Where did you learn to repair games?


I (Lee) had the very good fortune of growing up close to my grandfather Michael Sloma.  He was a genius electronics savant if ever there was one.  He had TV's, radios and games in his basement going back to the early days.  His garage was full of bicycles.  He made bikes out of parts for all the kids in his neighborhood in Binghamton. New York.  He fixed TV's and antique radios or whatever interested him for friends and family.  Much of his education came from the Army in World War II.  He taught me to solder and use test equipment at a very young age.  I (with Gramps help) built my first crystal radio at age 7.  My first tube amplifier at 10.  Mechanically he made me build all my own bicycles.  He involved me in his copper recycling enterprise.  I got to take a lot of things apart and see how they were made.  He involved me with some of the mechanical games he fixed for local antique stores.  The old radios like Atwater Kent's and RCA Victor short wave.  It was a wonderful experience.

My first real job was a "Route Man" for a game operator in 1974 at age 16.  I repaired all his games, jukeboxes and the first video games ever made.  I remember a game called Spike It, a pong like game that gave me my first try at digital repair.  I worked in Italy on games while serving in the US Air Force.  Also in San Francisco I repaired mostly pinballs on the side while serving.  Worked for a food and snack vending company in Johnson City, New York also.

My next mentor was my first boss in San Antonio, Luis Ruis.  Luis was a very highly skilled part owner of a game distributor in SA called A1 Coin Machine.  He had patents on some of the first digital analyzer equipment ever made.  He really helped me understand how to use an oscilloscope like no technical school could.  He also was one of the first ham operators in the US.  This was my first experience with what I call "distributor level" repair.  A large amount of different machine types to dig into.  I loved it.

I started a business in 1980 called Arcade Service Company.  This was very successful and quickly grew to over 30 game rooms under service contract.  We also had Malibu Grand Prix and Castle Golf and Games, a single entity with over 200 games under contract. 

In 1982 I found my next mentor in a gentleman named Gene Daniel.  Gene was a true master of his craft.  We worked at a Distributor called Southgate Amusement together.  I wanted to work with Gene soo much I closed my repair company and joined one of the best repair shops in the industry.  Here I learned all the cutting edge electronic repair techniques available.  I thought I knew allot about digital electronics, I found out how wrong I was.  Soon I was factory trained and connected to proprietary information that made me 10 times the technician I was before.  The company put me in a closed room with literally stacks of printed circuit boards all around.  This was the heyday of the game business when we had the latest and greatest tools and equipment to work on.  I eventually became service manager.

The collapse of the game business in 1984 put me back on the street selling my skills.  I worked for another operator for a while and then started The Game Shop.  This was a pinball shop that was successful.  We worked primarily for game operators with a few home repairs.  I started to self teach myself the PC Computer business.  I started Tech BBS, a local bulletin board that grew to 1000 users with 2 phone lines and Fido Mail and online games and file sharing.  This was way before the internet was available.  All connections were dial-up to my 2 phone lines.  Users had 30 minutes per day and could "bank" extra minutes not used, for later.  I loved coding mods and learning about computers.

In 1992 I was again employed at Southgate Amusement, the distributor in town.  This time enticed to come back with high pay and bonuses tied to my position as parts and service department manager.  This lasted for 3 years until I just got fed up with retail sales and excessive bookkeeping duties.  At this point I was burned out in the game business and needed a big change. So in 1995 I started Morris Technical Services.  We specialized in PC computer monitor repair and PC repair primarily for business customers.  This was a great business to be in at this time!  We had monitors stacked 5 high on all the walls and every shelf was packed.  Computer repairs were fun and challenging.  I thought I found my new home.  We continued to repair pinball machines at our home shop as a side business.  Just can't stop working on pinball.....

The PC monitor business was run out of business by the EPA in 1999.  I learned I could no longer discard monitors in the previously allowed landfills that had "liners" installed.  I was forced to pay $25 each to have them taken by lead recycling companies.  Of course the customers would never pay the fee if the monitor was un-repairable, so I saw the eventual liability growing before me.  So a company that recycled monitors back into service was driven out of business.  Add to this the invention of the LCD monitor and the the crash of the PC business and the rest is history.  I got back to the pinball business full time and started taking video games in 2000.  

In 2003 I re-joined Southgate Amusement, now called Amusement Distributors, as service manager.  In 2010 I became President and a major stockholder in the company.  2 and 1/2 years later my partner decided the game distribution business was to risky and pulled his support.  The economy has forced manufacturers to sell direct.  The game operators need to cut costs so they have forsaken distributors.   The internet is eliminating all distribution, not just game distribution.  Customers can buy a new pinball now for $400 over cost with free shipping and no tax on Amazon.  When I saw that, I new my partner was right... distribution is over.  The first thing a customer does now is search the internet to find the best price on any product.  They make sure to buy out of state to evade sales tax.  Manufacturers have fewer distributors to sell stock to, so service is scarce and all products must be in demand or they do not get sold.  Many jobs are being destroyed by the internet.  Many lower paying jobs are being created by the internet.  Value added service is disappearing.  Seems like soon we will all be consumers chasing the cheapest priced products made in China.

Now my wife Kerry and I are right back where we started 35 years ago.  Pinball repair is timeless and such a niche business that it will always be there for us.  We have our skills and love our work.

So the question was: Where did you learn to repair games?  The answer - on the job with a little initiative.

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