By John McGray
Whether you are four or ninety-four, there's a good chance you've played Skee-Ball. After all, the company has been continuously building them since 1909.
Skee-Ball was invented and patented in 1909 by J.D. Estes of Philadelphia. These first games were 36 feet in length and, as one can well imagine, required considerable strength to play. So in 1928, the length was reduced to 14 feet. This new, shorter Skee-Ball achieved tremendous popularity and appealed to women, children and the elderly. In later years, a 10-foot long Skee-Ball made its debut.
Funspot, the largest arcade in the world, located in Weirs Beach, NH, purchased their first Skee-Balls in 1974 recalls Funspot owner and General Manager, Bob Lawton. “I can clearly remember asking how many I should buy. The answer was, ‘It doesn’t matter how many you buy, you’ll always need more,’ and that was right.” Lawton initially purchased seven games and added more in the summer of 1982. Funspot now has seventeen of the 14-foot machines and four of the 10-foot Mini Skee-Balls and on a busy day, every one of them is in use.
Skee-Ball has enjoyed tremendous popularity over the years at Funspot and as a result, sustained some wear and tear. “I would say Skee-Ball has to be the most popular and successful game we’ve had in the last 30 years,” says Lawton. He finally decided all 17 Skee Balls at Funspot should be refurbished. “I called Skee-Ball concerning the availability of parts for the old lanes and was pleasantly surprised to see all of the replacement parts were still available!” “It would be compared to calling one of the big three auto makers and asking to order new front seats for your 1970 car and having them ship out a pair to you!"
An undertaking of this size is not for the faint of heart or for those lacking ambition. Every lane had to be disassembled down to the bare framework, worn parts replaced and then reassembled. "We decided to do the job all at once right in the game room rather than take each machine one at a time to our shop. Had we done that, we would have been months trying to get the job done,“ Bob says.
Having each lane completely apart presented another opportunity to make modifications that had been talked about previously. “We spent many late nights here installing all of these upgrades." Lawton estimates that he alone logged about 120 hours on this project and the total time by everyone involved was close to 500 hours.
Along with all of the mechanical and electrical improvements, a fresh coat of paint was applied to all of the pieces. As the scope of the project grew, it was apparent that some outside help needed to be brought onboard. Long time Funspot friend and local craftsman, Don Pintacura, was brought in to take some of the burden off the Funspot staff. “This was quite a project! In today’s world of throwaway appliances, it was nice to see a company like Skee-Ball who still supports a product they manufactured 30 or 40 years ago. Quality craftsmanship is what made these games last this long. Funspot should be able to get another 30 years out of these before they need to be rebuilt,” says Pintacura.
Product support, quality craftsmanship and customer appeal makes Skee-Ball a great asset to Funspot. “If it wasn’t an excellent product to start with, we would not have been able to do what we have done to these machines,” says Bob Lawton, “These wore out from the millions of plays they have received in their lifetime. Skee-Ball makes an excellent product!” He estimates the project totaled $28,000 from start to finish. "It was worth it, however," Bob maintains, "after all, they're part of our history."