Fifteen years ago Matt Christiano, co-owner of Paicines Ranch, invited his friend Tim Meighan to his home. When he asked Meighan what he would like to do for the day, Meighan said he wanted to work on repairing pinball machines from Christiano’s collection.
What started out as an event of a shared passion and hobby for two friends has turned into an annual event over multiple days fondly called the “fixathon” by all who attend.
Christiano’s passion for pinball machines started when he was in high school. Working as a paperboy, Christiano used his earnings from his paycheck to go to the local bowling alley where he would play pinball. Today this passion has turned into a collection of over 200 pinball machines and about 30 friends across the county who also collect and restore pinball machines and attend Christiano’s annual fixathon event. Forty-four pinball machines were fixed during this year's fixathon.
“No one gets paid, it’s a labor of love,” Mario Van Cleave said. Van Cleave currently lives in Tennessee and is a controls and instrumentation technician for boilers and chillers. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do on a weekend."
This sentiment was shared by Meighan who started his own business as a pinball repairman after retiring from his job as a software engineer.
“We’re here to enjoy the pinball machines and fix them up,” Meighan said. “Once or two times a year we’ll play pinball and fix the machines. [Christiano] cooks for us and gives us a place to stay.”
This year the fixathon started Monday, May 14 and went through Saturday, May 19. During this time the group fixed machines, caught up with one another, and enjoyed each other’s company while eating Christiano’s popular chili and taking walks on the property.
Members of the group also attended the Golden State Pinball Festival and Pin-a-go-go in Dixon. This festival took place May 18 to May 20 and included free play for hundreds of pinball machines for an entry fee, as well as pinball parts, memorabilia, and games for sale onsite.
These festivals are what have brought many of the fixathon participants together for Christiano’s annual event, as many have met through the annual festivals and enjoy attending the events together.
“Pinball people tend to stick together,” Christiano said.
For this group, part of the draw of collecting and repairing pinball machines includes nostalgia and the challenge of bringing the machines back to life.
“We get to see history here, it’s a time capsule,” Van Cleave said. “[In reference to a pinball machine his father played as a kid] I look at it and say ‘My dad use to play it.’”
When asked what his favorite machine in his collection was, Christiano said he did not have one favorite, but instead he had “favorites in every era.”
Within Christiano’s collection there are machines that are both electromechanical and electronic, as well as pinball machines from before and after the edition of flippers. Christiano’s collection also includes a Baffle Ball machine which Christiano said is considered by many to be the first pinball machine. Whether fixing a machine from after World War II or trying to get a new high score on a modern machine, all participants in the fixathon enjoy the atmosphere and being able to fix the pinball machines.
“Working on machines is like an escape,” Van Cleave said.
Or as Meighan said, “We love pinball and we love each other.”