Arcade Raid! Abandoned House: Vive la France!

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be a part of an extraordinary arcade rescue mission. This turned out to be a very memorable raid for both good and bad reasons. Nothing could have prepared us for what we found.

In short, we received a message from an English woman about two weeks ago, who informed us that she had just purchased an abandoned semi-commercial property in a small French village in Western France. On entering the property, she discovered the place was full of arcade machines from the late 70s and early 80s. Sensing they might be worth something to someone, she got in touch. The house was in a state of disrepair, and clearly hadn’t been occupied since that time.

It seems the previous owner was a restauranteur and arcade operator. He had stored the machines in the restaurant, across three floors and an outbuilding, and there they sat untouched for all this time. We didn’t have much to go on, but the few pictures she was able to send through gave us enough reasons to decide that we needed to rescue these games as soon as possible – the house was literally falling apart. The new owner had intentions to gut and renovate the place, so we had to get there quickly.

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600 miles each way? To rescue old arcade cabinets? Hell yes!

We were hesitant, as we only had a few pictures to go by, but after a bit of debate, we felt we simply had to go for it. If there’s one thing the UK arcade collector scene is good at, it’s getting organised with logistics and manpower for these sorts of things. Within 24 hours, we had commitments from 10 collectors to drive 5 Luton vans down to the place to get these cabinets out. And so, on 8th September, we set off in convoy for our 650 mile journey to Western France. First stop was the Eurotunnel.

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Our Raid convoy
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Loading up onto the Eurotunnel

And then a further five hundred mile drive to our location. We arrived at 3.00 am and stayed at a hotel just north of the village. Three hours later, we were up, showered (well some of us were) and ready for the final push on to the destination to get cracking.

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We covered over 1,000 miles in just 36 hours to pull this raid off

We arrived at 8.00 am, and were greeted with a picturesque village in the middle of rural France. Local life seemed relaxed:

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Is there anything finer than warm fresh French baguettes in the morning? I think not

Strangely, the locals seemed to know we were coming, and we were able to get directions through the winding lanes to the building in question:

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We waited for the owner to arrive so we could be let in. Peering through the windows, we got an idea of what we were up against. It was a mess in there. But we had been assured that the building had been made stable – stable enough for us to get in, and remove whatever we wanted.

The reality was this building was far from safe, and it was clear that we would be putting ourselves at a great deal of risk just to access much of what was there.

I have a ton of pictures, so I’ll try to break this down to the main areas, and give you an idea of what we found. Check the descriptions under the photos for more info:

This was the ground floor:

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This is what greeted us when we walked in. Notice the doors hanging in mid-air above, and the bow in the ceiling. From this vantage point, you could look up right through three floors and see daylight through holes in the roof
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It was immediately clear that safety was going to be an issue. Those Acro Props were supposed to be holding the ceiling up, but you can see that they had been placed on beer crates. They were completely ineffective
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More on the individual cabs later, but you can get a sense of the age of everything. Demolition Derby, Super Road Champions and Steeplechase – all Mid/late 70s.
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Speak & Rescue, Grand Crash and Playtime. Nothing had been moved for 25 years
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The pile of rubble on the right is the remains of what was the ceiling above. The cab at the back there is a Demolition Derby. We got it out
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Here’s the view down from the floor above. There should have been a floor/ceiling here but it was long gone

The ground floor extended to other areas; a loading bay of sorts, and an outbuilding:

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A view down towards part of the loading bay area. Some gems here
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Two pinball machines. Nothing to be saved here

And out the back, we were able to get into an outbuilding:

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The rest of the ceiling had been removed and dumped here
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A moment’s silence please…
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Here’s the outbuilding. A few pinball boxes, a jukebox and a couple of uprights
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More pinball boxes and headers
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A better view of the loading bay. Nice Gunfight there and several cocktail tables stacked up
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More pin boxes and a wrecked GeeBee
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It wasn’t pretty in this room, but that Galaxian was worth grabbing

A set of stairs in the corner of the building allowed us up to the second floor. It’s impossible to describe how unsafe it was up there. In places, the floor moved as you walked on it, and rubble would fall from the ceiling under our feet onto the ground floor below. There was one area that we just couldn’t walk on at all:

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A beautiful Wurlitzer Statesman jukebox. The floor could not be walked on. I didn’t tilt the camera here – that’s the angle of the floor
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The waiting room….
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Another cool looking jukebox
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There was something very sad about this room. A few pins in here and a sorry-looking Crazy Kong bootleg at the back there
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Gottlieb Volcano pinball. I think the playfield might need some work
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Probably the find of the day was this amazing Sega Jet Rocket. More on this later
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This pile of monitor PCB chassis was in one room. Nothing here was worth saving sadly

From there, another set of stairs took you up to the loft area. Again, it is hard to get a sense for the dangers up here. But check out what we found:

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For a loft, there’s a lot of daylight up here!
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More cabs in the gloom. Walking over there would be risky
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A lovely Atari Gran Trak. I pushed the top, to see if it was moveable; the bottom stayed put. It was waterlogged. What you can’t see from this picture are the holes in the floor
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A Head-On – this was surprisingly solid
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An original Nutting Ricochet. It was beautiful and very rare. But check out the floor – it was completely rotten and very weak. No-one was prepared to walk on it to pull the thing out
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Things were more stable on this side of the loft. That’s a Breakout table. Note the old CRT
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Pinball boxes. I think that coloured glass was from a jukebox
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It wasn’t all bad news. Here’s the upright Battlezone we managed to rescue from the loft
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Note the caved in roof to the left – if nothing else, you got a nice view across the town. Straight ahead there was a Taito Safari upright, and you can just make out an original Atari Lunar Lander upright

There’s more pictures but I’ll be here all day if I keep going. Here’s a brief walk-through video that I put together on arrival. This will give you an idea of the conditions we were dealing with:

I do want to share some of the great stuff we did manage to pull from the building. We had to work quickly as we were under time pressures to get back to our booked crossing on the Eurotunnel. We quickly identified what we wanted to grab – some took more than others, but here’s a few highlights:

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Here’s that Battlezone as we found it. Getting it down was a challenge, as we didn’t have much safe floor underfoot to move things around, but we got there
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Here’s a great shot of the guys getting the Battlezone down. Just steps away from potential disaster – you get a real feel for what the conditions were like.
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It is a very weird cab. Note the Asteroids buttons on the control panel. Inside is what appeared to be an original Battlezone PCB – further investigation required on this one, but it looks to be a conversion of some sort. Incredibly, this cab came with the original step!
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Alex here was able to snag this fabulous Atari Video Pinball. Check out the amazing condition of the side art. Incredible it was found in this state considering where it had lived for the last 30 years
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And this stunner: a Midway M-4 Tank upright
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Beautiful. Not many of these around. There were actually two of these, but the other was falling apart as it was moved. We managed to grab some spares though…
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Here’s my swag from the raid. An original Atari Steeplechase! It’s got damage (caused by falling masonry) but should restore OK
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Couldn’t resist those curves and had to have it. This particular European cabinet was made by Socodimex in Paris. I’ve only ever seen pictures of one before now

That Lunar Lander? A herculean effort was made to try to get it down. There was no easy way to do it. The floor was totally rotten, and any stairwell access had long since gone. Various efforts were made to save it using scaffolding, a makeshift jig – even brute force was considered. In the end, it just had to be left up there and stripped for parts.

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We only risked one man at a time up there. Here’s Jol stripping the Lunar Lander for parts
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Here’s one of the aborted attempts to get it down. Didn’t work out
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The clock was ticking, so in the end a decision had to be made. Lunar Lander parts
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Lunar Lander control panel. That thruster controller is a thing of rare beauty
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Atari Breakout: this came from the loft. It cleaned up really well
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This stunner is a Sega Space Ship, pictured back home after a clean. There were two, and we got them both out of the building. Very early vector game circa 1977

On reflection I think the find of the day was the Sega Jet Rocket. This stunning electro-mechanical flight simulator game was released by Sega in 1970. It was HUGE. We were lucky that the room it was in had a door which opened right out to the street. There wasn’t much holding the floor up, and our original thought was to leave the thing. But late in the day, Oliver grabbed us all, and said in no uncertain terms that we had come this far, and the right thing to do woud be to save it. I’m glad we did. Check it out:

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The Sega Jet Rocket as found. Condition was not far from perfect!
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Look at that great artwork
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It was incredibly heavy – it took four of us to get it out into the open
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Sega Jet Rocket. Think you’ll agree it was worth saving

Incredibly, we discovered once we got back that the Jet Rocket works!

So we did well. Considering the time we had there, and the condition of the place, the haul was significant:

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Just a small part of the haul from our French Arcade Raid
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We attracted quite a bit of attention from the locals once things started coming out
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Loading up the Luton vans ready for the long journey home
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Nice haul of pinball playfields here

On reflection I think we all wish we had more time. Because of commitments back home and specific crossing times back to the UK, not to mention an eight-hour drive back to Calais, we simply had to grab what we could in the time we had available to us. Everything took an age to get out because of the condition of the building. To get to the good stuff, the crap had to be moved out of the way, and it all had to be done carefully. What we found at the site, wasn’t quite what was described, which didn’t help the mood – any expectations we had to be driving back to the UK with five full van loads, had to be quickly revised. It was clear as soon as we arrived that we had to be selective. Whatever we left either wasn’t worth taking, or simply could not be reached safely.

I want to thank the other guys for making this particular raid so memorable. We had a lot of laughs, and despite running on 3 hours sleep over two days, everyone I think came back with their own treasures and a great set of memories (we might have some speeding fines too, which may materialise in due course!). But everyone looked out for each other, and we came away with a good selection of classic arcade cabinets. It was a truly crazy weekend, and I hope these pictures do it justice.

This really was a one-of-a-kind Arcade Raid.

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Left to Right: Tim, Steve, Alex, Tony, Michael, Dave, Oliver and Steve. (Jol was up top, still stripping that Lunar Lander!)

Alex over at Nintendo Arcade has pulled together a montage video of the footage we took of the day. Do check it out below:

There were so many pictures from the day, and I’ve only shared some of them here, if you want to browse through the full gallery, you can do that by clicking on this link.

Here’s a list of some of the cabs we saved and brought back to the UK:

Video games:

Motocross, Space Ship x2, Head On, Gee Bee, Special Duel, Playtime, Circus, Speak & Rescue, Kamikaze, Steeplechase, Video Pinball x2, Battlezone, Taito Cocktail, Stop & Go x2, Sega Jet Rocket, Sega Thunderblade, Karateko Taskette, Breakout Cocktail, Lunar Lander parts, Bally Midway M4 Tank, Tehkan Cabinet, various parts and bits.

Pinballs:

Bally Lost World, Six Million Dollar man, Alien Poker, Diamond Lady, Getaway

I suspect there were a few more too that I didn’t document. Thanks for reading this week. I’d appreciate it if you could share this article on your social media channels using the links below. More to come as always, but you can read about past arcade raids in the archives at the top of this page.

See you next week.

Tony

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LongPinEveReview

17 Comments Add yours

  1. neil1637 says:

    Wow. I followed the thread on UKVac when the cabs were first discovered. The commitment to save these cabs has to be commended. You guys crossed continents, sacrificed sleep, risked lives (literally) to bring these back to the UK.
    A truly terrific tale. Give yourselves all a round of applause.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julien Meaux Saint-Marc says:

    Thank you to preserving history. I did one as well 10 years ago not so incredable in France of course…VIVE LA FRANCE
    Julien MSM

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ringadingding says:

    incredible. that upright battlezone is a puzzle! i’m drooling over that Sega Space Ship, and heartbroken about the Lunar Lander game. how did the woman find you guys in the first place? random google search??

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great blog post!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such an awesome find..!!
    I’m always overwhelmed when a story like this comes up. All these machines found housed in one place!
    Always great to hear these games will survive through collectors like yourself.
    Great pics too!
    Let me know if you require any panels made up for that Steeplechase or any other cab.
    Next time, I want to come along for the ride 👍👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What an awesome save! I can imagine the frustration of leaving some behind, especially knowing they will end up in a pile of rubble. Great job! – Rich

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keith Glindemann says:

    What a great raid and a great story. I wish I could have been there.

    Like

  8. Joe says:

    Any notes on what had to be left behind? 😦

    Like

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