Robotron: Enter the Time Machine

There’s nothing quite like a 35 year old restored arcade machine. Especially so when the restorer has sympathetically made the machine look brand new again. Many restorers have examples of cabs that are arguably better than new in terms of the parts, paints and artwork used. Let’s not forget, whilst today we look at these things with misty eyes, recalling images in our heads of fun times, back then arcade machines were a mass produced commodity – chunks of wood and electronics churned out in the hundreds per day to satisfy the Golden Age arcade boom of the early eighties. In reality, they weren’t built with a great deal of love or care.

Part of the thrill of collecting and restoring early arcade video games, is the rush of following a lead on an old cab in some old barn somewhere – even better a whole stash of the things. This happens from time to time, such places are then “raided” (legally of course) by collectors, and the resulting haul is removed and taken away for restoration or resell.

In this game, its all about condition. Most cabs found these days will be in a sorry state – especially if they are found in a damp garage or shed. Rust, swollen wood, mould, rats nests – you name it, you are likely to find it.

But what if by some miracle you were to find the holy grail? An entire warehouse full of new, unopened boxes of arcade video games from the Golden Age?

What would the chances be? Impossible right?

Wrong.

In 2006, someone stumbled across a warehouse in Gastown, Vancouver that had effectively been sealed shut in around 1983. I’m told the place was known to collectors, but the story of new games stacked floor to ceiling was regarded as an urban legend. Some enterprising person took the initiative to find out more.

So it turned out the owner of the place was a Dale Johnson of Dale Distributing. He was one of Canada’s earliest pinball and jukebox distributors and retailers, who later branched out to pool tables and video games.

Dale Distributing started out with exclusive distribution rights in Canada for Wurlitzer (the jukebox people), and several manufacturers of pinball machines, including Williams, Gottlieb and Bally. In the world of coin-operated vending, Dale was The Godfather of Vancouver: in the 60s or 70s, if you had ever put a coin into a machine for a gumball, a song, a pack of cigarettes or just about anything else, then you did business with Dale. When Wurlitzer closed for good and video games effectively replaced pinballs, he moved into that market, simply following the trend.

Inside the warehouse were discovered 7 floors of barely touched or brand new in box arcade and pinball machines dating from the mid to late 70s to early 80s. The warehouse supposedly supplied arcade machines to a chain of arcades called “Time Travel” (oh the irony).

It seems Dale was well connected in Gastown, and was generally regarded as the unofficial mayor of the place by business locals. There is some ambiguity and folklore as to why the games were left untouched for so long, and the circumstances surrounding their eventual discovery and subsequent sale. There is suggestion that the distribution business went bust in ’83, and the games as assets at the time, were whisked away and hidden from creditors, only to mysteriously turn up over 20 years later and sold off by a third party on behalf of Mr Johnson who couldn’t be seen to be handling these “hot goods”.

I should point out that this is all speculation that I read when researching this piece. Another theory is that there was no “discovery” at all, and these were simply forgotten legitimately at the back of a disorganised fully operational storage unit, and sold when found in 2006.

But whatever the truth, after an amazing 58 years in the business, Dale allowed the final pieces of this “old” stock be released from the tomb, and over the last nine years or so since, these “New In Box” (NIB) cabinets have found their way into collectors’ hands across the globe, including here in the UK.

A fellow collector here in the UK recently shared a few details of his NIB Williams Robotron Cocktail machine that he acquired in 2014. The pictures are absolutely stunning. A 35 year old arcade machine finally removed from its box some 35 years later. Travel back in time and witness a brand new, Robotron cocktail machine.

This is arcade porn:

(Many thanks to Les for allowing me to share these pictures)

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. mackie vick says:

    I have this exact robotron cocktail that is pictured, and its still in the box.

    Like

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