By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
HESSTON—Lights flash. Music plays. A little ball flies around the electronic game and people score points. The person playing the game usually stands with arms spread wide and digits pressing buttons that move levers.
It’s all part of an experience with a pinball machine.
That’s something Hesston resident Jesse Goertzen enjoys about the machines. Goertzen, who works at Excel Industries in Hesston in the IT Department, became interested in pinball machines visiting a friend.
“About three years ago, I visited one of my best friends in Seattle,” he said, adding his friend asked if he wanted to go to a local bar, get some drinks and play pinball.
“We ended up playing all night and it was a lot of fun,” Goertzen said.
He was hooked.
Goertzen looked up the cost of the machines, saying they’re expensive for a toy. He found a 1969 pinball machine in an antique store in Colorado Springs.
That was his first.
“In the pinball world, there’s EM machines, which is electronic mechanical,” he said.
Those kinds were made in the 1960s and 1970s, Goertzen said, adding the first solid-state pinball machine was made in 1975. That’s when they started to be computerized.
“So I bought the one from ’69 and had gotten everything fixed on it, but it was pretty boring,” Goertzen said.
That was because it was slow, compared to modern pinball machines.
“From there, I just kept an eye out for various machines,” he said, adding he’d watch the internet, such as Facebook, searching for people interested in getting rid of theirs. He looked for ones needing work so he could buy them cheaper.
“What I do to fix them is make them functional,” he said. “There are a lot of good resources online.”
There are enthusiasts in Wichita helpful at answering questions.
“A lot of people [are] passionate about pinball,” he said. “The biggest visual upgrade you can do is put LED lights in it.”
Goertzen said he likes doing that.
“That’s the fun part of it for me is to get a machine that’s not fully working and put in LEDs and clean up the playfield, rebuild the flippers, kinda general maintenance that most people don’t have time for or let sit,” Goertzen said.
For instance, he got his Hook machine from a Tulsa man. Half its lights were out, the sling was hanging down and he had to replace the connector and ordered a part for the sling.
“I took everything off the playfield, gave it a good clean and put new lights in it and I’ve been enjoying it ever since,” Goertzen said.
The Hesston man’s helped a couple of people in Hesston with their machines. He said a few switches needed to be adjusted and he put in LEDs.
“I’ve sold pinball machines to people,” he said, like in Wichita, Hesston, California and Michigan. “I feel like there’s been a resurgence in pinball,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because of the pandemic.”
There are great places to play pinball in Wichita, like The Arcade in Old Towne and bars like Kirby’s and Headshots.
“In the last three years, I think I’ve been through 32 pinball machines,” Goertzen said. “The most fun for me is to have friends over and figure out the game.”
The 36-year-old said it’s been fun having family, such as his parents, aunts and uncles over, people who’ve grown up in the pinball era and letting them play again.
Currently, Goertzen has three pinballs in his home—one called Jokerz! from 1988, Hook from 1992 and The Mandalorian made in 2021.
That’s right—2021. Some companies still are making pinball machines and Chicago Gaming is remaking some of their most popular ones from the 1990s.
New machines can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $18,000. He sold one machine last week, so he’s on the lookout for his next one.