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Attack of the Astro Fighters!

Recently there was some drama on the arcade forums about a “warehouse” raid that was going to happen in Louisville, KY. Brent, a friend of the Operator and an avid arcade collector, was organizing a clean out of this 100,000 square foot, 120 year old school house. The school was closed down in the 1970’s and sometime afterward it was purchased by the Operator who used it primarily as storage for his thriving business. It turned into a bit of a mad house on the forums, but Brent handled the chaos like a pro and everything went smoothly. I planned to head down to check it out with my friend and fellow enthusiast, Jeff Rothe of rotheblog. Luckily, Jeff had organized our purchase from the space long before the sale announcement, so our games were secure. Our primary goal was to secure the games and just check out the space. I loaded up the kids Friday afternoon and headed to Indianapolis for the first leg of the trip, the next morning we would drive up to Louisville for a 9am meeting and planning session with Brent. We were going a little early to help out with the sale, which started at 10am. The trip was about 5hrs and 15min one way. Unless you drive fast 🙂

Map

We woke up Saturday morning to some wet snow, but still decided to take Jeff’s mini van instead of my SUV, it had more space. My youngest would stay with Jeff’s family and visit the Indy zoo, while I took my oldest along for the ride. Never too early to infect him with the collecting bug and I hoped he would enjoy the experience. The ride was easy and the school wasn’t that hard to find. It was huge and it was red.

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The building had seen better days and was a little dangerous, but that just makes it more interesting. My son thought it was spooky and wanted to know if we’d see any ghosts. Ghosts of classics long past perhaps, but not much more. The hallways were dark and strewn with all types of debris. The place had definitely been picked over and according to one of the locals, collectors have been pulling games from this place for over 20 years. At one point it was packed solid, now all that remained were a few dozen conversions, cranes, EM games, and a small mix of more recent titles. Regardless of the selection, it was still fun to poke around. How often do you get such an opportunity?

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The building had some amazing old woodwork, with gorgeous banisters and wainscoting on almost every wall. A matrix style phone could be seen in each classroom, with child height and wall length chalkboards everywhere. The place must have been amazing back in the day. Strewn about in the various rooms were remnants of a once thriving coin operated business. Empty boxes for long gone NIB games, conversions galore, bootleg artwork, and even custom made cabinets for some unknown bootleg game. The place was saturated with arcade history, it was awesome.

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Weird poker games, burned out pinball shells, collapsing walls, broken SAMI EM glass, and plenty of dust. This place had it all. You could just taste the lead in the air from all that flaking paint. While games on the second floor would have to be hauled down the massive flight of stairs, at least there was a loading ramp off the back of the school to make it easy to pack up the vehicles. All purchases would be wheeled out the back after payment and quick inspection by the operator. People were orderly and Brent kept things moving along smoothly. We were lucky enough to get a short tour by Elutz who also knew the operator and had permission to wander freely. He showed me the “bootleg” room where they used to strip non-earning games and turn them into something else. It was an awful mess but it told an interesting story. How many games met their fate in this room? The piles of power supplies, kit boxes, and stacks of bootleg artwork speak volumes. This was all that remained after decades of collectors coming in and pulling the best parts.

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There were a bunch of pong clone type games to be found, worthless really, unless you like that kind of stuff. A funky Allied Paddle Battle and a converted Paddle Battle stood prominently on the second floor. The shell of a Kee tank, a converted bi-plane and a more-or-less complete bi-plane could be seen. A few EM games missing parts, a row of EM pins, a pretty nice looking Bally Road Runner, more flaking paint and a couple of cute little DECO Astro Fighters rounded out the second floor. The DECO’s were the reason we made the trip in the first place. Three of the DECO’s were located on the second floor, one on the first. My Magliner with stair climbers made the descent down the massive flight of stairs quick and easy.

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If the main structure wasn’t enough, there was also another building across the street that housed many of the pinball machines that were for sale. Not only did it have pins and more games, it also had a giant hole in the roof! Ugh, never good to see that as you know the games would be trashed. I know a few guys got some deals, including a sweet Taxi pinball that went for a great price. Jeff and I were out of space for the ride back so I didn’t spend much time in this space, plus Edward wanted to show me the cabinet building room and I was eager to get back on the road. The cabinet room was where they used to build and assemble cabinets for the conversion kits, bootleg or otherwise. There was still a nice pile of woodgrain laminate on one table, lots of wood debris, old tools, including a nice press brake. It reminded me a little of dptwiz’s old work space 🙂 We wandered around in a few of the rooms snapping photos, what a crazy place. I could spend a ton of time here, but it was time to get moving. We still had to load up the Deco minis.

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So how many DECO mini cabinets can you fit in a mini van? The answer is four. With the easily removable bases we were able to tetris the cabs into place with ease. The original three fit so well we decided to take the fourth one too! We weren’t sure if any of them would work and it would be better to have the whole bunch to mess with at once. One of the cabs had a bad base and it was left behind, I may go back for it one day. You can see the games packed in the van and then nicely cleaned up sitting in Jeff’s garage. Pretty cool little machines, much better than their tall, boxy cousin.

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I loaded up one of the nice machines and the part machine into my 4 runner, packed up our gear, grabbed the kids and headed back home. Got back Saturday evening in plenty of time to unload our junk and move the game into the basement for cleaning. It was a great trip and I’m glad I got to experience the school house raid.

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