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.
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.
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.
We arrived at 8.00 am, and were greeted with a picturesque village in the middle of rural France. Local life seemed relaxed:
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:
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:
The ground floor extended to other areas; a loading bay of sorts, and an outbuilding:
And out the back, we were able to get into an outbuilding:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
French collector Florent Gorges pulled together a series of five videos documenting this raid, which are pretty cool. Non-French speakers can use the subtitle facility on these YouTube videos:
Here’s a list of some of the cabs we saved and brought back to the UK:
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.
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.