Artisans: Pinball Machine Restorer Daniel Spolar
Spolar has restored hundreds of machines and become the chief of maintenance for the beloved machine inside the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s oncology unit.
Pinball machine restorer
Years in Southwest Florida: 27
Years restoring pinball machines: 10
When a friend bought a used pinball machine, Bonita Springs resident Daniel Spolar could hardly wait to play it.
“We had a few fun plays on it and then the machine broke down. He was like, ‘Can you fix it?’ and I was like, ‘No way, what do I know about these things?’”
Not long after, Spolar found himself sitting on the ground with tiny little pinball machine pieces everywhere.
“That’s when I really fell in love with it. The engineering and design really caught my attention; there are miles of wiring and hundreds of moving pieces inside. I build things for a living, so I could understand the labor of love that goes into these things.”
Ten years later, Spolar has a collection of machines so vast he can’t even put a number on it. He’s restored hundreds of machines from the ’60s through the ’90s. But perhaps most importantly, he’s become the chief of maintenance for the beloved Spider-Man machine inside the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s oncology unit.
“The first machine I ever fixed, it was a problem with the circuit board. But I was afraid to do it myself, so I took it to a local TV repair guy. He made it worse! That’s when I realized I just had to figure it out myself.”
“With the Internet, fixing machines has gotten a lot easier. Before we were really isolated and on our own. Now there are really good forums where people post questions and others can answer them.”
“It always seems like machines are finding me. I didn’t actively go out looking for most of my machines. One way or another, they all kind of came to me.”
“I wouldn’t say pinball has declined; I’d say it’s shifted. Sure, you don’t find it in bowling alleys and bars like you used to. Instead, it’s gone underground. Home sales are really taking off. People want these machines for their—and I hate this word because it’s so one-sided and Neanderthal-y—man caves.”
Restore vs. Renew
“One of the hardest things when you’re working on an older machine is deciding how pristine you want it to be. Some people are actually clear-coating the playing fields and sanding down the sides and re-stenciling them. I think a machine should show a little bit of its age; I don’t want it to look like it was put together yesterday. There’s character in knowing that machine had been enjoyed many times.”
“My wife was touring the hospital as part of Leadership Bonita. She saw the out-of-order machine and said, ‘You’re in luck; I know someone who would lose sleep over knowing that machine is broken.’ I came in thinking it would be an easy fix—that the ball would be stuck or something—but the machine was trashed. The kids were literally loving it to death. I had to convince them to let me take the machine back with me so I could take it apart and really fix it.”
“I love watching my grandson play pinball. He’s 5. At first he didn’t really like to take turns, but now he gets it and you can really see that he learns from watching others play. He’s mimicking my techniques and he’s getting really good!”