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Randy Lawton, Caretaker of the Classics is Also a Pinball Wizard

Taking care of over 500 video games and pinball machines is a labor of love for Randy Lawton, Chief of Technical Services at Funspot, who practically grew up in the arcade here and has been keeping both the old and new games running for nearly 30 years. His work on the innards of the game machines qualifies him as the resident "pinball wizard", a title he has also held during the 1970s when his mastery of the intricacies of the games earned him a reputation as one of the top pinball players in the country.

But as much as he enjoys the work, he does have one complaint. He says he's so busy these days that he doesn't get much of a chance to enjoy the games he works on, especially those classic pinball games he first cut his teeth on.

"I like some of the old ones. but I don't get much of a chance to play them anymore," says Lawton, who was busy putting the finish­ing touches on his latest res­toration project, recondi­tioning a pinball game that will see its first action since the early 1980s.

The game, Gottlieb's Foto-Finish, came out in 1961 and saw over 20 years of service before being replaced by some of the first video games that came into the Funspot arcade. It is one of eight classic videos and pinballs that Lawton recently pulled out of storage to recondition for the arcade industry's first large scale classic game con­test in over 15 years.

That event, the Funspot/Twin Galaxies International Classic Video Game and Pinball Tournament, will bring an inter­national field of competitors to the arcade, which features the world's largest collection of classic games.

Lawton has been busy re­conditioning other classic pinballs such as Old Chicago from 1975, Buckaroo from 1965 and Tropic Isle from 1961, to add them to the over 100 video games and pinball machines from that era which have already been grouped together on the up­per level of the Funspot complex for the upcoming tournament.

Walter Day, editor of the Twin Galaxies' Book of Video game and Pinball Records, who is co-sponsor of the tournament, said that he was astounded when he found out that Funspot had so many of the classic games and that they were still run­ning just like they did when they first came off the fac­tory production line. "It's like a King Tut's tomb, a veritable time ma­chine of classic games," said Day, who has been e-mailing enthusiasts all over the world about the tourna­ment.

In his capacity as "keeper of the crypt" Lawton said that he has had to brush away his share of cobwebs to get the old games out of stor­age and get them back on line. And he enjoys that challenge as well as working with the older machines. "In the old days every­thing was pretty logical. When the ball closed a con­tact switch it scored points or features through a series of relays and score motor contacts. In today's games the ball can make switch clo­sures by contact or inter­rupting an optic or infrared switch. "In the electronic pin games, as they are called, these types of switch activators are read by an I.O. board (input/output) or circuitry. The I.O. signals the central processing unit (C.P.U.) through a system of interface memory and processing I.C.s (integrated circuits) which in turn signals the out put circuitry to make the sounds, turn lights or sole­noids on or off and add score to a digital display. "The principle remains the same, in either the old relay or new circuit board based games, the machines react to the action of the player moving a ball at tar­gets on the playfield."

One of his all-time favor­ites was Liberty Bell, a 1962 game which has become in­creasingly hard to find. "It was a great machine. I'd like to get my hands on one of them again," he says. Other favorites include Sittin''Pretty, a 1958 Gottlieb game, and Captain Fantastic, a 1976 game made for singer Eiton John after the 1975 success of the movie version of the rock opera "Tommy". In the movie John plays the reigning "Pinball Wizard" who is challenged for su­premacy by "Tommy" (Roger Daltry of The Who), immortalized in the song's line as "that deaf, dumb and blind kid, sure plays a mean pinball."

Older video games which are being readied for the tournament include Starship 1 from 1976, Sea Wolf, Drag Race from 1977 and Stunt Cycle. And there will be the popular classics such as Pac-Man, Joust, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders. Lawton says there is no real/magic involved in keep­ing the games running. "You just need a little common sense and the ability to read a schematic and follow it through the machine.' Keep it simple and clean the con­tacts first. If that's not the problem then follow through step by step until you find what's causing the problem." He said that he can't re­member when he first started fixing the machines but knows that playing them helped make him a better mechanic when he did.

Lawton took over chief responsibility for repair and maintenance of the games from his uncle, Bob Lawton, who says that Randy was one of the bestpinball players around.

"I don't know many players who ever beat him at any game more than once," says his uncle. When he's not around the pinball and video games Lawton enjoys fishing, playing golf and watching auto racing. He also enjoys taking his 28-foot classic wooden boat out on Lake Winnipesaukee every now and then. The 1966 Lyman is one of the last wooden boats manufactured and is powered by two 230 horsepower engines. He's had the boat since the early 90s and is hoping that there won't be so much high water and no-wake restrictions this year so that he'll have more chances to get out and enjoy the lake.

Like others at Funspot, he says that he is psyched up about the upcoming tournament and is looking forward to it becoming an annual event. Competitors from as far away as Canada and Florida and perhaps even Japan, will try to set new world record on the classic game machine; during the three-day tournament. "This will be bigger than the famous contests we organized for the Guinness Books back during the mid 1980s" said Walter Day, who expects to arrive in the Lakes Region several days before the tournament in order to familiarize himself with Funspot and its amazing variety of classic games. Highest scores logged during the tournament will be published in the next edition of Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records.

For contest information, call Gary Vincent at Funspot at (603) 366-4377 or go to www.funspotnh.com. Or contact Walter Day at (515) 472-3882 or go to www.twingalaxies.com.

By Roger Amsden - Reprinted from The Weirs Times, Vol. 8, No. 17, April 29, 1999