In a white nondescript building in Pasadena, next to a retirement home filled with colorful seniors, there’s a cavernous hall filled with a private collection of rare and restored vintage pinball machines. Welcome to Thumperdome.
Thumperdome is a private collection, not open to the public and requires an invitation to enter. All the machines were set to “FREE” w/unlimited plays when I visited.
Thumperdome’s goal is to preserve the history, technology, artwork and culture of pinball in America and promote it to future generations.
The collection traverses the development of pinball machines from early bagatelle-like games of the 1930s, the introduction of pinball flippers in the 1940s, captivating and vibrant artwork from the 1950s and 1960s pinball game themes which reflect the change in youth culture and current events.
These vintage machines take people back to a time when a pocketful of quarters meant hours of summer fun spent on one’s favorite games with best friends.
The games within the collection represent each of the three major pinball manufacturers of the era: Gottlieb, Williams and Bally.
‘Bad Cats’ was released in November 1989 by Williams and was designed by Barry Oursler and Python Anghelo. Anghelo said that he hated working on this game. “Bad Cats was a joke. Bad Cats, and Bugs Bunny Birthday Ball, are one of my ‘yes boy, kiss-ass’… and they’re one of my worst experiences.” At least the art is cool.
I was a full fledged Evel fanatic growing up and remembered this machine well. Released in 1977 with over 14,000 units produced, this classic included all of the standards from the late 1970s: targets, spinners, double bonuses, extra balls and specials.
7,350 units of ‘Dolly Parton’ were produced in 1979. Notes from The Internet Pinball Database Presents: “We had understood from a Bally employee at a past Expo seminar that this game license had been a difficult one because singer Dolly Parton kept changing her mind about how she should be portrayed on the backglass, due to her crossover status at the time from country to pop. The Early Production cabinet side art in this listing depicts a bouffant-haired Dolly playing a guitar while the rest of the production run cabinets omit this image, making us wonder if this depiction had been rejected by the singer. Indeed, the flyer shows the singer standing next to the machine with a hairstyle more in line with her backglass portrayal than with the bouffant style that was removed from the cabinet.”
“With Dolly Parton, we did have to change the backglass artwork from a country theme to a more crossover mainstream look on the backglass art only. Since the playfield was completed, they (she) agreed to let it stay “Country” in her denim outfit. I honestly don’t remember the cabinet [with her image on it] but it is possible that was an early sample of a cabinet that was later used. The artwork sequence was usually: Backglass concept first (for approvals), then production art on the cabinet, playfield and plastics, and finally the finished backglass art. It is possible that the [cabinet with her image] was a cabinet done BEFORE the backglass art changed and the version [without her image] was another concession to her crossover look and used for production. Different sample color cabinets was not unusual before a final version was determined.”
In 1978 the first Kiss arcade pinball machine was introduced by Bally, and stayed in circulation well into the 1980s.
17,000 machines were produced. One notable feature included backglass light animation (letters in K-I-S-S would light up when scored, animate during Game Over).
‘Capt. Fantastic’ was inspired by the movie ‘Tommy’ and includes a representation of Elton John, as his character from the movie, playing pinball on the backglass. Tom Nieman, VP of Marketing for Bally Pinball said the flyer was made while Elton was recording a new album in Canada. For this flyer, a game was shipped to the Toronto hotel where Elton was staying. That is why he is shown wearing a Canadian hockey jersey. Elton then asked Nieman to send a game to his various residences and one to his “mum” in the UK.
Artist Dave Christensen included in the backglass several depictions of people doing things that, at first, escaped notice by Bally management. A small number of games with these so-called “X-rated” or “uncensored” backglasses made it through production before changes were required to be made. Specifically, small mirrored stars were added over the objectionable parts and, curiously, these stars did not effectively obscure the offending art in all instances. Nieman explained that he and Christensen wanted the correction to be as minimal as possible because they knew they had “a monster hit” on their hands. The X-rated version is often referred to as the “no stars” version even though all of the backglasses in the production run did contain a certain number of peripheral decorative stars anyway. Nieman is depicted in the backglass as the man in the three-piece suit, and he says that ‘Brutus’ is artist Paul Faris.
Mr. Nieman attended the 1975 New York premier party for the movie “Tommy” held in the 57th Street subway station. He had agreed with artist Christensen to represent the date of this event in the backglass art as the score 31775. A biography of Keith Moon records the date of this party as March 18, 1975. It is easy to believe that the party extended over both days.
Pinball machines are only part of the collection. Nice buttons there mister.
Thumperdome was like stepping into a time machine. Each and every pinball game I played represented a different segment of my younger life. So much fun and so many great memories. Thanks Thumperdome!