He Builds A Mean Pinball
Linda Jo Scott For the Enquirer
GALESBURG —Randy Phillipps, 45, has always been a pinball nut.
He has three machines in his home and is in constant communication with pinball machine collectors all over the world.
"He's just a big kid at heart," said Kim Gooding-Hammond, Phillipps' girlfriend.
Phillipps has worked since the age of 16 with his dad, Dwight Phillipps, owner of Kal-Gale Printing in Galesburg.
He's been involved in every phase of the printing process over the years, but recently he's branched off in a back room of the business.
For at least part of each day, he's hunched over a Macintosh computer, meticulously repairing, preserving and reproducing pinball backglasses.
"At first, it took me about a month to restore a backglass," Phillipps said of the art on the back of the pinball machine. "But now, using the latest in digital printing and a Macintosh computer, I can do one in a few hours — if it's in almost perfect condition to start with."
When it's all finished and set up with light behind it, Phillipps' glass art is about as bright and colorful as a sunset.
Pinball machine aficionado Robert A. Berk, who owns nearly 500 pinball machines, especially appreciates Phillipps' work.
"Randy has brought a welcome addition to the hobby because when owners of older machines have a glass that's either broken or deteriorated or flaked to the point of non-recognition, he's able to resurrect the thing to make it look like new," said Berk, who lives in Ohio. "He's operating a service where he could really gouge us collectors, but he doesn't."
Closer to home, Fred Wait, general manager at Star World Amusement in Kalamazoo, has also ordered pinball glass from Phillipps.
"Randy's done two or three pinball backglasses for us. They're not exact replicas, but they're really close, and the design is almost the same as the original. There's nobody else out there reproducing them, so it's good to have him in the area."
Obsessed with the history of pinball, Phillipps pours daily over "The Pinball Compendium: 1970-81" by Michael Shalhoub.
As he opens the book randomly, his eye moves to a small image on the bottom of one of the 240 pages.
"I'll be darned," he said of a 2-by-2-inch picture of vintage pinball glass. "As many times as I've looked through this book, I never noticed that picture."
Phillipps has his favorites: The old Bally glass art, one newer backglass featuring Star Trek characters and another with a portrait of Muhammad Ali.
"The one I have of Ali is probably one of the only ones in existence," he said.
Now that Phillipps has been working in pinball art for over a decade, he has built a library of about 25 pieces of what he calls "perfect glass."
People can look at or purchase his collection upon request.
Phillipps also works with mirror backgrounds for glass art.
Proud dad Dwight Phillipps talks about his son's niche.
"He's the only one who can do it," his dad boasts.
But when asked if he plays pinball himself, Dwight Phillipps, 89, gets a twinkle in his eye.
"Not if there's a blackjack table nearby," he said.