

My fees, buyers fees, tax fees, Gene Cunningham, and Mr. Green

The interesting thing about Saturday's at Pinball Expo is the large number of local yocals that wander into the exhibit hall and eventually into the auction room. Here we have the cigarette smoking auction mouth and muscle compressing pinball heads together in order to fit just one more machine in , and Mr. Green's truck full of yuck and puke being dropped and dragged into the exhibit hall as the auction room begins to bust at the seams. All the while, the locals and regular Expo'ers compress their bodies into the hot room like sardines. The unknowing ask questions like - "how much do you think this game will go for?", and "do you think I can find someone to fix this around here?". I can not hardly bare to see what's coming. As expected, the US Amusement grunt was walking on top of machines, smoking a cigarette in a non-smoking facility (thanks Pacek for putting an end to it), and shouting "heeeaaappp" every time he even thought he saw a nod. 2 hours into the auction and we are barely into the first row. Some good machines are mixed into the rows of arcade rejects and the brand-new Saturday crowd is really none-the-wiser. But it doesn't matter as you all know as Mr. Green is into each and every item up for bid - and buying back most of his machines. So it boils down to the good old warehouse crap at the end that with enough TLC can become a diamond in the rough. That's where Gene Cunningham stepped in and decided to give us all a glance of the good old days when he hit all the auctions. A BMX project stacked against the wall starts at $10 until Gene slaps a $200 bid. I'm enjoying it since I've never seen Gene bid when he was determined. He seals the project game with another jump in the bidding ... just to get the point across. And yes,Gene pays in CASH!


As the eternal auction pressed throughout the day, another group of Expo'ers are walking to the celebrity room to get some autographs in translites, flyers, art samples, even entire machines get signed! And then the hall is shut down while the banquet goes on. I didn't attend the banquet this year (bummer) but I did find this good time to eat a meal other than McDonald's or the over priced restaurant / bar food in the hotel. That night the hall stays open straight through until Sunday. What a treat indeed. It's really a survival of the fittest. Machines are thinning but still so much to do and so many to play. As my legs weaken and 2AM approaches myself, Dennis, and Ken are still pounding out games on T3 machines (now on freeplay) trying to win 'our' mini-tournament.

I would have to say that's the most fun of all - having instant tournaments. Competition has always been more fun when there's a few friends around. And boy can any of the three of us brag. We probably do that much better than we play. From wood-rails to wedge-heads, early solid state machines to wire-formed and hyper ramped 90's DMD's - we competed on all kinds of machines. And along the way I was so happy to put faces with names from e-mail I've received from Popbumper.com visitors and tape buyers. Chatting with Russ Jensen, Sam Harvey, Jay Stafford, Gary Flower, Michael Shalhoub, and Wayne Neyens to name a small few. Where else can you see all of these people in one place?

So what did we bring, what did we pack home? Ken brought 3 EM's, brought back 4! I brought back home a Theatre of Magic for the personal collection and a Big Hurt to bring back from a European grave (was an import), Dennis is seen below with his new baby.

And Now . . . Some of my personal favorite pictures . . .

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From Left to Right: Popbumper meets Visual Pinball ... Dennis withi his new baby ... always smilin' Ken showing off the new T-Shirt ... she can't see the ball but plays as good as Tommy ... a true doubles pinball tournament (the kid is telling Dad what to do) . . . and Dennis sporting the new Popbumper.com T-Shirt sucking it up in the tournament!

Information you probably want to know: I did video tape a couple of seminars and quite a bit of the exhibit hall. I do plan on making this available at some point. Rob Berk and I are discussing several things regarding media and the upcoming 20th Expo. It's sure to be a big deal for everyone and I know you'll want to be there. But since there is still much to sort out, I will not make anything Expo related available with the exception of some excerpts. I'm sure you will find tons of documentaries for all Expo's from Popbumper.com and Pinball Expo by next year.


The End.

Contact: tilt@popbumper.com with all comments, recommendations, and other feedback.

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