Pinball wizard

By on May 2, 2018

Lititz native bringing back a small bit of  nostalgia by refurbishing vintage pinball games

As long as he can remember, Lititz native Parke Oehme has had a fascination with how things work. And now, he’s bringing his love for antiques and technical know-how to the world of pinball.

“As a kid, I was always playing with junk I found in the corner of my dad’s work bench, or fixing my bicycle and go-kart,” Oehme said. “The blueprints for my mechanical knowledge were all right in front of me, I just had to follow them and connect the dots.”

Parke Oehme (far left) welcomes both the young and the young at heart to play his classic pinball machines. Left to right: Oehme; his son T.J. Oehme; Colin, Lilah, and Zoe Baker-Heron, and their father Vince Herron.

So he continued to hone his craft, eventually getting to the point where he was thrilled when things broke just so he could fix them. Last August, Oehme and his family were vacationing at a cabin in the Poconos. Upon arrival, he was shown a pinball machine in the house which was not working. Unable to resist the challenge, within a few hours (coupled with a trip to the local hardware store), he had the game up and running. That sparked his interest and as soon as he returned home, the search was on for a game of his own. After that, one machine turned to two, then four…and the rest is history.

“Every single component, all of that amazing technology, has but one purpose, and that is to amuse us,” Oehme said. For him and countless other nostalgia seekers, there’s just something magical about the sounds of the clinking bumpers, the “thunk-thunk” of the flippers, the endless array of flashing colors and lights, and the sound the ball makes at it navigates its way around the playing field ­ all as thousands of points rack up at a super fast pace.

His obsession only continued to grow from that special day in the Poconos; and currently, he has eight operational games, with another seven waiting to be restored. Of the 15 total games in his collection, he boasts three electro-mechanical rifle galleries; one baseball pitch and bat; a shuffle bowling alley; and a skee-ball alley. Each machine he purchases get an internal cleaning and adjustment, which often requires replacing several coils and switches. The play field also gets a deep clean and wax, followed by fitting on replacement rubber rings and bumpers. When finished, it’s a very presentable player’s grade machine, just waiting to be admired; but most importantly, played.

What fascinates this curious tinkerer is more than just its flashy looks. He states that the games themselves are electro-mechanical engineering masterpieces, containing hundreds of moving parts, dozens of flashing lights, and an endless amount of wiring.

Before and after: This vintage panel from the Bally Freedom pinball game from 1976 had to be painstakingly restored by hand in order to match all of the original colors.

“I always try to save as much of the original components and artwork as possible,” he said. “Signs of wear and use just add to the history and character of the game.”

Fortunately, many parts are still available from suppliers, while others need to be fabricated. With the mechanical games, most parts are easily repaired or created by a hobbiest; where modern, solid state machines use circuit boards which are much more costly and therefore difficult to repair. Oehme’s long-term plans call for a full-blown pre-video game arcade, complete with a vintage CocaCola machine and a 1967 Seeburg jukebox he currently owns and plans to restore.

For now though, the games are enjoyed by friends, neighbors, and family.

“While this is a private collection, keeping it all to myself is the last thing I want to do,” Oehme said, who thanks his understanding wife and their two sons that share an interest in the hobby. “When my sons gather around them with their friends it makes me smile, and reminds me of my misspent youth spending all of my allowance in the arcades with a few close friends for hours at a time,” he added.

“I think the biggest draw for me is sharing these games with other people. Everyone seems to love playing them, and nothing is more rewarding to me then that.”

Cory Van Brookhoven is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your comments at cvanbrookhoven@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423. 

One Comment

  1. Luke Smith

    November 4, 2019 at 10:58 am

    I appreciate the thought of sharing the old-fashioned game machines to the younger generation, and I learned that the restoration of the said machines is costly. My boyfriend is a fan of vintage pinball games, and I plan on giving him the old pinball game of my dad as a birthday present next week. I’ll make sure to bring my dad’s old pinball game to a video game machine repair shop to inspect its circuit board and to upgrade some of its features.

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