Arcade Raid! Wisconsin Rural Warehouse

Welcome to another Arcade Raid here on the blog! A slight departure from the usual write-up process this week. Blog subscriber Alan got in touch and shared a bunch of pictures with me, asking if I’d like to share details of a raid he took part in. I asked a few questions about the circumstances, and very kindly, Alan wrote the raid up with a ton of detail! It’s so well done, that I don’t think me messing with it would serve much purpose.

So this raid took place in rural Wisconsin, USA back in the fall of 2002, and here in his own words is Alan’s warehouse raid story:

In June of 2001, I had purchased my first two video arcade games from a local “wheeler-dealer”, Jim.  Over time, we became acquaintances and then good friends.  Years later, I would be a groomsman at his wedding, and, after a few more years, he would be my best man at my wedding.

In October of 2002, Jim sent me an email.  He was going on a road trip to buy some games from an operator’s warehouse, and he had been storing unwanted games there for many years.

Would I like to come along?  Sure I would! I’d never been on a “warehouse raid” before, but I’d read about them on RGVAC and various collector’s web sites.  I put some cash in my wallet, got out a flashlight, digital camera, paper and pen, and dreamed about finding really cool games for very low prices…

It was a cool and rainy October Saturday, and we started out at about 5am.  Jim drove his pickup truck and pulled an open trailer. After a drive of about eight hours, we found the location in rural Wisconsin – many miles from the nearest town. This is what greeted us
This “warehouse” was actually several large sheds all attached together.  One of the sheds was full of sprint cars, race cars, and sports cars.  The rest were mostly full of arcade games and parts
Video arcade games had been packed together tightly with no organization or easy access to them
Some gems here. Vanguard and Gravitar!
Everything was caked in dust
Most of the games were broken or partially stripped for parts.  There was industrial shelving along the walls stacked with parts, pinball bodies, and other items.

There were dozens and dozens of video games, pinball games, jukeboxes, new monitors still in the box, arcade parts and junk of all types…

The owner wouldn’t even consider selling games like Ms Pac-Man. “I’ve got buyers for those willing to pay big bucks!”
More recent drivers here. Daytona USA and San Francisco Rush
I see Looping, Double Dragon, Carnival, Roc N Rope, Commando
Having to climb over everything meant Alan got some interesting shots
Two Breakouts and a Tempest next to a Stunt Cycle
There were many 1970’s vintage B&W games like Tank, AntiAircraft, Breakout, Pong clones, Stunt Cycle, Night Driver (sit-down), etc.  There were some classics from the early to mid 80’s

The challenge was going to be finding and putting working monitors, circuit boards, and control panels back in those empty cabinets.

He also wouldn’t sell his one (worn and incomplete) Tron because it was “worth five thousand bucks”
Crossbow was a cool find. Jim eventually took this away along with a Cheyenne for 75 bucks!
A rare Atari Bronze Age game – AntiAircraft
Lots here. Star Trek, Tempest, Qix, Gorf, Pole Position II and Burgertime. All classics
Pepper II
That Gravitar again, mr Do’s Castle & Operation Wolf

If I remember correctly, this operator didn’t own this storage space.  He was also in the process of clearing out another warehouse and transferring its contents to this one.  However, he (and the actual building owner) wanted to clear out a lot of items from this location too.

As you can see, the games were packed together so tightly that I had to resort to climbing up and walking on top of them just to get to the back of the storage space and see what was there! All kinds of neat games (a lot of which, in hindsight, I now wish that I’d bought).

Gravitars, Battlezones, Tempests, Tron, Star Trek, Burgertime, Space Invaders, Pooyan, Double Dragon, Asteroids, Joust, etc.  And of course, a ton of junky conversions, unpopulated cabinets, and countless video trivia machines.

I had fond memories of playing Tempest as a teenager:

One Tempest was waaaaaay in the back.  I walked on top of games again and dropped down into a tiny space in front of it.  It looked all right, but I couldn’t get to the backdoor to check for monitor boards, and, looking through the coin door, I thought that one of the game boards might be missing.  Plus, it would have taken two hours to extricate it
But, hey, there’s another Tempest over there!  Once again, I go through a gymnastics routine to get to it.  Hmmm, looks fairly decent, all the parts seem to be inside, just the back door is missing.  I mention to the Op that I might be interested.  “I think that it works”, he says, so we feed an extension cord back to it.  Hmm, it does come up, it plays, but some of the graphics are garbled.  Still, I’m interested.  “Tempests are worth a lot”, the Op says.  To cut the story short, I got Jim to bargain for me, and we settled on $300 for the Tempest

To get the Tempest out, we had to move about 15 other games first.  Once out, I was disappointed to see that the sides of the cabinet were in very poor condition at the bottom.  The leg levelers must have disappeared many years prior.  However, there was an excellent condition Tempest cabinet in the same area.  Of course, it was dead and had been converted to a Universal Eggs game.

After some more bargaining, the Op offered to throw in that cabinet on the deal.  We just had to remove the circuit board, monitor, and marquee for him first.  OK!  We had that done in under 10 minutes.  As an extra bonus, there was a full set of Tempest manuals and schematics lying in the bottom of that converted cabinet.

A dusty Space Invaders Deluxe hiding in the corner
Nintendo cabs, Hyper Sports
Another Bronze Age rarity here – Midway’s Space Encounter. It’s a pretty good game too!
Here’s the two Atari Battlezones

Jim and I also ended up helping to unload a big box truck full of stuff that the Op had cleaned out of another warehouse.  (Jim wanted to look at a pinball that was in the truck.)  There in the truck was a complete Tempest control panel.  I asked the Op about buying it, and he gave it to me in thanks for my help unloading the truck.

I mentioned how this operator needed to make room in the warehouse?  Well, while Jim and I climbed around and looked at stuff, the Op and his son were going through game cabinets.  They’d select a cabinet that was dead and/or empty, and that didn’t have any value to them, remove any remaining parts that might be useful, then cart the cabinet outside and set it on fire!

Jukebox cabinets, old trivia cabinets, they went up in flames one by one…  The only one that made me wince was a Gottlieb New York, New York.  I had seen it earlier, and it had caught my eye because I vaguely recalled it being a rare game.  It was a nice cabinet, but no monitor or boards.  About the only parts left were the marquee and control panel.  At least they saved those before the rest went up in smoke.

Weird cab up top there. An Atari Kangaroo converted to a Williams Joust!
The last known picture of the Gottlieb New York! New York! before it met its fiery demise
That’s a Gravitar converted to a Pit Boss. I have no idea what that is. There’s a Dig Dug converted to a quiz machine further along. Ouch
Missile Command cocktail!
We were there all day until well after sunset.  We were tired, thirsty, dirty, and hungry with a long drive home ahead of us.  But we had bought some games, and I had been on my first warehouse raid!

So what did we actually buy?

My friend Jim bought a Jurassic Park pinball.  He bought it for parts.  It had literally fallen off a truck which had smashed the head to pieces.  He resold it as-is, and the buyer completely reassembled it.  He also bought an Eight Ball Deluxe pinball and two classic Exidy shooter video games – Crossbow and Cheyenne.  I had the nearly complete almost-working Tempest, empty Tempest “Eggs” cabinet, and spare Tempest control panel.

Looking back now, Alan reflects on the raid:

I look through these photos now and wince.  I think, “Why didn’t I buy more of those games?”  As a novice collector, I didn’t even recognize many of them.  I didn’t know that Gravitar was a vector game!  This was also long before smart phones let us instantly search for information.  At the time, I was also in the process of buying my first house.  That meant that I was short on available cash while also not yet having anyplace to store games.

So there you have it. 2002 was a different time. These sorts of finds were commonplace, and the destruction of cabinets was fairly typical. I’m quite sure a raid of this magnitude in today’s market would be much more expensive for starters! (And just for the record, these games are now long gone).

Huge thanks to Alan for allowing me to share his story here on the blog.

Plenty more Arcade Raids lined up in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out!

Thanks as always for visiting this week.


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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew says:

    Growing up and living in Wisconsin, I’ve come to notice something about the makeup of arcade games available here: we never saw many games from Universal. A few Mr. Do titles occasionally, though not even very many of those. Did they not try very hard for distributors in my state? Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tony says:

    I think you riase an interesting point Andrew. Our view of these games now, is entirely driven by what we saw as kids at our local arcades. Our choices were limited by what was in the arcades, rather than by “everything” as it is now. Equally, part of the fun of the hobby now, is discovering new games that we never saw.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. taulpaul78 says:

    Very few of the games I consider keepers were my favorites as a kid. Freeplay kills a lot of those games.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve spent many summer & fall weekends in northern Wisconsin and always run across old arcade games in bars, restaurants, and hotel/campground game rooms. It’s amazing how many of them are still in circulation up there. It’s like every little place bought something in the 80s and never changed it up. Last trip I saw a Frogger cocktail for the first time. The bar owner said it had been there for at least 30 years, it was a little roughed up but still played fine. I’m kind of curious what town this was in now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. TomTom says:

    Cool story! I wish I had the chance to live such an adventure myself!

    By the way, I’m stunned that a worn and incomplete Tron was thought to worth five thousand bucks back in 2002!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love going through some of my first raids when I started back in 2008. So many games I passed on over the years just like everyone has in this hobby. I am still a firm believer that many more hidden warehouse gems like this still exist.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I live in Wisconsin, and 2002 was right around the time I was buying arcade games for my collection. I would have lost my mind had I known about this!

    Liked by 1 person

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