Building the Business
But Dr. Burkhart’s first love will always be pinball.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2021
To support his interest, when Dr. Burkhart was in middle school his parents bought him a pinball machine from Toys “R” Us as a birthday gift. But he found it wasn’t the same as the big machines at the arcade. “The toy version broke in about two days,” he said.
Dr. Burkhart’s collection began in earnest during his medical residency at OhioHealth Doctor’s Hospital in Columbus, when he bought a house nearby and then quickly purchased his first pinball machine in 1995.
“I was a big fan of The Simpsons, and was playing in a pinball league,” he said. He learned about a secondhand Simpsons pinball game, fixed it up, and then played it constantly. “That machine cost a lot of money, but I was a single guy in residency,” he reasoned.
Not long after, Dr. Burkhart set his sights on something new: A South Park pinball machine. “When Sega came out with a South Park pinball machine, all I could think was, ‘Ooh, I want that!’” A friend who fixed pinball machines in the league found one, and soon it joined Dr. Burkhart’s other machines. “I played those games constantly,” he said. “It was so much fun.”
Once he completed his residency, Dr. Burkhart built a larger house with a walkout basement that would house his expanding pinball game collection. To find the machines, he would attend arcade auctions three times a year at the Ohio Expo Center, where arcade owners would showcase and sell older games. “I’d bring a long orange extension cord with me, plug them in, and test play,” he recalled. At each event, he would purchase a couple of games to add to the line-up in his basement. He also found pinball machine sellers on eBay.
Dr. Burkhart joined Pinball Forum, a newsgroup for pinball enthusiasts, and began communicating with pinball collectors around the world. At one point, his basement was packed. “I smattered in a few classic arcade games like Defender, Pac Man, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, and Frogger,” he said. “There were about 12 video game machines, along with 80 pinball machines—when I reached 80, I had to get a storage unit to hold the extras.”
Dr. Burkhart’s basement became a fun zone, where he hosted an annual Halloween costume party. “When I was dating the woman who’s now my wife, we’d buy cases of Sam Adams and party subs, and we’d play games all night,” he said. “People just loved it.”