I learned a new word today: Boonies. An American colloquialism apparently, meaning “in the middle of nowhere”. I couldn’t find a better word to describe this week’s Arcade Raid tale. And this one is a cracker!
If you’ve been a regular reader of the Arcade Raid! features on this blog, you will have seen that abandoned arcade cabinets can turn up anywhere and everywhere – warehouses, lofts, cellars, barns, sheds, garages, old people’s homes – you name it. But this raid back in 2008, is one of the best; certainly in terms of the location, and especially in terms of the method used to get the cabinets out!
Location-wise, all I can tell you is that this raid occurred in the Boonies (see?) somewhere in the state of Indiana, USA.
Arcade restorer Jason got a call from a friend who was out walking his dog one day. He said he stumbled across a disused barn, and thought he spotted some arcade cabinets sitting inside. He said the cabs were visible from where he stood, and knowing that Jason was a collector, suggested he check it out.
Not one to pass up on a lead like that, Jason took himself off to take a look. Jason tells me it really was “in the Boonies”, well away from any civilisation. After some off-road hiking and following sketchy directions from memory, he found the barn:
As you can see, the barn had a pronounced ‘lean’ to the left! It was fair to say that the place was abandoned, and whatever had been stored in there, had been long forgotten. If you look closely at the upper part of the barn loft, you can make out a distinctive blue cabinet on the right. A Computer Space! For any collector, this cab is a grail find. Computer Space is regarded as the first commercially available video “arcade” game to ever be released, developed by a young Nolan Bushnell (he of later Atari fame) and Ted Dabney under the Syzygy brand. This was the game that started it all, and a cabinet that is totally iconic and unique in shape and appearance.
And this one was decked out in a glorious blue spangly fibreglass cabinet. There appeared to be other early electro-mechanical cabs up there too, but it was hard to make out what they were in the gloom.
After taking a couple of pictures, he got back home and rang his collector buddy Ryan to tell him of his discovery. Ryan was stunned:
You should have heard him on the phone. I thought he’d crapped his pants and won the lottery!
After lots of discussion about the state of the barn, the location, and the height of the cabinet, they agreed that Jason needed to attempt to contact the owner of the property. Better to do things the right way, than end up cited for trespass. Or worse.
I told Jason not to worry, we would get it down no matter what. Although Jason was concerned about the safety issue of removing these heavy objects from an EXTREMELY unsafe structure, I was not. I vowed to help remove that machine as soon as a deal could be struck with the owner. Even if it took a stop at the Home Depot for framing timbers, we would remove it. I was confident there would be some Computer Space being played in Southern Indiana soon!
(Remember those words we would get it down no matter what when you get to the bottom of this page).
Jason set to work to try to find out who the owner was. He managed to track down a phone number, but discovered it was disconnected. State records were no help either. If he wanted the cab, he had no other option but to stake the place out. He went back a couple of times, and knocked on the door of the house that was nearby and appeared to be on the same land. No answer. Both times there was a different car parked outside. His plan was to continue to swing by and try to establish contact.
But as luck would have it, Jason got a positive lead. It transpired that the owner of the property happened to be an ex-boyfriend of a member of his family. They were still in touch. With this stroke of luck, things were now pointing to a favourable conclusion. Contact was eventually made and a verbal deal was struck! Jason managed to get some more background.
The owner of the barn was only 25, and the games where there when he bought the house and property a year ago. Since then some guys came by and wanted some wood off the barn, so he let them take it which exposed the games inside. If that had not happened no-one would ever have spotted them. Amazingly, there were plans in place to let the fire department burn the barn down soon, as it was clearly dangerous.
So it appears Jason arrived on the scene just in time. Who knows what would have happened to these cabinets had he not tracked the owner down. So after much discussion, a date was set in late July, and Jason and Ryan drove to the property.
They now had an opportunity to see exactly what was buried further inside the barn loft:
And yes, there were certainly other cabinets there as you can see, but these were older electromechanical cabinets in unbelieveably bad shape. Being primarily made from wood, they had suffered from the elements far more so than the protective fibreglass of the Computer Space cabinets. Both Jason and Ryan and the property owner were very concerned about the stability of the building:
What’s more, it appeared that some of the wooden beams were being supported by the wood cabinets themselves. Ryan recalls that the whole barn rocked from side to side as soon as they climbed on it. They agreed that the most sensible thing to do would be to grab the Computer Space, haul it down, and make off. No point pushing their luck any further and risking a serious injury to rescue the electromechanical games, which were likrly to turn out completely useless, even for parts. Neither wanted to be inside that barn if it came down. Ryan recalls:
It was a scary experience. You can’t appreciate the dangers we faced removing those two machines. A completely crumbling foundation, and missing in the rear. The structure was suffering from severe water damage, and shook violently.
Climbing up to take an intial look, Jason peered through the darkness, and noticed some blue fibreglass further inside the barn. Sure enough, there was another Computer Space up there! Unable to believe their luck, the pair discussed with the property owner ways of getting the machines down without damaging themselves or the cabinets. The property owner told them to hang on and disappeared. Five minutes later, they heard the distant roar of a tractor engine. It got progressively louder, and there, appearing around the corner, was the property owner with a huge smile on his face, driving a blue Ford tractor with a hopper on its front.
The tractor was going to rescue the cabinets.
Not only that, but the guys felt that using the hopper as a lift, was the safest way of getting them both up to the loft area to lug the machines out. the stairs were badly rotten further in the barn – why risk that? So that’s exactly what they did:
Having been lifted up to the loft by the picker, one at a time, Jason and Ryan pulled both cabinets to the front of the opening and loaded them up, to be safely taken down to ground level:
Time to load up:
And there you have it. If it wasn’t for the pictures, this tale is almost hard to believe. But it happened, and Jason is now the proud owner of not one, but two original Computer Space cabinets – the rarest and most desirable of all classic arcade releases:
The good news is that one of them was complete and after some tinkering around, and a major refurb of the TV screen, Jason has been able to get one up and running:
Fantastic stuff. But I’ve saved the best for last. The barn raid was captured on camera. Check out the video below!
A fabulous tale, a legendary Arcade Raid, and two super-rare arcade cabinets saved from the depths of the Boonies in Indiana! Huge thanks to Jason and Ryan for the pictures and video, and for allowing me to tell the tale here on Arcade Blogger.
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Do check out the archives above to read up on more documented raids.
See you next week.