Monday, May 31, 2010

Melonhead TravelBlog - Part 1

We're back! We've spent some time away from the blogosphere so it's high time we get back on the stick and show you some more Whoa Nellie progress. Growing season has officially arrived and hopefully we're on track to harvest the Big Juicy Melons in the fall. We still have a lot of work to do but we really want to get Game One done as soon as we can and make sure Whizbang Pinball is off to a great start. So hang in there with us as we share some postcards from the edge of pinball.

Our time away from the usual progress was partially due to the unique travel opportunities that were presented to both Dennis and I to get out of town for a while and talk about pinball with a bunch of enthusiastic collectors, players, and fanatics. It never ceases to amaze us as we continue to meet the players and collectors of the games we designed, and they share stories of their personal collections, their favorite games, and the pride they take in the restoration process.

For the folks reading this that aren't as close to the world of pinball as others may be, pinball fans, the ones that tend to collect multiple games, aren't collecting comic books, garden gnomes or baseball cards...they are collecting major pieces of hardware, each machine weighing in at anywhere from 200 to 300 pounds (OK so maybe some garden gnomes weigh 300 pounds), with individual collections ranging from three games placed in a rec-room in the basement with other types of coin-operated equipment, to hundreds of games housed in temperature-controlled out-buildings, rented retail strip-center locations and other unique spaces either owned or rented by individuals or small groups of enthusiasts.

These people are serious about their hobby and take great pride in the games they own, whether they buy them NIB (New-In-Box) or find out about a "project" game in someone's uncle's garage, left to rot by the former owner who got it for free when someone else who owed him money offered a used pinball machine as a partial payment until things turn around. These games can often house critters, or the remains of critters, or the eggs of critters. Some have grown organic additions...mold, mildew, maybe some mushrooms...and the once pristene metal parts are most likely attacked by the cancer of rust...or other maladies as we have already begun to learn.

It's the stories of these "projects", brought back to a new life over a series of late nights, long weekends and vacation time used to pick up new parts out of state, a new life of not just working properly but cleaned, shopped, detailed and restored to better-than-factory condition, that gives us "industry" guys a real sense of just how important the products we helped create over the last 30 years are to this relatively small fraction of the world's population. We appreciate the enthusiasm and drive that pinball people bring to the party and it makes us proud to have been part of the development of pinball.

And it's this enthusiasm that has brought us back to pinball.

With that said, about a month after we went to the Midwest Gaming Classic in Milwaukee, we headed out to the home of Coors Beer, Golden Colorado, for the Rocky Mountain Pinball Shootout. We were invited to speak about our days in pinball and share some moments with a great group of pinball fans. And we also got to introduce a receptive audience to Big Juicy Melons!

Our plane landed in Denver during a driving rainstorm. We opted for the Super Shuttle to get us to the hotel and had a fun ride hydroplaning several times on the interstate through the almost 2.5 inches of rain that was already on the ground. By the time we made it to the hotel, the rain shifted to snow, piling up about 2 to 4 inches in a matter of a couple hours.

Dan Nikolich, the show's organizer, warned us that Colorado in April can bring any kind of weather experience. He couldn't have been more accurate because by the next day the sun came out and the snow melted before noon.

The weekend also afforded me the opportunity to get together with my daughter, Lindsey, who is currently living in Boulder. She spent some time at the show and even came to hear us talk about pinball. When it came time for questions and answers I experienced a pinball show "first" when an audience member started the question with "Dad?"

Basil LeBlanc, who kindly invited us out to the parking lot after our presentation for a tailgate lunch, told us about a Coors standee of Elvira that he had purchased recently and that it had a monster next to Elvira that resembled one of the Party Monsters from our first Elvira game. We can only hope we helped inspire this point-of-purchase display.

Dennis made sure to protect the younger audience attendees from seeing too much Elvira.

Dennis also got a chance to show off his mad skills on Pirate's of the Carribbean, one of the games he designed for Stern.

It was a great trip to the Rockies where we made some new friends of the silverball and introduced a great audience to the Whoa Nellie project. Thanks again to Dave Mercer for his assistance with hawking our t-shirts and for giving us a rather "inside" idea related to melons that we will definitely work into the art package.

And thanks again to Dan and Holly for the invitation to the show. We appreciate the opportunity.

Next time I'll share some moments from my trip to Germany for the German Pinball Association show in Volklingen.

And of course we'll have some updates on the Whoa Nellie project soon and fill you in on a closer trip we took to Harvard, Illinois for some official business. The next few months will be critical to hopefully having the game finished by the fall. And as soon as we know when the backglass is ready, we'll start taking orders.

In the meantime, go out and buy a big, juicy watermelon and savor these early days of summer. Our local grocery chain has a radio commercial supporting "big, juicy melons" verbatim. 'Tis the season!


All art, sketches, or photos related directly to "Whizbang Pinball" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Big Juicy Melons" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Sweet Juicy Melons" are TM and Copyright 2009 WhizBang Pinball, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Milwaukee Postcard courtesy of
Colorado Postcard courtesy of

All other photos courtesy of G. Freres