Chapter 6 - The Old Man & the Corporation

I must be dead I thought, and therefore, I must also be dubious.

This was not my time, but it certainly was the excited man`s time. This temporal factor did not totally alienate me from him since he also seemed to be from somewhere else than where he found himself to be. My old workspace was now his, and he defended it well in order to protect & share his vision of things in this seemingly accelerated technological age which could be dangerously prone to folly and mishaps of the like we have never seen before.

All summer this old work place was filling up with pinball machines and a variety of people. Yes, a wide variety of people, and more machines with more and more people coming in and out of this complex like the trains that would cross St.Patrick street decades ago filled to their brims with raw materials. People and pinball machines would trickle in and out of this old workspace every weekend. Sometimes they would arrive in groups, especially on Friday evenings for some reason and they would stay past the midnight hour. Unlike in my time, when I first worked 6 days a week for the Crane, the daytime hours at this space were now strangely quiet and still. And for the first time in my experience as this newer version of a sentient being, I was alone during the daylight weekday hours. So I did what I knew how to do, I worked on the mold which would become the throttle which was commissioned and required when I first found myself here again.

However, I could not help but take notice that nothing of great significance was being produced in the here & now of this old foundry. What was being worked on here was mostly having to do with the recycling of objects that were made decades ago. There was no more steam in the towers and no fuel in the engines of this building, these new workers were now seemingly playing with the past.  I saw nothing of great significance being produced here to help people live better lives. Was this what America had come down to - playing with its own waste ? Empires come and go, and very few of us can really imagine how and when a downfall will happen during their lifetime, I certainly didn`t. Yet, why was I brought back here to see this happen now? It was not something I would wish on anyone to live through unless they had lost their knowledge of history, because without knowing history I imagine that a decline would not be as devastating. So I was still not quite clear as to why I was chosen to witness the excited man`s endeavor to protest this decline. I could see that he was fighting something, something intangible.

After understanding that I was not physically here and still somewhat disbelieving my present state of existence,  I still derived a certain interest in watching the excited man`s actions and reactions until the winter of 2011 when he began to change. It then occured to me that maybe I was here to see a new microcosm of what men had become in the 21st century. And as in the old 15th century English written work called Everyman, I would be exposed to each and everyone of them that made up this new world. They were all different, yet still managed to resemble all the men that came before them. Foolish, brave, smart, dumb, mean, kind, jealous, generous, manipulative, inconsiderate, selfish, happy, sad, doom struck, light hearted, fearful, mad, simple minded, brilliant, loving and hateful.

I think that I was beginning to understand why I was here in this place at this time. I would meet Everyman again and encounter their reactions to the decline in and through their celebrations. Yes, and maybe I was here to save the excited man from himself and also identify those who were possessed and try to save them as well. I also knew that I had a throttle to create during this time I was given, a very important tool that could possibly help many of them which had lost their way and who had now begun to run ignorantly towards foolish doom. A precise doom which seemed prompted by others who were more conniving than the common man and who planned to profit greatly from the demise of the working class while attempting to stay clear of its pain filled path towards quiet desperation.


Chapter 5 - The Old Man and the Corporation


The summer of 2011 had begun and I, Valdimir Tarasoff, could not believe what was happening in and around this old foundry. The excited man began spending more and more time here, and not necessarily during daylight working hours. I found his schedule difficult to understand at first, it did not make sense to me. If this building was indeed still a place where a man could earn a living, why was he not here during the day ? I was beginning to wonder what had become of this old Crane company which was always filled with workers each and everyday and night for so many years. It now appeared to me to be more of a desolate and odd place for these few people to claim that they were here to earn a living. There were so few of them day in day out in this here and now compared to what I remembered being a prosperous and productive time for this vast and growing country.

Regardless, the excited man was here and doing things most of the evenings and occupying my old workplace on the third floor, and more often than not, on Sundays as well. Sometimes he worked so late during the week that he would just climb to the upstairs platform and fall asleep on the floor instead of leaving the workspace to find real rest, regenerating comfort and solace. Instead, I could hear him snore irratically until daybreak from the workshop floor.

In the mornings the excited man would usually make tea on a broken stovetop and leave here only to return 12 hours or so later. He must have had something else to do everyday, somewhere else to go other than working at fixing these older pinball machines. Maybe he had a family he needed to tend to, I couldn`t be certain. When he was here on Sundays it was usually with the tall man who seemed to be his helper and guide. A helper I was sure, a "guide" ?, I say this only because the tall man would occasionally offer awkward words that made little sense at first, but somehow caught the excited man`s attention. This would send the excited man into fits of thought which were often outrageous via the words that were spurred on by these thoughts.

Across the road as well I saw odd events and happenings occur, - such new things were taking place where the old train yards use to be. There was less noise and smoke and movement of large objects, everything that moved seemed smaller and less important in relation to get the work done.

I was not use to this era and the people`s behaviour and how it appeared to be so leisurely, almost wasteful & slothful, but then again, I tried to remind myself that people were the same as in my time. They had not changed in essence, they have been the same throughout the centuries as I watched what seemed like a new age which was coming into being, an age of a certain lackadazical nature, at least that is what it looked like from this window..

Regardless, people will always be essentially driven by survival, power and affirmation. And often who is providing the affirmation will have the power over those who are not confident and strong. This remained true in my time and it seemed to remain true now as I watched people talk to themselves and look at the objects in their hands which seemed to be guiding them like some sort of compact pied piper. I could not tell where they were going, and some seemed more lost than others when they tried to communicate in person with another human being. The excited man could not bear the latter, good communication was key to him in order to be in touch with those he wanted to know.

I turned away from the window and returned to the refuge of the shop to watch what the excited man would plan next. He had a schedual, I was sure of that, it always seemed that he had a schedual in his life no matter what, and was hanging on to it like a drowning man. It was a saving grace for him, as if it would maximize what mattered and hence limit the non-sense, or at best cage it. As I got to know him, I learned that he was quite selfish with his time, self-absorbed in his thoughts and seemed driven by some force I could not yet identify. He had no foreman or supervisor, and there was no one around prodding him to act. In fact it was at times a bit unnerving to watch him work and fumble about, especially with others. He demanded as much as he would give, and I think many people who met him found this overbearing. He reminded me of one of the plant managers at the Crane Company, a certain Mr. Mckernin, a miserable man of great efficiency with a strange sense of humour who would not hesitate to say what he thought, whatever was being questioned. The excited man was of the same mould.






Chapter 4 - The Old and the Corporation


By the time everyone had left on that May day of much movement, there now were a few colourful tables assembled here amidst my renewed workplace which I now shared with the excited man. I think that he was pleased with the work days result, because before he left he smiled while locking the door behind him. I was beginning to know him better by watching his expressions as he made decisions, and I could tell that he was content because things were beginning to find their place in what was for him, a new shop. In fact, he returned alone that night and continued moving things around as I watched him work late into the night by himself and observed him contemplating what would go where, and watched his expressions of glee. And now that some of these cabinets and matching boxes with numbers had been assembled, I began to recognize what these were.

These were a modern versions of what was called a pinball machine. This was something I had seen before in and around the neighbourhood where I lived when I worked at the Crane Company.

And now,  right in the middle of what was my old workspace, along with a new workspace coming into being here alongside my memories, was a completely new work station adjacent to the colourful tables that apparently necessitated to be fixed. These "pinball machines" were here for repair, I heard some one call them pinball machines earlier that day and this is what struck a chord in my memory.

So now my old workplace had become a space to repair pinball machines. The moulds had been made decades ago for these objects, and now the repair of these machines along with their parts was to take place here, in this old building which was no longer serving as a foundry. It was time to fix what we had proudly built here decades ago, and it was clearly no longer the time to build anything new here in America.

These machines were a most modern version of what I vaguely remember them to have been in my time. And I later learned that the pinball machines in this workspace were not new & modern by any means. These may have looked very modern to me, but I was still in a sort of time capsule, mainly due to the excited man who controlled his environment so very well. as time went by, I learned more and more about what he wanted to create & control in this space. It was a sort of freeze frame of his younger years, mainly due to the fact that he was not so a kin to what the modern world had to offer of late in his daily life outside this space. This was a protected terriotory in a sense, and he wanted to maintain this place as a sort of refuge. I respected that, and since I would be sharing this space with him along with his vision of things, I ventured no further than from these walls. He made it clear to all those that entered this space that there was no tolerance for close minded behaviour except for his own, and he would often allow himself to be very critical of the outside world when he was in his space, at least that is what I observed. And in a way,  I was also a guest, so I refrained from any form of dissention for the time being. I understood that what he really meant to say was that he wanted to avoid people with little imagination, small mindedness, petty behaviour, greed and jealously as driving forces and especially avoid those who harbored commonplace thinking. Surprisingly, he managed to not find himself alone too often, and the wide variety of people I observed who came and went through this space I believe were generally respectful of the excited man and his follies. In any case some came back often to the shop, and some did not return for whatever reasons.

More importantly was that I finally recognized these colourful objects as pinball machines. The same object in essence as the excited man recognized them as being as well as a way to earn a living.  We saw eye to eye on this fact despite our different eras. And as for the humans that came through this place, I also recognized them as the same beasts from my time in essence as those in the excited man`s here and now. I slowly began to pay less heed to appearances as I got use to being out of my time. This would be the basis of the common ground for my understanding of the excited man, along with the way he worked and decided things. Ofcourse with the aid of the wall calendar, I could prepare for what was about to happen before it did. I thought that I had the excited man figured out by the end of that summer. 

And yes, these machines were different in shape, size and appearance than the ones I saw and occasionally played in my time, but the essence of the object remained similar, and there was comfort in this. The same went for the people that came to this shop, often on Friday evenings. I instinctively knew who they all were, as soon as I saw them. These human beings and these pinball machines were in essence all the same as in my time, and again only when I let appearances matter less and less and let the essence of things take over my perception. Being here in my old workspace with the excited man was like being in Plato`s cave. Shadows were being casted on the walls, but what matter was the essences of what produced them.


Yes, that is what was becoming clear to me as I watched the excited man make decisions, the essence of things was what made him act, the appearances were just a guide to help him along in determining which action to take and when. It made very good sense now.

I think that the excited man and myself both agreed on one thing without ever saying it - it was that these colourful and illuminated tables had a certain beauty and presence, and dare I say charm about them that made this workspace almost livable. In fact, these pinball machines were like furniture in this space and served as such many times.



Chapter 3 - The Old Man and the Corporation


The 8th day of May in the year 2011 was a Sunday. A Sunday would have traditionally been a day of rest and worship away from the workplace if my memory serves, and even to this day my memory still serves its purpose somehow. However, this Sunday, and most of the ones that followed seemed to be busy with tasks for the “new & modern” people of the here & now who were now occupying my old and transformed workstation.


The excited man along with the tall man brought many changes to this workplace, and I observed these changes attentively on that spring day from the comfortable chair that had been left behind about a week ago. What was to follow in the days and months to come was a variation on the things I witness on this particular May 8th. In short, it was a day of movement, colourful expressions, various odd characters and artful cabinets that would come & go in and through this space. There were so many things which were planned to happen here mainly due to the combination of the excited man and the calendar he hung on the wall of our workspaces. I will need time and my memory to tell these stories, but for now, the initial “move shops into empty space” was occurring as written on the wall planner 4 days ago. Hence, I was learning what those five words meant by observing what was taking place around me on that Sunday. The empty space was indeed filling up.

There were also two other men who were moving boxes and large objects throughout the day until this space was filled with things that I did not quite recognize as of yet. There were many colourful wooden boxes brought here as furniture I believed at first, plus boxes, crates and plastic bins filled with hardware, tools, documents and industrial looking parts, some of which, upon closer look, I identified as electro-mechanical devices.


However their applications I did not understand just yet. Some of these mechanisms seems quite advanced, but still familiar in principle somehow to things I had seen before. I could see some similarities with what I worked with at the Crane Company in the tooling section, although in the here and now there seemed to be a decorative element mixed in with the use of these devices.


What was also interesting, and at the same time odd, was that there were also personal effects like clothes, kitchen utensils, serving plates, chairs and reading lamps, a desk, and a drawing table being brought here as well. These were objects that you would usually find in a dwelling or a family home. I couldn`t tell exactly how this would all fit into our workspace and whether this place of labour was becoming a place to live daily life as well. It would be strange to have both activities occur in the same space, - why would one do such a thing? This was the hardest thing for me to understand that day, even as I began to become acclimated to my new environment. Time would tell what the excited man had in mind, but I would have to guess that he was looking to incorporate both activities into one space judging by the objects that entered here. As time went by, it began to matter less and less what I thought was the right way for things to unravel themselves in the here and now. The differences from what I remembered as the normal values of my time were too great to bridge with the here & now it would seem. I began to trust the excited man as he was the one who would make sense of this for me through his actions and scribbles. Work and life did not appear to be separate in his mind, and I somehow knew that if anyone could explain this, he would be the one to do so. The only point that seemed troublesome to me about carrying out such a lifestyle, would be that the excited man would need to keep solid control on both intakes, the one for work and the one for life, and all the while making sure to keep that delicate balance in check. And this is not an easy thing to do when one is excited, it demands careful attention and much more discipline than most people can manage.

There was an upper platform build above a closed office which seemed to accommodate more of the objects one would use to rest and reflect rather than work. It looked like this space above the main floor,  what one would call an upper mezzanine seemed to be more designated as a living space than a work space. The fact that it was up a set of stairs and hard to see from the first level, gave it a sense of separation from the work area that was beginning to assemble here that Sunday.

There was another "set of rules" for the upstairs loft it seemed, simply via the objects that were carried up those stairs. They differed from the ones on the main floor, therefore that area did not seem to have the same usage. The small stocky man I had never seen before along with his helper carried up what seemed like a very heavy black box that was left behind when the first clean up occurred. The excited man said that this thing called a T.V. had no place in a workshop and ordered it put onto the second floor. It must be an object for relaxation I thought to myself, this big black box was quite ugly and ominous looking. It must be able to yeild a lot of glout judging by how much effort it took to get it upstairs.

But even as the boxes and cabinets continued to come in during the late afternoon, there was no bed to speak of in the objects that came here. There were blankets, books, decorative pillows and a place to store clothes along with a soft looking synthetic material on the floor to lay on and rest. It was very simple as far as living accommodations were concerned, and just enough to accomplish something significant for someone with imagination. 

As for the main floor & work space, there seemed to be a majority of the larger objects brought into that space that were not familiar at first. These objects which seemed dominant were a sort of colourful cabinet with light hearted decorative drawings on each side. The front of each of these cabinets was slightly slanted upward and had colourful small objects and more detailed drawings of the same nature/style as its cabinet, all protected under a clear glass, much like a display counter at a jewellery store, but in a vertical position.


Each one of these cabinets was about the same size and shape, but each looked different. I did not know what these were at first but they took up much of the space here when they arrived on May 8th. There were about 10 of these cabinets, maybe more, some were larger and some were smaller, but they all seemed to have a colourful essence to them that indicated to me a more leisurely item than necessarily useful. And I was sure that these were all called the same thing even if they all looked different.


The essence of these objects was the same in all those cabinets and colourful boxes that I saw come into this old workspace. These objects, much like a dog, or a human being can all look different, but you still instinctively know which beast you`re were dealing with.  A German Sheppard looks quite different than a poodle and could easily be interpreted as totally different animals, but we instinctively know that they are both dogs for some reason. It is the essence of the thing that matters. As for human beings, we recognize this animal as well when we encounter it, even if each and everyone of them looks different in size, gender, colour of skin, mannerisms, etc., it is still the same beast. All this to say that many different humans would come through this place because of the excited man`s plans, much like they had come through this place for the past 90 years or so and would leave a part of their energies behind.

I heard the tall man yell at one of the men who was moving one of these colourful cabinets. It was a cabinet with letters on the sides and had angular drawings of humans frolicking amongst the letters X & O. And on a colourful square glass in a square box were sets of numbers displayed, which seemed to be an extention to the cabinet being moved around. These two pieces logically must be the same machine, they simply were apart from each other to ease the transport from the old shops to the new shop as the excited man wrote on the planner a few days ago, hence warning me that such an event was about to occur. I could now match the words with what they meant in actuality as the event occurred. I was learning a lot through the words used and seeing what event resulted via the words he chose.

“Hey Moe,", was heard loudly, and then - "be careful with that pinball cabinet and back box, that machine is special.”  That is what the tall man said to the short stocky powerhouse of a man who was apparently simply called Moe out of all names. This man could lift a cabinet by himself despite his small stature, and that was admirable despite his unflattering name.

I think that these colourful things were called pinball machines, a term that was not completely foreign to me, but yet I could not connect the word to to object in my past memories as of yet They were a marble sort of game of luck and some factor of skill from what I remembered and were often used to allow patrons to win sums of money in public locations from the business owners and operators of these games..

What in the world were these things doing in this old foundry`s workspace and why were they being brought here ?

I wanted to understand, and not just know about what would happen here next. I wanted to know what was going on in the excited man`s soul, there was something unordinary occurring here in this old industrial workplace.





Chapter 2 -The Old Man and the Corporation


The other thing that the excited man brought into this workspace apart from that odd black & orange machine called a "shop vac"  were large pieces of paper bound together at one edge showing the twelve months of the Christian calendar. Each page represented one month of time and had an empty square for each day. It was quite large and could easily be affixed to a wall. And so, he did just that. Then he wrote something in one of the squares and walked away. So I approached the calendar and found that the squares were not large enough to write all that had to be done in one day - and the days were long at the Crane company, maybe he didn`t know this yet.

It was an object I found useful, because it would help me to understand this man`s purpose in the here & now. I would often look at the calendar in order to be aware of what was about to happen around my old workstation, and many things would take place here. Maybe if I understood his plans & goals, then maybe I could provide him with some form of subtle assistance or guidance somehow. It seems to me that out of all the people I saw so far in this place after waking from that big sleep, he was the man who was making all the decisions in regards to this space we now shared, so it was key for me to understand what he was going to make happen next. I saw him as a sort of magician, an odd wizard of sorts because there were so many things I did not know about this era. However, I did know something about what was timeless for a man - the planning & accomplishments of persoanl goals. It was very possible that we both understood this without doubt no matter how different our eras appeared to be.

So on that day in early May 2011, he seemed somewhat anxious and disoriented to some degree. I watched him carefully as he sat at a table near the window making more notes, on a pad this time. He raised his head from his writing occasionally to look around this space while I sat in a comfortable chair that had been left behind by the younger men who emptied this space of oddities a while back.


The planner that was stuck on the wall said that we were at the beginning of the month of May 2011, yet I did not feel as old as that would make me. In fact I felt more and more mobile and free of pain as the days and nights went by. But I think that I finally understood that everyone I had known in my past was probably gone by now, - but I did not feel that this was sad somehow. I felt strangely at peace with these losses, even if I missed many of my close ones greatly. And if this was truly the 21st century, a time I do not know, I needed to base myself on something in order to understand this present. Thankfully, the planner on the wall provided me with a small anchor. This space had been mine for a long time, so I knew it well, and that was a strong defining factor for me regardless of the physical changes it had gone through. And contrary to the excited man who did not know this place as well as I did, there was also the factor of time which came into play in order to make all this work. This space was new to him, and his time was new to me, that was clear. We needed to bring time and space together to complete our being in the here and now. We needed to connect our eras in order to continue to build a solid and vital future.

I know that I was born in 1910 in a place where the common people suffered great hardships until there was a change. The very wealthy & controlling people of our country had become so bloated by the obscene richness they appropriated from others that it lead to such excesses and miserable ease that they became disabused from life itself. The wealthy had become disconnected from what needed to happen in order to build a prosperous nation for all that worked and lived for it. There was no choice anymore, the rich had to be removed and ripped away from the power they yielded. They could no longer understand the common people of our country because of how blinded they had become. And yet, they were in a position to make all the decisions for those they could no longer empathize with. The people of the land suffered, and were now losing the sense of hope in ever being able to decide their own fate and destiny. It did not make sense that this lack of humanity excercised through oppression towards the workers and peasants could be imposed in the name of the over abundant riches of so few and next to nothing for most. It was time for an adjustment. So the change began to prepare itself to occur during my father`s lifetime.

Regardless of the past, things were beginning to change in the here and now as well, as they should.

But again, according to the calendar on the wall, it was May 4th, 2011 and the excited man was planning something because he was marking more things on the wall planner. As he moved away and occasionally looked through a silver device he carried on him, I approached the calendar to read the following, “move shops into empty space”. It was written in the box for May 8th. In 1945 this was the day combat ended in Europe, this is all that came to mind when I saw May 8th. That date meant something very different to me since I remembered this day as having great meaning some 55 years ago. It looked like the excited man was also battling something, but inside himself, especially as he talked into a small black device he held to his ear while moving about and sometimes raising his voice when he spoke into it. Things were going to unfold as they should, but on this day of change, he didn`t seem to trust that idea just yet.





The Old Man and the Corporation

I am Vladimir Tarasoff and I must be the one to tell this story.

For all of my life I worked to build a strong family. So when I arrived in Canada at age 19, I began to work at a company that hired many workers who came here from the old country.  At this factory, I was one of the men who would sculpt wooden models so others could make iron parts. I am proud, because my models were the ones most often used to sand cast the many moulds they needed. This company I worked for from 1929 when I arrived and until 1969,  was called Crane, - like the bird. They made engine parts, fittings, valves and pipes by the tens of thousands and many other objects in this foundry near a man made river channel in the biggest city in Canada. From this new & proud edifice on St.Patrick road in Montreal the Crane Company manufacturered most all of the plumbing for this vast country. They were made here, from where I worked and earned a living. I am very proud to have helped to build a better future for the people of this country and my family.


Then one spring day, after a very long and exceptionally harsh winter, - more difficult than I can ever remember, I was awakened by the sound of three sharp rings. They sounded like bells, but they did not resonate like the bells that I remember hearing when I was at my work place. And when I opened my eyes to see, I saw a blue light come upon me and take me away from where I laid.

I then found myself at a workbench on the third floor of this Crane company chisel tools in hand with many blocks of wood in a crate next to me which was stamped with the words, "Guelph Community College" on both sides. I am not sure where this came from but I began to make my models again from what it contained. This work bench I stood at was not the same one I remembered, but the place where I stood was mine. I knew this because I could see St.Joesph`s cathedral and the big cross on top of the mountain when I looked outside from the window. This was a place I knew well.

As my eyesight slowly became clearer, I looked to the right and saw that there were more buildings in the far distance than what I remembered. And young trees where now abundant and surrounding the area where the train yards were before. There were no open rail cars to be seen filled to their rims with stones and coal ready to cross the road into this massive structure where we all worked. They were always there, waiting each and everyday to cross the road to this foundry. It was there and then that I understood what I needed to do, find the others I worked with everyday at this place to be sure of what had happened here.

Yet I was certain that where I stood now was indeed my work station, the one I spend so many years at for the Crane company, - this was very confusing, why all these differences ? I stood there without movement for a long time using the present workbench to sustain me. I was unable to walk away from this position. Nor did I hear the sounds I would always hear when I was here. There were no lathes or punches or electric machinery turning rapidly, nor the sounds of the hundreds of workers that were there around me every day. It was much more quiet than I ever remembered it to be. So when I felt that I could start to move, I slowly turned around and saw a small boy sliding down some wooden stairs. He looked like my grandson Andrew as a young boy, so I naturally smiled at the sight of him. He briefly glanced in my direction, paused, and then turned away to continue playing. There was also a tall looking hunchback man who was rummaging through some things I did not recognize. I could not make sense yet of what was going on, but I knew that it was good in spirit and I felt no malice in their prescence even amidst all the strange things which surrounded this group of males.

The boy and the tall man did not hear me when I spoke out. Nor did an excited older man who didn`t take notice of anyone around him, even after I raised my voice to see if I could be heard by any of them. After many attempts, I turned towards my workbench to find a new drawing there on the same sheets of paper I would get from Terrence the mail person. He would get them from the people on the first floor who would draw what they wanted to build from the iron they made here from stones. I knew that Terrence did not bring this new drawing to me, I did not see him or anyone I knew pass by.

So not knowing what else to do, I began to work at sculpting a new kind of part, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was much more complicated and almost non-sensical at first look. It took me a bit of time to understand that this was now my task, to create the moulds for this part called a "throttle" no matter how long it would take. This task was about the here and now and seeming to be more important than any of the other engine part I ever sculpted somehow and for a reason I did not quite understand yet. No one told me this, but I knew that  this part was going to help many people live better lives and build stronger families. I was certain of this, but for some reason I could not quite understand why yet. Nor could I know what the rest of the motor which this throttle would be operated in looked like. It did not matter. I understood in my heart that it would help the story to go on for many, many more years to come. There was a future, there will always be one, whether we are here or not,  I was becoming more and more certain of this on that spring day.

My work was my life,  I become lost in what it asks of me. I do not know how long I was working on this throttle model, but when I stopped to look around me again, things had changed once again. There were now five men who were moving around and taking all the odd objects out of this place where I first saw the child sliding on the stairs. The different men who were there now looked strange in appearance and took much time to remove everything from the rooms. When they finished, I heard a door shut closed behind them, and there was quiet again.

I now found that I was able to move around by a small step or two before tiring, as for before, my legs would only support my weight with great effort. When there were others here, I wanted to walk towards them in hopes that they would see me, hear me or feel me, but I could not walk to them. Now that all of them were gone, I was able to take a few more steps than before.



There remained some objects against the walls which I could not recognize. These things seemed to have more purpose than all the other oddities that were taken away from this place. The shapes of these larger objects left behind by the five men were square and angular, not rounded and shaped like many of the objects I remembered, and what I saw still seemed ugly to me at best.




And now I was able to move with more ease around this space. I also found that the objects left behind which seemed unfamiliar at first, were slowly becoming understandable to me. As if this different time and space was defining me, - yes I was being defined once again by what was around me as I began to breathe the air that was in this here and now. All I needed now was to be seen and acknowledged by someone.


I was alone for what felt to be a long time, I do not know how long, but several nights had passed and I felt no need for sleep. Then one sunny day, that older excited man I first saw with the child and the tall man came back. By himself this time with a large box that had markings on it. When he removed a device from this box, I saw that this cylinder type object which seemed very light for its size made a turning noise when he touched the top of it. And when it made noise, it seemed to be able to take away much dust and dirt by simply absorbing it inside itself. The empty carton box had many markings and words I did not know. "Shop Vac" was in the largest script, these were not words I knew of.




As I watched him work with this orange and black machine, I noticed that he appeared younger than the first time I saw him. He was smiling continually and moving about the empty space with haste and great intent. He seemed glad, proud and content as a man should be when he is doing what he needs to do. I tried to speak to him, but he still could not hear me or see me, - at least not yet.




Montreal's Silver Marble Games

The outlook for the week-end was positive. It started taking shape on Thursday afternoon during a particularly productive day at my “square job” in what is left of the Canadian coin operated amusement machine industry. My father in law had dropped in with coffee, and by the same token confirmed a Saturday afternoon meeting with Jacques Tremblay. This made sense, since that night I had booked a service call with a particular collector, one whom I hadn’t seen in over 15 years and who coincidentally had important information about the defunct North Star Coin Machine Company of Montreal. So, before meeting one of the founding brothers, 83 year-old Jacques, I wanted to get part of the “scoop” from Ron Gratton, a somewhat pivotal figure in the telling of this story and the preservation of these machines. The timing and the events were lining up nicely, like a good Krinsky playfield design waiting to be played out.

Driving to Ron’s warehouse that evening, I tried to recall the many service calls I did for him over the years on his ever changing collection. I remembered that his son Tyler was around 15 back then, and now at 33, Ty manages his father’s industrial valve company where Ron keeps the remainder of his collection. So, about 18 years ago, before the internet invaded our lives, Ron and I would buy machines together in lots by word of mouth, and for very little money compared to today. Ofcourse, we now tend to see those times as golden days, but they weren’t really. Out of all those deals, one purchase in particular which Ron had made on his own was of interest to me that evening, and I was anxious, and cautious about getting the details from him. I wanted to know more about those two Montreal made pinball machines he had in his basement gameroom all those years ago, and which at the time generated little interest in me beyond the technical dimension. But now, in the later phases of life, history has gained more importance in the way I tend to look at things. Hence the meaning of things has changed as well, at least in my head.

I got to Ron’s office and found a 59 year old man who hadn’t really changed. We shook hands and updated each other on the pivotal points in and through the years which had gone by. What we choose to mention and not mention after so long spoke volumes. Ron was always a tad ambiguous and obtuse to say the least, - all signs of a shrewd business man. There had been numerous deals between us over those years, some good, some....well, water under the bridge now I would say.

Before finishing the repair, I asked Ron about a story which his girlfriend at the time had done about the Tremblay brothers and their company, - North Star Coin Machines. I asked him if he still had the source documents, but he told me that he had lost the notes through time. OK, next question - what happened to the two North Star machines he had in his collection back then ? These two models produced in Montreal, “Sea Breeze” & “Richelieu” which sat there for years in his Roxboro home. Where were those two machines now, along with the original North Star Coin Machine Company street sign from the old storefront at 6657 St. Urbain street where they were initially sold along with other post-war game conversions back in the late 1940’s.

They had all went to the Musée de la Civilization in Québec City, which is the best thing that could have happened to them. The machines fetched about 5K each he told me, in cash and tax breaks. They are still not worth that, even with internet hype and some added bullshit. Then I remembered that whenever Ron or I would find a buyer who liked to be called “Charles”, we would call him on it, and the sale  was mostly  “gravy”. Ron was nobody’s fool, now or then.

I also asked him how he came to purchase these two machines back in the day. He had snooped around and managed to track down the Tremblay brothers who were still running a small route under the name Tremblay Amusements. Most old time operators we knew back then were usually suspicious of collectors, generally thinking that if they sold an older piece of equipment to them it may end up on location as competition. But Ron had a way of getting through barriers and obstacles like that, and somehow arranged to meet them at their shop near Fleury Street. They sold him a Richelieu for a couple of hundred bucks which they had on consignment in an antique store on St.Denis street called “Je Me Souviens" along with a few N.O.S. backglasses for both models. I vaguely remember seeing a bunch of Richelieu backglasses in that antique shop when they would call me in to fix a pinball for them.

A few years later Ron had given me two Richelieu backglasses and one Sea Breeze as payment for some repairs I did. I also remember that he had more Richelieu backglasses than Sea Breezes set aside. I have managed to keep one of each over the years.

The backglasses for the two pinball machines produced by the North Star Coin Machine Company of Montreal.
The backglasses for the two pinball machines produced by the North Star Coin Machine Company of Montreal.

The extra Richelieu glass I had went to Steve Young of Pinball Resource along with a couple of pinballs he purchased out of a 32 woodrail lot Ron and I had bought together in the early 90’s. I figured Steve was as good a caretaker as one could get for this piece of pinball history which would head south of our border. In fact, the two machines which Steve and John Fetterman bought from me back then were ironically and most likely part of the large quantity of used pinball machines that filled railway boxcars back in the early 50’s destined for Canada when the embargo which helped spur on the North Star company was finally lifted. These thousands of low cost woodrails were part of the “dumping” which the U.S. did after that particular ban on foreign novelty items was lifted in 1951. This flood of inexpensive used pinball machines from the U.S. contributed directly to closing down the North Star Coin Machine Company of Montreal.

The Friday before meeting Jacques Tremblay, I was back at the office and thinking hard about all the questions I wanted to ask. I finally decided to back off since he had told my father in law in passing that he didn’t want to be interviewed, and that the whole story of the North Star Coin Machine company had already been told in Canadian Coinbox magazine. (1993 July-August issue) It sounded to me like Mr.Tremblay just wanted some money for his old paraphernalia and to be left alone in the end. OK then, I would buy whatever he wanted to sell me as long as he would talk. I figured the more stuff I would buy the more he would be prone to tell me stuff, but again I was wrong. He was about something else.

Then I recalled something Steve Young told me when I mentioned in passing that I was meeting Jacques Tremblay in a couple of days. I explained my concern about how to get Mr.Tremblay to talk about the historical facts I needed to get to. Steve simply advised me to let things flow, be social and to make sure to listen attentively. These veterans usually want to talk about what they have accomplished, and they don’t really want to hear our questions or comments about how "cool" it all is. And they don’t necessarily want to hear about what we think about the events we haven’t lived. I tried to keep my mouth shut when I first met Mr. Tremblay, but that didn’t last long. In a way, and as silly as this may sound, he was the rock star, and I was the groupie. How many of us have wanted to design and build our own pinballs, - this guy had done it, commercially, and over 60 years ago right here in Montreal.

So back in our present day coin-op industry, or as I said, what is left of it, I spent the rest of the American Thanksgiving day catching up on several pending issues as our neighbours in the U.S. digested their turkeys and watched the NFL. The phones were ringing, but no crisis situations, in other words nothing terribly urgent. It feels strange to be at the tail ass end of an industry which is having such a hard time re-inventing itself. All the while we keep working in it and lurking in the shadows of a prosperous & glorious past, and look up to the colourful characters which populated it. The industry as it stands will need a boost from somewhere, probably Asia and more international markets I would guess. Well, enough of that non-sense, the week-end was here. Time to live the hobby, not the business.

So that night after driving my son to his grandma’s for a Friday night sleep-over, and with my girlfriend off to Toronto for a holistic health food convention, it was beginning to feel like some well deserved personal time was finally at hand. So off to St.Lazare for a Montreal Pinball League night and some friendly competition. Ian Fitzpatrick, (aka Sparky), one of the bigwigs of the Montreal Arcade Amusement Collectors Association ( was hosting this grandiose M.P.L. event in his very own man-cave. Driving down the 40, I thought to myself that since everyone close to me was taken care of, it was maybe time to forget about them for a while. I figured a few beers, a few old pinballs and a dose of arrogant male competition and bragging rights was what I needed. We are pretty much all the same when it comes to this silver marble game, we use it to socialize and to be recognized as skillful and lucky, both traits of a good hunter/provider. All part of the pinball experience I would say. Certainly mixing the latter with having a few laughs was important to keep things from getting too fierce, but what a way to end a work week and start a week-end - everything pinball. Then is occurred to me, here we were, a bunch of middle-aged guys still pushing and pumping away at these pin tables, much like the previous generations of men and boys before us. There is something timeless about this marble game that brings us together by having us all focus on that same thing, - a random and affected silverball which mirrors us as it streaks through obstacles, makes targets and has to inevitably end up in a hole. Regardless, we are keeping the collective ball in play by having these tournament nights each month across the country, and hopefully with a little luck, some skill and lots of sharing, we will be able to carry pinball to its 100th birthday through future generations.

The line up for that night were mostly 1st generation Sterns, and a couple of machines from the “big three”. Everyone cherishes those pinball machines that they remember playing when they discovered this common game. If there was an M.P.L. night 40 years ago, (get a fix on 1970 for those who are old enough) there would have been games like Richelieu and Sea Breeze in the line up. The evening was a blast, and went on for hours after I left. The following link tells the story of that Montreal Pinball League night for those who are interested.


The first model to be built by brothers Jacques and Gérard Tremblay was Sea Breeze. The planning began in 1947 and the first machine was finished and ready for sale by October/November 1949.

Brothers Jacques & Gérard with the very first “Sea Breeze” 11/49

The design and wiring was done by Jacques (on the left in the  picture), sales and promotion by Gérard (on the right) and the artwork by their brother in law. Apparently only a few hundred were produced. Probably less than 500 is a safe estimate from the information I managed to gather. The North Star machines were distributed by J.C.Boulin in Trois-Rivières and by Laniel Amusements in Montreal on Nôtre-Dame street.

For the next model named “Richelieu”, the brothers knew that they needed parts, hence the exchange program detailed in their sales flyer for Sea Breeze. The shortage of materials after the war was certainly a factor, but I would think that having electro-mechanical devices on hand and ready made cabinets would definitely help to speed up production as opposed to designing each mechanism from scratch.

Regardless, Richelieu came next and was named after the famous park and race track in Pointes-aux-Trembles where the machines were being built. This model went into production in early 1950 and the assembly process continued as more orders came in. Richelieu having a local theme made it more popular and was certainly of a higher production run than Sea Breeze according to Jacques.This claim would certainly be supported by the fact that Richelieus are more easily found and spotted than Sea Breezes to this day.

At first, Jacques told me that they had produced around a thousand machines through both models, and later during our second meeting he said on video that it may have been two thousand machines built in Montreal between 1949 and 1951. Even if that sounds unlikely, it remains difficult to prove either way.

The Richelieu playfieldWhen the embargo on novelty items was finally lifted in 1951, it became nearly impossible to compete with the amount of used pinball machines coming up to Canada from the U.S. The brothers wisely and painfully decided to call it quits and stop production on Richelieu when they could no longer compete with the American distributors flooding the market with cheaper used pinball machines being exported literally by the train load. Jacques told me that used pinball machines were selling for 25 to 40 dollars a piece. U.S. distributors “dumped” thousands of these games into the Canadian market until they pretty much ran out of certain titles. Then, around 1952-53 U.S. manufacturers began selling new machines directly to Laniel and other smaller Canadian distributors. So when those flood gates opened & closed the Tremblay brothers just couldn’t hold on. (For the American perspective on this story, see Part 2 of the Steve Young interview in the Pinball Trader - issue # 21 - February 1990 ). So Jacques and Gérard unwillingly pulled the plug on North Star Coin Machine while Richelieu was still in production. Orders for that model were canceled as more and more used woodrails came across the border. The halted production on the Richelieu model may well explain the surplus of N.O.S. Richelieu backglasses and playfields found to this day. As mentioned above, Jacques Tremblay can’t remember with accuracy the production runs for each model, but once again, we can safely assume that there were less Sea Breezes than Richelieus made during those years. This latter statement I would venture to say is an accurate and a solid deduction for the permanent historical record.

The scarcity of the Sea Breeze model is supported by what I found out the night of my service call with Ron. I asked him where he got his Sea Breeze, and here is what he told me.

He had gone back to see Mr.Tremblay, and asked if there were any Sea Breezes left for sale somewhere. Jacques said yes. There was one left that he knew of. Ron blatantly asked “How much ?”. $400, was the price and Jacques asked for payment. This was a high price to pay for a woodrail back then, but Ron paid up and looked around, but saw no sign of a Sea Breeze anywhere in their shop. After Jacques explained, he wrote a receipt & voucher for $400 along with a note to the custodian in order to release the machine to Ron upon viewing of the said note. So Ron, in his bold and confident manner looked at the address on the voucher, seized the significance of the location, hired a helper and walked right through the front door of 7401 on the Trans-Canada highway service road and picked up the Sea Breeze right out of the showroom. He didn’t look back. When someone tried to stop him, he handed over a copy of  the signed note and kept moving. Apparently Gatean Laniel, (son of founding father Edouard Laniel), was on vacation that week while the machine was being whisked out of Laniel Canada`s showroom in board daylight. It is beyond me how an extremely wealthy family like the Laniels hadn`t given their old employees a few hundred bucks, or more for that particularly rare example of a Montreal built pinball, and rather kept it in “hawk” for all to see in their showroom as if they were responsible for such an accomplishment. Maybe they were in a way, and had a hand in it beyond the distributorship role, I can’t be sure, but one thing I am damn certain about is that the Montreal of the 1930’s and 40’s provided fertile ground to make the Laniels the most powerful amusement machine operator and distributor in Canada. So much so that their empire grew to become known across North America as a standard to aspire to for other North American distributors. And over the years Laniel had become such a well decorated distributor that they pretty well controlled the entirety of the Canadian coin operated industry from coast to coast. So this particular Sea Breeze which Ron whisked away from the Laniel`s grasp is the only example of a North Star “Sea Breeze” that I have ever seen in over 30 years of collecting and fixing EM’s in the greater Montreal area. It is now safely stored in a museum in Québec city, alongside its counterpart Richelieu - largely thanks to Ron Gratton.

Center section of a Sea Breeze unassembled playfeild displaying the company’s name. On their next & last game “Richelieu”, the company name and location follow the declining lines of the apron at the bottom of the playfield.
Center section of a Sea Breeze unassembled playfield displaying the company’s name. On their next & last game “Richelieu”, the company name and location follow the declining lines of the apron at the bottom of the playfield.

Saturday, the second day to this 3 day pinball week-end was really the “big” day for me. We went to Ahuntsic (north of Montreal) to meet and talk with 83 year old Jacques Tremblay. My father in law and my six year old were throwing snowballs at each other when Jacques walked towards us from across the street where he had parked. He had a brown envelope under his arm and approached us quite briskly. Quite agile, and a real gentlemen with old time manners and class. Jacques Tremblay was a sight to be seen and reckoned with to be sure. He proudly led us to a dark and dank garage office under a run down apartment building in this poor section of town. This space was evidently in the process of being cleared out. We learned that he was moving to another garage a few doors down later that month. The first thing I noticed was a parts cabinet, the size of a large wall unit with hand made wooden drawers no doubt from back in the day of the North Star Coin machine company. It was build partially from used pinball playfields of machines they took apart to build their own machines.

A parts cabinet from the North Star Coin Machine company made mostly out of old playfields from machines they used to build their own models.
A parts cabinet from the North Star Coin Machine company made mostly out of old playfields from machines they used to build their own models.

We got talking immediately about the North Star Coin Machine company. (Since all the pertinent and important facts are already in the Canadian CoinBox article, I will try not to repeat them here) What I want to talk about is what the experience of meeting this man represents. I felt a strong connection through his words as he spoke of the time they were engaged in the creative process throughout the pre-production stage. How every detail had to be dealt with, from finding the miles of coded wire to the design of the the plastic parts and some of the electro-mechanical devices. And especially finding the courage and energy for the long hours of hard work that it took to take on such a project from scratch at that time. That in particular really put the hook in my imagination. It was just after the second world war and materials were no doubt in high demand and low supply. Gérard had come back from the service and was looking for something to do when they began to discuss the idea of building their own machines mainly due to the opportunity which the embargo on novelty items provided. They were both working for Laniel as repairmen after the war and decided to branch off on their own. And to hear Jacques speak about the pride he still feels to this day as he recalls being a 22 year-old out of the service and ready to take on new risks, I felt shivers up my spine thinking about the guts it must have taken to go head long into this project. To move forward and push for a future they believed in despite all the limitations which were somewhat off-set at the time by this embargo aimed primarily against Switzerland out of all places. Apparently Canada developed a quarrel after the war with Switzerland and banned the import of novelty items such as wristwatches, and since pinball machines were considered a novelty item , they could not be imported into Canada legally from the U.S. from 1947 to 1951. After a couple of years Switzerland in turn stopped buying Canadian wheat, and since wheat was more important than pinball machines as an industry in Canada, the embargo was lifted in 1951 causing North Star to shut down.

During this first meeting (conducted almost completely in French) Jacques told us about the specific location where they build their pinball machines. The Canadian Government was helping new businesses in getting off the ground after the war by providing their army barracks to be used as shops and warehouses. These were originally unheated he told me since they served mostly as garages for vehicles during the war years, and were build from high quality Canadian lumber. Jacques also proudly told me that their barracks in the north eastern tip of the Montreal island had powerful heaters installed and beautiful hardwood floors. They hired young people from the Pointes-aux-Trembles area to work at building their pinballs. Since few people had cars back then, most people found work close to their homes. At the peak of production they had 125 employees from the surrounding area working for them.

The army barracks which housed the production of pinball machines on the eastern tip of the island of Montreal
The army barracks which housed the production of pinball machines on the eastern tip of the island of Montreal

Before their time ? The Trembley brothers had to find ways to speed up production and move things along. On the left is the underside of the Sea Breeze playfield.. On the right is the clearer and more refined Richelieu wiring aid diagrams for the young employees who worked at assembling these games.
Before their time ? The Tremblay brothers had to find ways to speed up production and move things along. On the left is the underside of the Sea Breeze playfield.. On the right is the clearer and more refined Richelieu wiring aid diagrams for the young employees who worked at assembling these games.

He had also told me that the ink they used for their silk screened backglasses would take over 24 hours to dry as opposed to the ink many of the American companies used at the same period which would take about an hour to dry. Apparently they had to build large racks to let the backglasses dry overnight in their heated barracks. The end result however, was an extremely tough backglass, and the ink clinging for decades even when stored poorly. In fact the North Star backglasses from 1949 are as tough as a mid 70’s Bally to this day. I personally have not sealed my Sea Breeze backglass with triple thick and have no intention or need to do so, it remains pretty much as it was 60 years ago. This is a good example of all the seemingly small details which they had to deal with at the time with no real model of how pinball machines were build. They weren’t always equipped to deal with the many issues that would arise in the development of this enterprise, but they must be given credit for having broken ground in the manufacturing of pinball machines in Canada.

So after a solid ½ hour of talking together, I asked politely if I could purchase one example of each of the unpopulated N.O.S. playfields from the games he designed for North Star. There was a stack of about 10 playfields leaning against a wall. He obliged, and bragged about the high quality of the Canadian lumber these hard plywood playfields were made from. In fact, even stored vertically against a cement wall in a basement office, they were pretty damn straight and certainly not as warped as one would expect.

This man was full of stories and sharp as a tack, and I was ecstatic that he was sharing so much information upon our first encounter. This made me a bit nervous, and hence I talked too much. I knew that I would need a second meeting to ask the questions which I neglected to ask first time around out of sheer fascination and distraction.

The picture below was hanging on the wall of his garage workshop and Jacques told me that after the embargo which shut down North Star was lifted, his brother and himself tried many different variations on existing games. Their new store & workshop near Garnier & Gilford streets showcased many of their creative attempts at creating a different kind of game that would capture the publics thirst for gaming and amusement.  In this picture we can see a prime example of their efforts, a 1954 United Chief puck bowler which the Tremblay brothers converted to a ball bowler in order to create a different feel and interest.

Believed to be The North Star Coin Machine Company showroom at 6657 St.Urbain St. in Montreal in 1954 or thereabouts. United’s “Cheif” shuffle alley is from 11/53. Above is a conversion by the Tremblay brothers to a ball bowler.


So two weeks later we scheduled another meeting with Mr.Tremblay and this time I was accompanied with a long time “pinball brother” & collector buddy Mike Hanley. ( He had made the trip from Toronto the night before to meet Mr.Tremblay and by the same token do a trade. Our main goal for this second visit was to scan some photographs so they would be preserved on the web, get some English video of the man telling his story, and ask a few more calculated questions. We both felt quite privileged that Mr. Tremblay came to meet with us despite the excessive snow that fell that morning. Quite a load of the stuff fell rapidly over our city that morning, even by Montreal standards, but Jacques was already in his newly occupied office/ shop/garage when we arrived. He had obviously been waiting for us to show up. He had seen more snow fall than both of us put together through the years I am sure, and asked why we were late, as if the snow was not even a factor.

I set up the scanner and the laptop to digitalize a few pics and docs as Mike automatically began video taping the man and his story by asking the occasional question. Mr. Tremblay pretty well took the floor as they say. Mike began the interview and off he (Jacques) went telling his story. His English was clear and concise since doing business in the Quebec of the 1940’s and 50’s necessitated this second language.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Mr.Jacques Tremblay for his disposition to speak with us so openly and kindly about his work with the North Star Coin Machine Company. I feel extremely privileged and proud to have had the chance to spend time with Jacques Tremblay and share part of his story with the many history buffs I know are out there, and with other pinball collectors through this multi-media article. And thanks to Mike Hanley for his continued enthusiasm and especially to my father-in-law Jean-Pierre Gauthier who made this coming together of pinball people possible.

Lastly, a friend of mine wanted me to ask him why the name North Star, apart from the obvious Canadian implication of a bright  Northern country. He told us that the name came from a boat the Tremblays owned called L’Etoile du Nord , so not what one would think right off the bat.

History will always be difficult to know completely without an understanding of the context from which the story stemmed. It remains a hermeneutic problem to say the least, demanding an extremely open mind on the part of those who want to know. Sharing and understanding a past event inevitably becomes more and more complicated to seize mainly due to the passage of time and  the contextual changes affecting the place where the story initially happened. No matter how much we would like to know and understand something from the past, we are all subject to the above condition regarding space and time..

North of the 49th

Story Date : 1998-2002
Location: Montreal & Toronto
This story was first published in March of 2008 in issue #125 of the American hobby and trade magazine - The PinGameJournal ( Republished here with permission of PGJ editor Jim Schelberg and edited for this website.
First a little history. I bought my first pin game in 1978 at the ripe old age of 13. It was a Williams Liberty Bell from Toronto Coin Machine for 650 Canadian dollars. One of the first things a 13 year old first time pinball owner does is search every square inch of the machine from top to bottom simply out of curiosity and of course fascination. I got down on the floor and crawled under to look at the bottom. If you ever purchased a game originally sold in Canada, chances are high that you would have found "Laniel Automatic Machines" stenciled onto the bottom panel of the body. Laniel (rhymes with Daniel) was also known to attach little metal plates, or crests if you prefer, on the top right hand side of the back box. In the later years, the metal crests which were riveted to the cabinets and backboxes were changed to thick plastic stickers, again on the right hand side of the cabinets. They also had warranty control stickers affixed on all pcbs and major components of solid sate games.
Who was this Laniel Automatic Machines ? Had I not bought my pinball from Toronto Coin Machine Exchange ? Not understanding the pinball distributor model at all, I spent the next few weeks checking local phone books and never found any "Laniel". I finally called Toronto Coin and gruff ol` Frank told me they were in the French Canadian province of Québec and to stop bothering him. End of the line for me. Contrary to what most Americans think, not all Canadians speak French, hence I dropped the search for the mysterious Laniel Automatic.
Fast forward to 1998. I`d been collecting for 20 years and knew all the local operators and distributors. Rumor had it that a new pinball distributor was going to open up, and as luck would have it, they would be five minutes from work. Laniel Automatic opened a branch office in Toronto. By then, I understand the distributor model VERY WELL, and I went in and introduced myself to the staff. I recognize several employees, Margaret Patey, Mark Kupiec and Jerry Power, all from the old Starburst Coin Machines, an established competitor. Jerry introduces me to the parts & service manager, Robert Baraké who recently transferred over from the Montreal office to help with the transition. (Those of you who read Play Meter and/or Canadian CoinBox may recognize Robert`s name as he has contributed many technical articles to those magazines over the years. )
Robert and I start chatting and in 10 minutes I knew he was one of "us". He use to have over 100 machines in his collection ranging from the 30`s to the 80`s. His favorite games included Pokerface, Golden Arrow, Centigrade 37, 8-Ball Deluxe amongst others. He loves woodrails, wedgeheads and bingo machines. Although he had been out of collecting for a few years, I could see the ol` spark in his eyes. At one point, Robert mentioned the mountains of good stuff back at the Montréal head office. Playfields... backglasses...NOS parts...documentation. OK, now I am ready for a road trip !
The Lure of the Silver Ball I casually mention, "I`d love to see it one day."
A few weeks go by and I get a phone call from Robert.
"I spoke to Dominic Laniel and he said ok."
"Great, but ok to what ?"
"Ok for you to visit and look around."
"OH ! Cool ! When do we go?"
Realizing that this outing will be a good subject for PGJ article but also realizing that I have zero experience as a writer, I decide to enlist some help. The first name that comes to mind is Gary Flower, author of the classic pinball book, "Lure of the Silver Ball" and the PinGame Journal`s Foreign Correspondent. That`s right, "Foreign"...Gary lives in London, England. I send him an e-mail asking, "When are you coming over to visit ? Wanna go to Montreal? Laniel says we can snoop around." Apparently that does the trick, Gary is game and books his flight to Toronto.
All the pieces are falling into place nicely. After work on Thursday I pick up Gary and we go straight to Laniel Toronto to get Robert. We grab a quick bite to eat, then set out for Laniel Montreal. It`s a five hour drive on a good day, so if we leave by 7 PM, with traffic and pee breaks, we`ll get in around 12:30 AM. Robert`s mother has graciously offered to allow us to crash at her house, the place that use to house Robert`s collection along with a rented basement & garage next door to handle the overflow.
The trip is good. All the way there, we share pinball memories from our past and then the thought strikes me. Here we are; one guy from French Canadian Montreal, one from English Canadian Toronto and the third from London, England, yet we all have had similar experiences. First we became a pinball addict, then we bought a game and next thing you know there are 10 of these things in the house. It`s all pretty standard stuff.
At 1:00 AM we are routing through the remains of Robert`s pinball stuff. There is a nice Centigrade 37 set up and ready to play, a rare Super Jumbo and a couple of bingos. Also in the group of oddball parts in an old back office are two rare backglasses made by a Canadian pinball company called North Star. The two games they produced were called "Richelieu" and "Sea Breeze", and were very similar in construction to the Gottlieb games produced between 1948 and 1951. I learned through Robert that the company was actually started by two brothers who had previously worked at (you guessed it) Laniel Amusements in the 1940`s. We should get some shut eye, but we are all too excited. I know, I know, time to get a life.
Friday we get up and are on the road by 8AM. We head off to Laniel Automatic`s 30,000 square foot building which use to be the old Simon Cigar Company back in the 1930`s & 40`s. Our plan says we`ll spend the day there, then head back to Toronto at the end of the work day - we`ll be back home by midnight for sure.
We arrive at Laniel at 9:30 am, a half hour late. Well, we decided to stop for hot dogs, a real road trip breakfast ! I know it sounds dumb, but one should not visit Montreal without a stop at the Montreal Pool Room (est. 1912) on St. Lawrence boulevard and enjoy a couple of "steamies." One subject we discussed on the drive down was a comparison between the "dogs" at Portillo`s in Chicagoland and those from LaFleurs` of Montreal. Robert said that he use to play pinball at an old hot dog place near the Montreal Pool Room and we figured we owed it to ourselves to at least see if there were any games there. There were no pins to be found of course, but they did make great hot dogs. I still prefer Portillos`, but that is another story. On to Laniel...
Once there, we are shown around and introduced to the sales staff, the service department staff and then told that we could take a tour. Robert shows us the repair department before going on to the parts department which is huge (about 8,000 square feet) and still considered the best in Canada. The service department is so clean you feel that you could eat off the floor. Then we walk through the large showroom and we just can`t believe how neat and orderly everything is. On display is the latest Stern, "Striker Extreme." Parallel to one wing of the showroom is the electronics department. The rows of benches are incredible ! Lined up are test fixtures for every pinball technology. WPC System 11, Gottlieb system 1& 80, Bally/Stern, basically all of them even an Atari pinball test fixture. Underneath the benches are endless filing cabinets. Robert picks up a telephone directory-type book.
"Name a game," he says.
I fire back, "Stern Nine Ball."
He scrolls down to N, looks up NineBall and tells me to go to cabinet four, number 102. I open the cabinet four and pull out envelope 102. Inside is the NineBall manual, service updates, full set of schematics, score cards and even the flyer, and they have this for every game back to the 1950`s where gaps begin to show up as you move back in time. They also have the game roms on file with no exceptions. I checked three or four more games to see if I could stump them, I could not. It is awesome. Should have asked him if they had a TKO schematic, but that too is another story.
Next we are introduced to Dominic Laniel, president of the company. Dominic is a young man in his late 20`s or early 30`s. His father Pierre had retired in the early 1980`s and later put Dominic in charge when the Vice President for the past 50 years died in 1997. Usually, you would suspect that a young guy in that position would not know alot about the business. Gary and I talked with Dominic for over an hour and he is VERY knowledgeable, not only about pinball, but about all the products they sell. He has done his homework. Dominic explained that Laniel is a distributor only, not an operator, so they do not compete with their customers. The company was started in 1934 by Dominic`s grandfather and great uncle, Romeo and Edouard respectively. The two brothers ran a Machine Exchange Distributorship and Laniel Amusements until 1960 when their sons took over. The cousins (Pierre and Gaetan) had differing ideas as to where the coin-op machine business should go, so they split into two : Laniel Automatic Machines to distribute equipment, and Laniel Canada to operate machines. Laniel Canada has currently moved away from coin-op amusements completely. They now concentrate on, and dominate the vending machine industry in Canada. Laniel Automatic has stayed true to their word and does not operate any amusement equipment.
On to the shipping department, where we find, of all things, the stencil used to label the bottom of games ! It looks 40 years old, is made out metal and has a frame handle build around it in order to hold it in position with one hand, and spray paint with the other. There has been many a person who`s job it was to stencil the bottom of every pin and inside every video game backdoor with the Laniel name. So that would mean opening boxes from the factories, spraying, cresting and re-boxing the games. I also know this because I ordered a brand new pin game from Laniel and had to specify that I wanted them NOT to open the box and "sticker-crest-stencil" the game. I wanted the box to be sealed from the factory when I took delivery. They doubled and triple checked to make sure everyone in the shipping & receiving departments at both Montreal and Toronto offices had been told, so that when I picked up my game it would not be branded. They must have thought I was goofy. But Laniel was always about added value service, and they obliged.
Upstairs in a small wooden dusty loft overlooking the parts department we stumbled on the mother lode: sets of binders jammed full of press photos. There is one picture of David Gottlieb`s son-in-law with Romeo Laniel and Jean Coutu (VP) leaning on a brand new 1952 Skill Pool pinball. Black and white photographs of pingames from the sixities before their release along with machine typed descriptions of the features so that the distributor would be able to promote the game before the official release. Filing cabinets alphabetically classified of advertising flyers for games past. SIGH ! We looked at photos of Fireball, Williams 1957 Deluxe Baseball, Hulk, Space Shuttle, Gigi, and arcade games that seemed out of this world. Even the Sega "Pro Bowler" clone of Williams "Mini-Bowl". Gulp. Amazing.
Well, all good things must come to an end. we expressed our thanks for the hospitality and made our way to the Trans-Canada highway for the long drive home.
Now I intended to end the story there, but then in 2001 everything stared to happen. Dominic`s father Pierre passed away, and Dominic made the decision to sell off the assets of Laniel Automatic and close the historical company. It happened in the span of one year. The Toronto office was shut down first in the summer of 2001 and the employees scrambled to other coin-op distributors in town. Robert, being from Montreal originally, was gladly dispatched back to the head office to work in the parts department. By February 2002 the contents of the Montreal office were sold off, the building torn down and a head office of a Québec drug store chain erected on the cigar and coin-op amusement grounds. That was it. It was all gone. I think about the test fixtures, the brand new 1970`s Seeburg jukeboxes still in the crates in the basement that were never sold, the filing cabinets of schematics, flyers and ofcourse the press photos. But I also think of the employees, many of who had worked there for 20, 25 and even up to 40 years at Laniel. All instantly out of work. Starburst Coin seized the opportunity and opened a Montreal office and hired some of the Laniel parts department staff.
Robert was offered a contract to return to Toronto a few months after the closure. A company called Microplayground Entertainment which was experiencing rapid growth and was soon to be renamed Hip Coin, under a large corporation called Hip Interactive. He was basically asked to create a parts & service department which would resemble Laniel`s and he is still working hard at it. The Hip Coin distributorship is actually not too far from where I work so I try to stop by as often as possible and talk pinball with Robert and buy my parts. The mystery of Laniel for this Toronto native had been solved---then demolished. I can only be glad that Robert, Gary and I ventured out there before the turmoil hit.

A Prankster in Service

Laniel Automatic Machines Inc. service department at 151 Rockland Road in the Town of Mont RoyalWe sometimes say that "a picture is worth a thousand words", well maybe that a picture accompanied by a few hundred words can be even more informative. The right words with an image as a reference will often provide more insight into a context than one or the other alone.
Gaston Barsalo, the man next to the 1963 Gottlieb "Slick Chick" pinball machine (which was about to get a fresh coat of paint on the coin door) was apparently a gentle man. In fact, a little too soft for the pressures of running a service department consisting of 8 to 10 sometimes unruly technicians. He had apparently been promoted to chief of service mostly through the fact that he had been working at Laniel since the 1950`s at least. Hence, I am told that the technicians often took advantage of his good nature by showing up for work late or taking extra time to run personal errands while on an outside service call. Gaston was eventually replaced in 1973 by Jean Robillard, who remained at the head of the department until 1994. I spoke with Jean at length about this photograph, and as expected, the memories came pouring out.
Jean chuckled periodically under his breath as he recounted anecdotes about the prankster squatting in front of the Rock-o-la Grand Prix jukebox, Aimé Scott. He was a good technician Jean recalls, but with a strong tendency to instill havoc around the workplace. It was only worse when he teamed up with Michel Laplante, another technician who would do almost anything for a laugh at someone else`s expense, including his bosses.
Apparently, one of Aimé`s favorite targets was Léo Labrecque at the adjacent work station in the picture. Before Léo would arrive for work, Aimé made it a habit to carefully place a thin strand of wire between the two poles of an electrical outlet on Leo`s workbench. So when Léo would casually throw on the power switch for his work station with one hand and possibly carrying a hot coffee in the other, the fuse would blow. Léo would jump back as the thin strand of wire his co-worker had placed between the poles would burn up leaving little to no evidence of a prank, just another burnt fuse. After a few mornings of this "electrical problem" recurring, Gaston the service manager would finally order Léo to install a circuit breaker on his bench to avoid the rising cost of the daily fuse consumption he was incurring. Even a good natured man like Gaston Barsalo was fed up.
The shipping and receiving clerk at the time, John Temchuck (not shown in the photograph) was not spared.  A tough hard working Ukranian gentleman who by virtue of the work he did would necessarily have been an orderly man with regular habits. Aimé seemed to thrive off people with routines, it made for easy prey. So at the end of the day when John would change from his work threads to civilian clothes, he would go to the back of the service department and into the small water closet. I use that particular term for washroom because Aimé would throw a pail of water under the door when John had taken off his work boots and was about to put on his walking shoes. It becomes quite understandable that an older Mr.Temchuck would then chase Aimé around the shop with a pinball leg as a weapon along with wet socks on his feet until he ran out of breath and was eventually obliged to calm down.
Click here to see a video of Jean Robillard (service manager from 1973 to 1994) telling stories about what it was like to work with the people in the picture as a new employee in 1967. This amateur video was captured on the last day of operations at Laniel Automatic Machines - ending 68 years of history.

Mario's 8 Ball Deluxe

Story date : Summer of 1983
Location : 378 St. Catherine St. West in the Belgo Building
8 Ball Mario Sunday mornings I would open Abe Kauffman`s CASINO ROYALE arcade on St.Catherine a few storefronts west of Bleury street for a 15 hour shift of pushing quarters. Even though there weren`t that many customers at 9AM, I was kinda glad to be in charge from start to finish for some reason which I can`t quite recall right now. I guess that finally it must have had quite a bit to do with being in charge, and not having any authorities interfering with how I ran the joint. I was "the man" right down to the way I pushed the broom, emptied the ashtrays and of course, how I positioned and cleaned the machines to look just right. What I also remember is that after midnight I would begin to feel the tension drop as the circuit breakers were turned off two at a time. Slowly my mind became free from silly little tunes and phrases coming mostly from the invading video games that had been on for the past 15 hours. By the same token, I was quite happy to start my week-end in the coolest way I knew how. Walking east to the Rising Sun nightclub while dragging deep on a Dunhill and anticipating the amateur blues night that lay ahead of me. And on the right night, that scene could bring euphoria.
My best friend Mike or Walter or Dave or some other buddy would usually meet me there for a beer or two or three or four etc. Other times it was just Patricia and me, and that was OK too. The number 15 bus would run all night on Ste.Cathrine between Atwater and Papineau, and so all I needed to do was make that last number 70 bus (around 2:20AM) which left Papineau metro and use to cross the Jacques-Cartier bridge. This would get me back to my basement apartment on the south shore where that long Sunday shift had started. Getting back to that super quiet, underground "home base" felt good and secure to be sure. And so, in order not to lose grasp on the memory of another day, I would write my journal entry before falling into a deep sleep as the faint signs of the dawn began to manifest themselves. I wrote quickly because I knew that everything was about to reset once again like a new game of pinball. It was the summer of 1983, I was 20, and what the hell did I care about anything at all except those types of moments!
Casino Royale was a medium size arcade with a nice variety of pinball machines for that time. Abe would constantly harass his operator/supplier/partner to bring him new machines, and he would make quite the issue out of it at that. I always knew what it was about when I heard him talking to Jack on the phone, because there was this harassing and yet pleading tone about the conversation. Abe knew his business and it showed in the numbers, no matter how annoying he managed to be. There was a very solid and steady amount of walk in traffic during the week, so much so that the weekday lunch hour crowd often consumed about $400 to $600 in quarters from 11:30 to 1:30 PM.
But let’s get back to those Sunday evenings when Casino Royale became dotted with regulars. What I remember clearly, is that after 8PM this character whom I only knew as Mario would shuffle in. He had a mustache, was about 30 years old, pretty well chain smoked duMaurier cigarettes and had a nervous and erratic twitch which would suddenly become very controlled, accentuated and focused when he played pinball. It was quite beautiful to watch his condition transform itself into some extremely well directed body English.
8-Ball DeluxeI believe that I was a pretty good pinball player back then, because I would occasionally draw a crowd when I played. And in order not to be interrupted by people who wanted change while I built up my score, I let Tommy (an arcade fixture) give change in my place for a while so I could play the latest pinball machine, or just a familiar classic to relax. My boss Abe hated that I sometimes gave Tommy a small float. He would then explain to me that since Tommy was on welfare, he was necessarily unstable. Abe was a conservative man to say the least, and I couldn`t help but like his simplistic & realistic view of the world he acknowledged. I liked Tommy and I thought that he just needed a chance to actualize. Yes, I was a somewhat of a liberal myself looking back, but on the flipside, it made me very popular in that arcade environment, and to me that was more important. I did whatever I wanted when Abe was at home in Cote-St-Luc taking her easy while I ran what he called "the store". So while Tommy pushed the occasional quarter and felt important, I was racking up high scores on all of the 1st generation solid state games except one, 8-Ball Deluxe by Bally. This cat Mario had that, and it was mainly because he would let the ball drain at just the right time for those 3 free games, otherwise he would go over his previous high score and have to turn the freakin` machine over the top again. It was a thing of beauty to watch him cradle the ball, calculate 56K or 112K times whatever he had knocked down in drop targets, take his hands briskly off the buttons, step back take a deep drag of his smoke and wait for the three sharp knocks at the end of the game. I can still see him looking at the backglass, and I can still hear that distinct Bally knocker on the bottom right hand side of the cabinet resonate through "the store" (arcade god dam it !) as most pinheads, and some geeky video game nuts turned towards 8 Ball Deluxe & Mario.
I also remember that Mario was polite, shy and nervous. His head would bob up and down as he grunted "hi" and shuffled up to the half door of the back office in order to get his 4 quarter fix for the evening. Sometimes I would tell him about the condition of the machines, if they had been waxed or serviced since last week. It was a moment in time that seems magical now- and I can still see him through his own cigarette smoke jumping and jerking in a nutty yet stylish manner as he would gradually and most certainly get in perfect tune with what inevitably became "his" machine. He was an impressive player, and people would notice the intensity of his moves while watching from a certain calculated distance in order to not distract him. He rarely spent more than two dollars the whole evening and would leave me the free games he had accumulated when came time for him to shuffle out and cross the street to the strip joint, around 11:30 PM. There were usually too many credits left on the machine to play by closing time, and besides that, there was the Rising Sun to attend to just a few steps away.