Pinball collector restores and collects vintage games

Thursday, November 28, 2013 | 12:00 p.m. CST
BJ Cunningham collects and refurbishes vintage pinball machines and arcade games. He converted his Centralia garage into an arcade and workshop.

COLUMBIA — As B.J. Cunningham inspects the inside of a broken pinball machine, he checks every coil, wire and switch. 

For the machine to work, every piece must be cleaned, and all metal points must be filed. If one piece is out of whack, nothing will function. 

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The process is tedious, and Cunningham often spends weeks fixing all the components before the game is in perfect condition to play.  

Still, he loves the job.

Cunningham has restored and collected pinball machines and vintage arcade games for more than 30 years, working especially on games from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the kind he played when he was young. He sells many of his restored pinball machines at Veranda Antique Mall, off Interstate 70, where he volunteers at least two days a week.

"I love the artwork, and they're just enjoyable to play," Cunningham said. "It was part of my youth."

He has owned more than 1,000 pinball machines and currently has at least 30 vintage arcade games. Nine years ago, Cunningham converted the garage in his Centralia home into an arcade and workshop for his collection.

Pinball machines, shooting galleries, sports games and old jukeboxes line the walls of the garage. Cups of change sit next to the machines, waiting to be slipped into the slots.

"I buy what I like and I enjoy it," Cunningham said. "When I'm done enjoying it, I sell it."

Buying vintage games is not about seeing how many he can obtain, but about using and renovating the machines so others can play, too.

"Fixing the games is rewarding," he said. "I can do something other people can't."

In addition to Veranda Antique Mall, Cunningham markets his games online on eBay and He also runs an ad seeking pinball machines in Rural Missouri, the monthly newsletter for rural electric cooperative customers.

Cunningham typically sells machines for around $800 and charges $200 plus parts to fix them, but his hobby isn't about the money.

"It's for fun," he said. "Not for business."

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.


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