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Remembering the pinball wizards of Wal Mart

by John Moore | Texarkana Gazette | June 29, 2020 at 1:52 a.m. | Updated June 29, 2020 at 1:55 a.m.

My hometown of Ashdown, Arkansas, had Wal Mart No. 17. They've since built a Super Center, but during my early teen years, it was a small store.

It was the early 1970s and Sam Walton still made trips to the grand openings of his new stores. He was there when ours opened - ball cap, pickup truck and all.

But at my age, I was far more interested in what was sitting in the entrance than what was inside the store.

A pinball machine.

It was made in 1974 and was called Dolphin, designed and made by Chicago Coin.

My buddy Clint and I were excited to have a Wal Mart in town, but we were far more excited to have access to a pinball machine.

Ashdown had a pool hall that was filled with all sorts of games of chance, but neither of us were allowed to frequent the pool hall. Ever.

Our moms said there was gambling and drinking that went on in the back of the pool hall, but there wasn't really much of that.

At least that's what we heard. We didn't know from firsthand experience.

But a pinball machine was something we could play for hours on just one quarter. We were that good.

If you could score a specific number or additional points without losing the ball, you got extra points and extra games.

So Clint and I would get out of school, ride our bikes to Wal Mart, lean the bikes against the piles of lawn-and-garden equipment by the entrance and play pinball on one quarter until dark.

Kids today have video games in their bedrooms and living rooms. If they lose, they just hit reset and keep going. But when Clint and I were kids, we had to make the most out of that quarter. That was 1/4 of a week's allowance.

Soon, word got out that Clint and I frequently set new records on the Dolphin pinball machine. Teen boys began to gather after school to watch our prowess.

The manager of Wal Mart also began to gather by the entrance after school each day. Clint and I and so many of our friends were packing the joint that we were blocking the entrance.

We had to make a deal. We would only come every other day. And we couldn't bring more than four of our friends with us.

Honestly, I understand it now. We were blocking his shoppers from entering and exiting the store - and he wasn't making more than 25 cents a day.

We were wearing the machine out. Literally.

One day, we were riding our bikes to Wal Mart and discussing how close we were to setting a new record. But when we arrived, two men were strapping the Dolphin machine into the back of a pickup and were getting ready to leave.

"Wait!" I said. "What are you doing?" Clint asked.

"Time to change out the machine," the man answered. "We don't leave the same one forever. Old ones go, new ones come in. This one's been here for two years."

"How much for that one?" I asked. As if I had any money to buy it.

"Kid, you couldn't afford it," he answered.

He and the other man closed the doors on their GMC flatbed and drove off with our Dolphin pinball machine.

We were heartbroken.

"One day, I'm going to buy us one of those," I said to Clint.

I don't know how many Wal Marts there are now, but I know we passed No. 17 when Nixon was president.

Pinball machines were usurped by coin-operated video games, and now you can play with competitors on the internet.

But I found that Dolphin pinball machine. Well, it's likely it's not the same one, but it's the same model. It's for sale in New Mexico.

I feel a road trip in my future. One with Clint, an old GMC flatbed and a roll of quarters.

I've got just the spot for it in my man cave. Right next to the sign that says, "No Wal Mart Managers Allowed."


©2020 John Moore


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