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Grant Johnstone provides fun galore with his arcade game collection

by: Vern Uyetake, Since he bought his first arcade game five years ago, Grant Johnstone has become a master at getting inside the inner workings of a mechanical game and making it work even better.

Five years ago, Grant Johnstone was visiting at the home of a business client when he noticed an old arcade game in the garage. Frankly, it looked terrible.

'It was so broken it wouldn't even turn on,' Johnstone said. 'It was even missing its top lights.'

But the dilapidated F-14 Tomcat turned on a light for Johnstone. It brought back wonderful childhood memories of playing pinball and other arcade games with his older brother back in his native Texas.

'Our grandmother would drop Kyle and me off at Putt-Putt Golf and give us a handful of quarters,' Johnstone said. 'He would always beat me.'

Did he want to recapture his childhood? Whatever the reason, Johnstone found himself forking over $200 to the client to take the old machine off his hands.

Five years later, Johnstone has 11 arcade games in his West Linn home and two more games at his business just down the street. He has become a skilled arcade game technician, able to repair and refurbish any machine he can get his hands on. He cruises the Internet for information on where to buy and how to repair pinball machines. He has formed friendships with other arcade aficionados. His wife Amy and two young daughters Ruth and Rachel play the games. His garage is the best party spot in town for friends, neighbors and kids.

Few people get as much out of their pastimes as Grant Johnstone.

'I do have 13 machines,' he said. 'But I imagine there's probably somebody else in West Linn who has 50 machines.'

Still, that is a lot of bells and whistles. Johnstone has really hit the jackpot when it comes to arcade games.

Walk into the Johnstones' garage and suddenly you're 13 years old again. There's the old F-14 Tomcat (looking unbelievably bright and shiny after having escaped from the junk pile), Star Trek, The Shadow, Theatre of Magic, Star Wars, Continental Circuit, Duck Hunt, Stunt Pilot, Dune Buggy, S.A.M.I., and Road Runner.

Turn on one, two or three of these babies and you have a load of slam-bang, noisy, exciting fun. Maybe there can be too much of a good thing, but not in this case.

'I put so much sweat equity into these things,' Johnstone said. 'They're like friends.'

From his very first arcade game, Johnstone was hooked. Previously a very non-technical guy, he began cruising the Internet for ways he could repair his machines. He found himself practically pulling manuals, mostly with tiny lines, off of the Net and actually understanding them.

'It's amazing what's available,' Johnstone said. 'There's step-by-step guides, and I taught myself the basics on electronics and trouble shooting.

'I'll buy a machine in known disrepair so I can enjoy the investigation, going online and conducting scavenger hunts for parts, and finding out how to restore them.'

'I suspected that Grant had a talent for electronics,' Amy Johnstone said. 'He didn't know what he was doing, but he had a talent for it.'

Almost as much fun was finding out about the world of arcade games.

'There's a whole community online - underground - in every city,' Johnstone said.

A financial adviser by profession, Johnstone has even found that his arcade game collection goes beyond fun and fascination.

'These machines have ended up being some of my best investments,' he said.

This is not the golden age of pinball or any arcade games. After all, The Who's rock opera Tommy, with its youthful pinball wizard hero, came out in 1969, and the 1970s was the decade when giant tournaments were held.

However, the only maker of pinball machines today is Stern Company. The shrinking popularity of arcade games is why Johnstone has been able to find old machines and restore them to their past glory.

But it's hard to keep the light of an arcade game under a bushel basket. Johnstone says the popularity of arcade games is showing a resurgence. After all, the old games he got for a pittance have taken a big rise in value.

'It's catching on more and more,' Johnstone said. 'You're seeing more people around my age with successful careers starting to take up games. These games are becoming harder to find, and their price is going up.'

Meanwhile, Johnstone has his own little pinball hotbed right in West Linn. His garage arcade is not only great for family recreation on weekends but for parties.

In fact, the Johnstones are planning a big spring shindig for 40 people that will feature chili, margaritas and pinball. Sounds like perfection.

However, Johnstone does have one concern. His garage is only so big and right now it is hard to see where he could fit another arcade game. But he has a solution.

'This is 10 years down the road, but I've been thinking about setting up an arcade game museum,' Johnstone said. 'People could come in and learn about the old games and how to play them.'

There is just one tiny dark cloud on Johnstone's shining pinball horizon. Sometimes big brother Kyle from Texas pays a visit.

'He still beats me,' Johnstone said.

But his enthusiasm it totally undented.

'They just don't make games like this anymore,' Johnstone said. 'All the racket and the noise. It's a blast!'