Larry Wilson is an electromechanical repair hobbyist, and has been one for most of his life. As a seventeen-year-old, Larry came across his hobby when he discovered a Coke machine at a party. Larry was captured by the sleek look of the 1950’s themed machine and, with an initial investment of $75, launched his lifelong fascination. Although his parents disproved of him smuggling and concealing the Coke machine in his room for months, Larry’s intrigue never left him. He would later enroll at Triton College in Illinois to major in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in order to learn how to fix the Coke machine that he had bought. After realizing the simplicity of repairing the Coke machine, Larry realized that he especially enjoyed working on machines and fixing them. As a result, he decided to return to college to study electrical engineering. From there, his electromechanical collection grew with the addition of a jukebox and another Coke machine.
Today, Larry owns an impressive electromechanical machine collection that ranges widely from pinball cabinets to shooting galleries to vending machines that are reminiscent of the 1960s era and his childhood. The machines have a high attraction value for visitors and mainly see action when special events and holidays are hosted in Larry’s home. Many of the machines in Larry’s collection are repaired and restored by Larry himself and are also maintained by his son, Kyle.
Larry often figures out how to repair his electromechanical machines by studying schematics closely. While repair times for the machines vary widely depending on the accessibility of specific parts and the complexity of the machine, Larry estimates that 100 man-hours are needed to return a broken machine to working order. Because electromechanical repair is a niche area and quite labor intensive, Larry maintains that repairing machines will remain as a hobby for him.
In order to obtain machines or parts to repair his machines, Larry consults with other members of a large and supportive network that specializes in electromechanical machines. As a result, Larry regularly enjoys contact with other hobbyists and specialists from all over the United States at large conferences – some that are hosted in Chicago. While at these conferences, Larry oftentimes finds machines that are worth repairing or scrapping for parts, as well as meeting other like-minded peers who help with his electromechanical repairs.
Larry will continue to repair electromechanical machines as long as it is physically possible for him to do so. He describes his hobby as almost “addictive… but I guess it’s better than heroin”. For Larry, repairing a machine that has not worked in 60 years is incredibly rewarding for him – a “natural high” as he describes it. In addition, the amount of time and work put into each machine is very personal, and as a result, Larry does not foresee an end to his work with electromechanical machines.
Interview with Larry Wilson completed by David Alejandro Gonzalez and Brian Curtis on October 8, 2015. Photographs by Michael Molitsky. Transcription by Brian Curtis, and Christopher Thai. The full archive of the interview, including the complete audio file, full transcription, and additional photographs, is available through the IIT Institutional Repository.