Some of you may just have an Xbox hooked to a big TV in your game room. But for those of us who like to fill our gamerooms with old coin-op equipment — we cannot just logon to Amazon to get our latest fix.
We have to be on the prowl and compete against other bloodthirsty collectors. It can be a tough business.
But once in a while, you may be lucky to stumble upon an entire warehouse of games. A treasure trove of games from the arcade glory days of the early 80’s.
Many of these warehouses were long ago raided, but if you keep your ear to the ground — you might just get lucky to land one.
Here is the story of the warehouse we raided yesterday told with great flavor, by my bud and raider partner Steven Moritz. Take it away Steven…
Every collector loves a good warehouse raid story! Here’s one about a raid I was invited to participate in yesterday that I hope you’ll enjoy.
A few weeks ago, a local friend and collector contacted me about some machines in Georgia that might be for sale and asked if I might be interested in any of them. My immediate reply – Hell Yes! – interrupted him from completing his final sentence. I asked if he knew what was available and if he had any photographs. The answers were “sort of” and “I’ll send you the pics”. Well, the jpegs that followed were less than conclusive as to whether or not there was anything in there worth the trip from Jacksonville, FL up to Darien, GA. I’ll let you be the judge – would you have gone on this adventure to grab a few games?
Clearly, there are a few interesting pieces here. But it was very hard to tell the quality or completeness of the machines based on the limited ability to get close to them or get decent photographs of them. We were going to have to make this decision blind and hope for the best!
Clearly, there were a few games here I was interested in and we discussed next the most important component to this deal … the prices. Well, the price was set at $300.00 per game if we wanted to cherry pick the best games … OR … WAIT FOR IT … we could have them all for one price!
Now you’re talking!!!
We decided to bring in a third collector and split the price three ways – there were certainly plenty of gems (and junk) to spread around between the three of us! Right ?!?!
After a minimum of haggling between the three of us collectors, we decided on a price we could all live with and contacted the “go-between”. The deal was struck and a date was set for pick-up. At his point, we still hadn’t spoken with or met the owner of the games. All of the conversations and pictures were being shuttled back and forth with a guy named “Kevin”. For all we knew, he didn’t even know the owner and was going to sneak us in there under the cover of darkness to pilfer the games from the original owner. But, sometimes, these kind of deals are dumb luck and trust and we had already gone this far … so we planned to meet in Darien, GA at Noon on Sunday, March 4 2012.
I can tell you honestly, one of the hardest things to do is to keep something like this a secret. It is hard to keep all of the excitement bottled inside without being able to share the news with your fellow collectors and friends. The only people I told about the deal were my wife (like she cared) and my buddy Rob (who instantly offered to ride along and help load games). Big KUDOS to Rob for offering up an entire day to help us move and load 28 machines! That kind of friendship and dedication to the hobby is what makes all of this such a kinship to me!
So … the plan is set. We are renting a HUGE truck and picking up all of the machines on Sunday at Noon. The owner is going to meet us at the location along with his sidekick.
So, the day arrives and I wake up promptly at 4:30 AM. Ugh! I don’t even have to think about leaving my house until 8:30 AM and here I am wide awake at 4:30 AM! Whatever – I might as well start getting my things together.
Snacks and bottled water? Check!
Now what I am I going to do for the next 3 hours?!?!
As luck would have it, 8:30 AM finally arrives and I’m out the door headed off to meet my comrades and pick up the Budget rental truck. This thing is a BEAST – 24 footer with a lift gate! That is what I am talking about, gentlemen!!!
As far as I am concerned, this is the only way to travel. Thank you Budget!
Not knowing exactly where this place was or whether it might be hard to find, we leave a little early and everything goes our way – I mean, everything went 100% perfect. I have rented some crappy trucks before and had some trailer nightmares that would make most mechanics shudder with terror, but this Budget truck was dream. Before long, we’re cruising across the FL/GA border …
With everything going so well, we arrive almost an hour early and decide to curb our enthusiasm with a couple of Five Dollar Footlongs from the Darien Subway (now you are going to be humming the five dollar footlong jingle in your head for the rest of the day, you are welcome for that)! We text our fourth partner in crime and, unfortunately, he is not faring so well. He has rented from the dreaded U-Haul and they are closed. He is going to have to truck all the way across town to the only open U-Haul rental store and try to obtain a truck before they close at noon. It is Sunday in Southern Georgia, after all. He is probably lucky that they are open at all. He assures us he will be there as soon as he can get a truck and that we should not be late, by any means. The owner of the machines is, apparently, a no-nonsense sort of guy and would not tolerate us running behind schedule.
At high noon, we inch the Budget Rent-A-Beast across the road to a rather unassuming Laundromat/Seafood Shop. Could this really be the place? There were no cars in the parking lot and the “strip mall”, if you can call it that, looked as though it had been abandoned for 20 years. See for yourself, does this look like a hidden stash of arcade goodness?
Sure enough, moments after we park the rent-a-beast, a dude pulls up in a smallish pick-up truck and sidles over to us. “Y’all must be here for the games”, he yells! I speak first, and assure him we are here for the games, to which he replies “I could tell because the thing on your shirt is exactly like the thing on the side of one of these games.” Big Kudos to Rich at This Old Game for the Space Invaders sweatshirt that got me recognized as a video game collector in Darien, GA!
Before I get into this next part, I should clarify that while I was born in the Midwest I have lived in NE Florida for almost all of my life. I have owned a lifted 4×4 Ford Truck, I fish for largemouth bass on a regular basis, and I consider getting pulled behind a speedboat on an inner tube a very good time! I am a little bit country! I cannot avoid that. But this guy? Light years past me in terms of pure country!
Two seconds into the conversation (and at least three cigarettes successfully smoked), he is telling us he already pulled the Kiss pinball, the Vendo Coke machine, and the dedicated Ms. Pac Man out of the warehouse and that they were quite happily alive and well in his own personal man cave. He seems harmless, but is already angling for one of us to come out to his place to look at a problem with his Kiss pinball that he cannot quite diagnose. There is no way I am taking part in a conversation that ends with me at this guy’s house, so instead I decide to change the subject …
“Tell us about the owner of the games”, I ask. Instantly, his tone changes and he starts speaking to us very quietly as if he is telling a deep, dark family secret. Here is the story he shared with us:
“Mr. King is 90 years old and has owned a number of businesses in Darien for over 50 years”. Back in the eighties, he owned a lot of Laundromats and all of the Laundromats had these video games and pinball machines in them. I played many of them myself when I was growing up here, pedaling my bike up here to Rt. 99 to drop my quarters into the Missile Command game. Twenty years ago, the city of Darien decided they were going to institute a tax on Mr. King and his video machines. Rather than fight or pay the tax, Mr. King instead decide to raise his figurative middle finger to the City of Darien and locked all of his machines away in this warehouse space behind one of his Laundromats. They have been sitting there untouched ever since!”
I am every bit as guilty of hyperbole as the next guy, but I can’t figure out if this guy is telling the truth or spinning an interesting tale of pristine, complete, working games. Either way, I’m interested and cannot wait to get inside!
“Go-between” went on to tell us that Mr. King was now over 90 years old and spent most of his time in church worshiping the Lord. We were not to curse or to act disrespectful in any way to Mr. King and were further warned that if we attempted to haggle any further he would close the doors and ask us kindly to leave. I, for one, couldn’t wait to meet the fascinating Mr. King. I imagined a character the stature of Willy Wonka or The Wizard of Oz, or perhaps even someone as badass as Scarface or the Godfather himself!
When Mr. King finally arrived, he wasn’t the imposing figure I had imagined though I was nonetheless impressed. He was a young looking 90 years old (could have passed for 60 easily) and had likely been the best dressed man in the church that morning. Hell, he might have been the best dressed man in all of Georgia on that day. His suit was clean and pressed, his shoes were shiny enough I could see Space Invaders reflected in the patent leather, and his bowtie was tied perfectly. No clip-on for Mr. King! He was fresh and clean, for certain. He didn’t have much to say, but it was clear he was in charge. His sons (who arrived with him) and the “go-between” clearly had a great deal of respect and admiration for the man. I shook his hand, introduced myself, and together we counted the money that was about to change hands.
Once we were both satisfied that the amount of cash moving from one hand to the other was sufficient, we shook hands one final time and the dollies started rolling! It took a little over two hours to move all of the machines out of the warehouse and into the sunlight (which they had apparently not seen in more than 20 years). When all was said and done, we were fortunate to score 2 ADDITIONAL MACHINES that had apparently been missed on all previous counts. Here are a few photos of the 30 video games and pinball machines that we rescued from Darien, GA yesterday.
Now, to get them all loaded onto our two trucks. This was going to be tricky.
Was our math right? Do we have enough space?
Do I even remember how to calculate area? Length x width? What?!?!
A short while later, all of the machines were inventoried and shoehorned into our two trucks. I’ll sit back and let you take in the photos that truly tell this part of the story …
After an uneventful ride back to Jacksonville, and an hour or two of unloading (and some testing of machines here and there) this is what my garage looks like. Needless to say, it stinks in there and my wife was less than happy about our new garage/storage unit. These machines desperately need a Simple Green bath next weekend.
I had a great time that I won’t soon forget and I have some very rare and collectible games to add to my collection as a result.
All in all, it was a great day, with great friends, doing what we love. Thanks for letting me share the story with you!