November 28, 2020

Confessions of a Pinball Wizard

Randal MoffittImagine a place where you can feel like a kid again, energized by flashing lights and chiming bells as you blast a silver ball from corner to corner of a vintage pinball machine. It’s an everyday occurrence in Randal Moffitt’s basement-turned-arcade.

“Pinball is still the best,” said Moffitt, 44, a MaxYield Cooperative truck driver and custom applicator from Estherville. “I have 15 restored pinball machines in my basement, and I play almost every night.”

Like many kids who grew up in the 1970s, Moffitt got hooked on pinball at an early age. “Dad would take us to Evans Recreation in Estherville, where there were a couple of pinball machines in the back of the pool hall. Playing pinball was great, and I’d just get lost in it.”

Moffitt’s love for the game never died, and here are five things you may not know about this “pinball addict.”

1. Moffitt helps preserve pieces of the past. An American phenomenon, pinball machines are time capsules of American history. In the 1930s, airplane themes abounded on pinball machines, while rocket-inspired designs dominated by the 1960s. Through the decades, pinball machines’ artwork also reflected American pop culture, from music to movies, said Moffitt, who noted that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the first movie-themed pinball machine. At the height of the pinball craze in the 1960s and 1970s, a dozen companies in the Chicago area manufactured pinball machines, added Moffitt, who can tell a Gottlieb from a Bally just by the sound of the bells. Today, only the Stern Company of Illinois continues to manufacture pinball machines.

Randal Moffitt pinball2. Moffitt knows pinball machines inside and out. When pinball machines debuted in the 1930s, the first games were little more than nails on a board. “It was like Plinko, where players shot the ball and it fell wherever it landed,” said Moffitt, who noted that manufacturers added zipper flippers in the 1940s to keep balls in play longer. As the machines became more sophisticated, manufacturers added self-cleaning electrical contacts. “The engineering that went into these machines was unbelievable,” said Moffitt, who noted that all pinball machines operate with essentially the same types of switches and gears.

3. Restoring classic Americana is more than fun and games. Since pinball machines were designed to attract attention and make money in bars, bowling alleys, and pool halls, they took a lot of abuse and had to be durable. “To find one in really nice condition is pretty rare,” said Moffitt, who has restored pinball machines for more than a decade. “The worst thing for a pinball machine is to just sit. They need to be played with.” To keep his machines in top condition, Moffitt replaces the balls every year and uses a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to wipe down the play fields, which he also waxes periodically.

Sky Jump pinball4. Younger generations are fascinated by Moffitt’s old school classics. While the introduction of video games in the 1980s marked the end of pinball’s heyday, kids are mesmerized when they see a pinball machine for the first time. “A few years ago my wife and I took two pinball machines to Graettinger for the prom, and the kids flocked around the machines all night,” said Moffitt, who enjoys playing pinball with his sons. While games sometimes end after a few seconds, they can last up to six minutes on one round if you follow the right sequence to keep the ball in play, Moffitt noted. “Pinball is relaxing and fun at the same time.”

5. MaxYield’s culture rings a bell with Moffitt. Just as Moffitt appreciates the variety of challenges that come with restoring pinball machines, he also enjoys the variety of jobs he handles at MaxYield. Since he joined the company in September of 2012, he has hauled liquid fertilizer, loaded trains in Dickens and Mallard, and will handle custom application jobs this spring. “I love the work and really appreciate MaxYield’s safety-first culture,” Moffitt said. “The people of MaxYield have a positive attitude, and this says a lot about the company.”


Editor’s note: A 1987 graduate of Estherville High School, Moffitt is married to his high school sweetheart, April, who teaches family and consumer sciences. The couple has two sons, Connor, 14, and Shane, 10. When he’s not spending time with his family or restoring pinball machines, Moffitt leads the FIRST (For Inspiration, Science and Technology) 4-H Club and teams up with his wife to teach 5th and 6th grade Sunday school classes at the United Methodist Church in Estherville.

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