If you’re of a nervous disposition when it comes to classic arcade cabinets, you might want to hit the back button now. This is not a ‘good news’ arcade raid!
I’ve not featured any Canadian arcade raids thus far on Arcade Blogger. That’s not through want of trying – they just seem to be few and far between in those parts (which might make more sense once you’ve read this). If you’re in Canada and know of a good raid tale, do let me know, and I’ll get it written up in a future post.
The island province of Newfoundland sits off the east coast of Canada. As a land mass twice that of the United Kingdom, that just over 500,000 people call home, it is a rather sparsely populated place. That said, I’m told that the arcade scene was pretty large and varied in the 80s and 90s. Whilst Newfoundland has always had a group of arcade collectors, they are few and far between.
Several enterprising operators found that packing up their warehouses of machines and shipping them off the island during the lean times of the late 90s and early 2000s, was a highly profitable enterprise. They simply took their collections of cabinets to the USA or mainland Canada to where collectors willing to part with cash for machines were more plentiful. Similarly, smart collectors would travel to the island, find someone with a stash of cabinets willing to sell, load up a trailer and take off back to where they came from. Prices were cheap, cabs were plentiful. Easy pickings.
Great for them of course, but not so great for the indigenous collectors of Newfoundland like Ralph Link. Against this backdrop of a mass exodus of arcade cabinets from the island, Ralph has to work extra hard to discover new additions to his collection. This particular raid (if we can call it that) came about from a simple purchase of two cabinets; a Street Fighter 2 and a cabinet housing a WWF wrestling game. Ralph secured the cabs, and as he always does, casually asked the seller where the cabinets came from.
The seller told him that the two cabinets that Ralph was buying were originally located at the huge former American Naval base at Argentia. This place had quite the history – especially during World War 2, and was a key station used for the refuelling and repair of navy ships and boats. During the cold war years, the base became part of a network of stations used to detect Russian nuclear submarines. It remained active until 1994, since when it has been largely dormant, bar some use by the Canadian Air Cadets for training purposes.
One part of the facility was a huge building that served as the Navy’s mess hall in the 60s. This morphed into the Officer’s Club, and at one point, this building housed 40-50 amusement cabinets to keep the troops entertained during their down time (and interestingly, some were slot machines – this was the only place on the whole island where slots were legal).
Ralph started some research and discovered that the building had been recently purchased by a company whose long-term plan was to convert it into a marijuana growing facility, given the recent legislation passed in Canada. (Which is nice).
Speaking to some of the construction workers on site, he was told that around 40 pinball and video games had been discovered in the building, but that they had all been “disposed of”. The Street Fighter 2 and WWF cabs had been put aside, because bizarrely, they were the only games that anyone recognised, along with an interesting looking pinball called Raven.
Ralph dug deeper and was told that the cabinets were delivered to a scrap yard around a four-hour drive from there. Having to go the extra mile to find games was nothing new to him, so Ralph decided that the trip would be worth it; hooked up his trailer, and hit the road. He might hit a goldmine of abandoned classic arcade machines, or maybe at worst, a bunch of useful parts.
Arriving at the yard, Ralph waited for the manager to show up, and told him the story. The owner said he was free to look around, but smiled and said “knock yourself out, but you won’t find anything”.
He was right.
It turns out that prior to being taken to the yard, the machines were smashed up so that they could fit into dumpsters ready for transportation. This is the scene that met Ralph as he looked through the rubble (click for larger images):
Ralph was a few days too late. Whatever was left, wasn’t even worth taking, but he grabbed a few parts purely out of principle. Having made the journey, he wasn’t going to go home empty-handed!
Individual parts were easily recognisable, but everything was wet, and mashed to pulp along with drywall and general debris from the base:
As you can see, there was literally nothing of any value left here (click for larger images):
All of the arcade and pinball cabinets had been thrown and trashed along with everything else from the building that wasn’t required. The remains now sat in 20 ft piles in this scrapyard.
Ralph picked through the rubble for about three hours before giving up. He identified a few things; a few coin doors, control panels and destroyed pinball play fields from a Baby Pac-Man, F-14 and a Jacks to Open and a few PCBs – all smashed up. He was left with this small consolation for his efforts:
Ralph estimates that based on what he saw, he valued the destroyed haul at around 20,000 Canadian dollars – even more if it all worked.
But he remains reflective. As one of just a handful of collectors on the island he told me:
I find this hobby is all about connections, especially here. If you’re at it long enough people reach out to you. So hopefully a few guys know I’m into this now, and if anything like this comes up again they’ll think of me (like the scrap yard guy)
And all was not totally lost. Ralph did manage to rescue the three cabinets from the base:
That WWF game looks to be a Defender conversion, so hopefully something positive will come out of the tale once Ralph starts work on it, and the Raven pinball looked to be in good shape.
Ralph runs his own Facebook page – go check out Newfoundland Arcade & Pinball and say hi. Plenty of cool pics to look at, and you can see some of Ralph’s more successful hunts for arcade cabinets!
Thanks for your visit this week – I have plenty more (hopefully positive!) arcade raid tales to come!