First Person

May 16, 2014 7:01 pm

‘I’m rescuing Iceland’s pinball machines’

Throstur Hoskuldsson©Nanna Dis

These 'beautiful mechanical artworks' are expensive but Hoskuldsson keeps most for himself

People travel from the other side of Iceland to see my pinball machines. A lot of my visitors are in their forties, fifties or sixties and are reliving their youth. I’m 37 and guess they played the games when they were teenagers or students at university and want to feel that way again. They want them as memorabilia.

I didn’t play these games when I was young. For me it started about six years ago with a broken Star Wars machine that had been abandoned on a farm and put up for sale. I saw the small ad in a local newspaper and paid about 100,000 IKr (£530) for it. I was a Star Wars nerd and I enjoyed the electronics.

Nobody else was working on arcade machines in Iceland at the time. But once I got that one I was hooked and started advertising for them. I’d call the owners of former bowling alleys and arcades and see if they had any lying around gathering dust. Now I’ve got 16.

They are beautiful mechanical artworks. I have a Kangaroo arcade machine from 1982 that’s very retro and friendly. There’s also an Addams Family and an Indiana Jones. Some of them really belong in tattoo parlours but I can repaint them and patch up the scratches and dents.

The artwork can be tricky but I try to stick within the original black lines. Some people like them to look flashy and shiny but others want the cigarette burns still on them. The machines break down frequently. They’re like cars; they need regular maintenance. I only ever bought one that was working.

Since I’ve started collecting them, their price has gone sky high. They sell for anything between about £1,775 and £3,550. I’ve sold some, including one for £2,960. But I like to keep most of them myself. If prices rise it’s a good thing because it means people won’t throw them away.

I buy spare parts on eBay. I have a Guns N’ Roses machine with two ball launchers, one on each side – one shaped like a gun and the other a rose. The rose was missing when I bought it but I found a replacement in Australia. There are also a couple of factories making new machines. It shows the industry is not completely dead. I think we’re about to see a revival.

I keep most of mine in the garage next to my house in Reykjavik but my wife’s given me permission to work on them in the living room one at a time; I have to do it after the kids are in bed at about 9pm. During the day I work full-time as a computer programmer so it takes about a month to get a machine working again.

I like pinball because the games are short. You pay your money and get a few minutes of play. They’re good for morale, I think, compared with computer games now, which are designed to be played for days or even weeks or months. With pinball you just put in a dime and go. It’s a skill playing them. All of them have advanced rules.

I like to have a couple of beers and play my machines for a couple of hours at a time. The beer helps. It makes you a better player. It loosens the mind. But it’s the refurbishing that I really enjoy. I like giving things new life. It’s probably inherited from my mother; she’s old school. She takes care of her things and reuses them over and over; she makes all kinds of things – using old boxes to make baby cradles for dolls and so on.

The machines are heavy – around 140kg each – so it’s not easy to carry them up or down stairs. I picked up one at a bowling alley the other day; luckily, there were weightlifters at a gym next door so I could ask them to help.

I’ve been trying to increase the size of my garage to make more room for them but I was refused planning permission. There are festivals here in Reykjavik where people open their homes and I want to give people a chance to play on my machines. There are conventions in Britain too. But the real mecca for pinball is the US. I want to go there some day.

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