Red Quarters

The Mystery Of The Red Quarters…Solved!

When I originally thought of writing about red quarters, I had three examples ready to be photographed as accompanying artwork.

However, when you have a young son who is fascinated with arcade games, ticket redemption machines and all manner of gumball dispensers, keeping quarters handy is difficult.
Red Quarters

So, just imagine that this is a photo of a real red quarter taken on my dining room table, and not one I grabbed online this morning.

Have you ever sorted through your change and found an older quarter painted red, or the remnants of red paint that has been worn away during a few decades in someone’s pocket or change jar? Congratulations! There is a good chance that you are holding a piece of arcade history.

First of all, let me point out that there are a few alternative origins that are possible – but, not as neat as the arcade connection. Red quarters are also used for free laundromats and the occasional jukebox at the local tavern, but with change machines more available in 2017, and the increasing prices of these services, dollar bills are used much more often.

Red quarters are known as “shills” or “house coins.” When I managed an Aladdin’s Castle arcade back in the early 1990s, I called them “freebies.”

Arcade machines are amazing pieces of technology. From the start button, to the circuitry, to the joysticks, to the screen and speakers, millions of bits of high-tech electronic signals are bouncing around inside that pressboard cabinet before “Ready Player One” ever appears in colorful, pixilated glory to you.

But, before the credit button can ever be activated, the quarter has to make its way from your pocket through a series of mechanical twists and turns before the game recognizes your offering as a legitimate form of payment. Along the way, there are many places for your quarter to become lodged or even fall through to the coin collection box without giving you a credit to start the game.

If your arcade didn’t have an attendant back then, you usually just kicked or beat the coin door in a futile attempt to make it either accept the quarter – or generously return it to you. This usually never, ever worked.

Arcade attendants were the best people that minimum wage could hire at the time. While many could be trusted to open the front doors on time, most arcade owners did not trust their minions with keys to the coin doors or collection boxes.

When a customer complained about not receiving credit for their coin, an attendant would use a red-painted quarter in the slot to make the game work. If it did, the customer could then play their game and smile. If the game still did not work, an “Out of Order” sign would be placed over the screen until a repair technician could render first aid.

When it came time to count the game’s coin box each week, the red quarters would be sorted out from the silver ones and returned to the attendants to use again. They wouldn’t be counted as income and the arcade owner’s accountant would celebrate and rejoice at the reduction of paperwork.

At Aladdin’s Castle, we also used painted quarters, but only for the Rowe change machine or crane game. Our attendants had access to the coin mechanisms because tokens were used to credit the machines instead of cash – and our accountants rejoiced at the reduction of paperwork.

Why the red paint? Red paint stands out better in a sea of silver coins in the automatic counter, and in many cases, it’s also the only shade of nail polish that a female employee had handy at the time.

The next time you spot a red quarter, and the date on it is from before 1992, there is a very good chance that it was used to make someone’s arcade experience a happy one. Keep the cycle going and use it to credit-up the next video game you come across!
Retro New Year's Eve - 2016

Gary Burton

What The Retroist Means To Me By Gary Burton

(The Esteemed Gary Burton is our next writer to share his thoughts on what he loves about The Retroist site! – Vic)

I first stumbled upon the Retroist podcast in the fall of 2012. I had just started a new job that required driving 160 miles each day – five days a week. With limited radio reception available, I turned to my iPhone for entertainment and the Retroist Podcast was exactly what I was looking for.

My first episode was about the film “Crocodile Dundee,” and I quickly filled my phone’s free memory with all 120 shows that were available at the time.


Listening to the podcast made me feel like I was in someone’s living room and we were reminiscing about our lives in the 1970s and 80s. The episodes were complete with history, trivia, fun facts and personal experiences from the Retroist.

I soon began to get my family involved, starting with my son, William, who was 6 years old at the time. I would take him on many road trips and we listened to all the shows together. They always took longer than the posted listening time to complete because William kept wanting me to pause it. He would either ask a question about the podcast topic, or share in his own delight that he made a connection to his modern world by something mentioned in the show. He enjoyed hearing about how many of the topics related to my own memories as a child.

Ok, that last paragraph isn’t entirely true. We only made it through the first 10 minutes of the Gremlins episode. To this day, William has never seen the movie, but knows enough from a snippet of the Retroist podcast that this is a film he wants NOTHING to do with!

I tried to think of my favorite episode, but I couldn’t pick between two.

First, I loved the Jetsons episode from 2011. The interview with Janet Waldo was a special treat and the unscripted feel was a delightful change from the show’s regular format. The episode is even more wonderful because Ms. Waldo didn’t do many interviews during her last days – and passed away just a few months ago.

My second-favorite episode comes from #188 on June 13, 2015. Why? Thanks to social media, I felt like I was a part of the show in an unusual way.

Just a week earlier, I had posted to Facebook that I was watching The Black Hole with my kids. It was their first time, and they commented that the special effects were “interesting.”
I befriended the Retroist in 2012 on Facebook and it was neat to see his postings in between the show releases. I even had the chance the chat back and forth with him during a late-night delivery while I was on the New Jersey Turnpike. We had some great laughs while I rode through his childhood stomping grounds. The Retroist was the first of my Facebook friends to “like” my post, and that alone made me smile thinking that he noticed it.

My smile grew even wider when the Black Hole episode appeared shortly afterward.

I asked him if it was a cosmic coincidence between the couch time with my kiddos and the podcast, and he politely referred me to his rights under the Fifth Amendment.
The Retroist has also led me to scores of new friends – both online and in person.


I knew of the Arkadia Retrocade opening in Northwest Arkansas a few years ago, but I was just an enthusiastic customer at the time. Then, I found Vic Sage’s ongoing series on the Retroist blog about the arcade and initially thought it was a franchise chain coming to my area. I had no idea that Sage lived only 18 miles away.
Gary Burton - Vic Sage

Thanks to the Retroist blog, I’ve also become friends with Earl Green, Rob O’Hara, Robe Flax, and many, many others who enjoy reminiscing about our childhood.
We would not be the tight group of friends we are today without the Retroist – someone I’m proud to say answers my crazy emails when I shoot them his way.
I raise my glass to you and hope you have a great 2017…!

[Via] Bionic Disco

That Time When VH-1 Gave Away Every Corvette!

What do you do when you’re the Number Two music video station in the late 1980s, and there are only two contenders to begin with? How do you bump your ratings through the roof? You start the world’s first successful reality TV show…!
the-real-world
No. Wait. That was the other channel…

You create a call-in giveaway contest on a scale that has never been duplicated…! That’s what you do.

VH-1 came to our televisions on the heels of mega-hit channel MTV more than 35 years ago on New Year’s Day 1985 under the Viacom Media umbrella. The two stations battled back and forth for viewership across several decades before both channels eventually dropped music videos from their lineup and started showing reality shows and reruns of Saved by the Bell.
saved-by-the-bell
But in the mid-1980s, viewership of Top 40 music videos is what brought in the advertisers, and advertisers paid the bills. Even though MTV and VH-1 were owned by the same company, VH-1 was targeted toward a more mature audience, and MTV was relegated to the pop and “bubble-gum pop” crowd.

So, how do you draw in a more-sophisticated audience with a more-mature taste? You give them a chance to win a Corvette.

And how do you blow that idea out of the water, and turn it up to 11…? You offer one lucky winner a Corvette from every year of production.
corvette-emblem
And that’s exactly what VH-1’s marketing guru Jim Cahill did. He used almost $1 million of Viacom’s bankroll to track down and purchase one example from all of the 36 years that a Corvette sports car had been made – from the first one in 1953, to the latest model available during the contest – 1988.

[Via] Two By Two 2
Not all the cars were what you’d consider “cherry.” Most were considered “drivers” and not all were completely “collectable.”

Of the 36 models Cahill collected, 14 were convertibles, and only 11 had manual transmissions. Cahill later told an automotive magazine reporter that he drove each of the 36 cars home – one a night for 36 nights – and some of them were “nightmarishly bad.”

But, as we retro collectors sometimes say, “They existed,” and the contest to determine one sole winner was underway.

To enter, a person had to call a 900 number at a charge of $2 per entry. For each call, VH-1 pocketed $1.49.

More than 190,000 people called the number on the first day with more than 1.3 million folks registering altogether. I’ll save you from doing the math. In the first two weeks of the promotion, VH-1 almost doubled their $1 million investment.

The winner of the contest didn’t have to try very hard. Dennis Amadeo only made one call to the contest, and the New York carpenter became the poster-boy of every teen male in the country.

Amadeo flew out to California to take ownership of all his sports cars, and when presented with all the keys by ex-Beach Boy Mike Love, the bag weighed five pounds.

[Via] Jim Cahill
And that’s the end of the story, right? Amado kept all the cars and still has a garage full of vintage and highly-collectable sports cars in his Long Island garage?

Of course not. And that’s where the story takes a drastic left-turn into Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone and things get crazy.

Shortly after taking possession of the Corvettes, Amadeo sold them all to a psychedelic artist of the 1960s, Peter Max. The sale price was $250,000 in cash, $250,000 in artwork and a portion of the proceeds should the cars be sold again.
peter-max
Max had a vision to turn all 36 Corvettes into a work of colorful art, but life events got in the way of beginning the project, and the cars were stored in the basement of a Brooklyn apartment building.
1954-corvette
And time took its toll on the Corvettes. None of the cars were prepped for long-term storage, and soon became non-functional.
rotting-away
In 2005, a group of Corvette enthusiasts searched for the cars and found them, and lost them again after Max refused to listen to their pleas to let the cars be saved and restored.
some-of-the-cars
Now, more than 28 years after the cars were given away, Max wanted to purchase additional cars to use for his “project,” but eventually agreed to sell the lot to a family who intend to restore and sell the cars. Many have already been brought back beyond their condition when given away in 1988.
very-dusty-ride

“My Date With A Duke”

As I have said in other blog entries, returning to the United States in 1979 after spending three years in Germany was like stepping out of a time machine and leaving 1916 to appear in 2016.

In the United States, video games were new, fast-food restaurants were everywhere and there was more than ONE channel on the television.

My first full day back in the states was a Friday. How in the world could I remember that fact more than 36 years later? Simple…My cousins sat me down that evening to watch The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS.

I was very reluctant at first to take a seat in front of the television with them that night. I knew that being a “duke” involved the British monarchy, and that was the last thing I wanted to do after spending the last three years confined to Central Europe.

And then, with the twang of an electric guitar lick, it began. I spent the next 60 minutes asking my cousins all sorts of questions about the show – and getting few answers during the commercial breaks.

[Via] BygHoss
I tried to catch the previous episodes during the re-run season, and remained a faithful follower of the show through the remainder of the Dukes’ seven seasons on television – even during the infamous “Coy and Vance” period. It was a show like no other before it, and although many have tried to recapture the “lightning in a bottle” the show produced, nothing has come close since then.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the mid-1990s.

I was selling Internet service at Rivergate Mall in a northern suburb of Nashville, Tenn., in 1996. My job involved selling dial-up and ISDN Internet connections to people wandering through the mall on their way to purchase an Orange Julius smoothie.

stella-parton-rivergate-mall

The Internet of 1996 had only recently been expanded thanks to the World Wide Web, and more people were anxious to try it out. So, to help feed their need, we sold a floppy disk with setup programs to install our dial-up service onto the beige boxes in Grandma’s kitchen across the country.

Internet In A Mall will probably be the topic of a future Retroist Blog offering, but I included it here because it was the catalyst to this entire story.

Two of my first Internet customers were a woman named Jett Williams and her husband, Keith Adkinson. After purchasing our service, they offered to pay for my time if I could drive out to their home and install their software. With nothing on my calendar, and the prospect of newly-acquired pizza money in my pocket, I agreed.

When I arrived at their country home, I quickly realized things were not as they appeared. It turns out that Jett is the daughter of country music legend Hank Williams, and half-sister to Bocephus himself, Hank Williams Jr. She has an amazing story, and I’d recommend checking out the Wikipedia listing about her to learn more.

After hooking up their Internet, they were pleased with the job, I was asked to create a website for her and some other tech stuff. I accepted, and they invited me to listen to Jett perform the next night at the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville – located at the back door of the original home of the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Ryman Auditorium.

My boss, Dennis Thibodeaux, and I both went to the show together. We found a table in the back and proceeded to enjoy a couple adult beverages when a blonde female approached us and asked if she could sit in the empty seat at our table.

We graciously asked her to join us and introduced ourselves.

“Hello, my name is Stella. Stella Parton.”

stella-parton-1996

My lower jaw fell open and I’m sure it was far from indiscreet.

“You mean like the Stella Parton from the Dukes of Hazzard television show?” I asked, while stumbling over every word.

“Darling, I want to hug your neck,” Stella said. “”It seems like everyone’s first sentence to me is to ask about my sister Dolly when I first meet them, but you’re one of the first to mention my own career..!”

stella-parton-dolly-parton-2015

Yes, friends…I was sipping an adult beverage in a Nashville honky-tonk with the beautiful sister of Dolly Parton, an actress who appeared on one of my favorite TV shows, and a well-known country entertainer.

It turns out that Stella and Jett were friends and she was at Tootsie’s to hear Ms. Williams perform. I didn’t waste the opportunity, and she happily answered questions from me between performances.

Stella appeared in Season 1, Episode 10 “Deputy Dukes” which aired April 13, 1979. She played Mary Beth Malone – a ruthless criminal who sees the error of her ways by the end of the episode.
stella-parton-looking-for-trouble
stella-parton-armed-and-dangerous

I asked about Denver (Uncle Jessie) Pyle, and she said he was funny, smart and a delight to work with. She said the same about her scenes with James (Rosco) Best, Tom (Luke) Wopat and John (Bo) Schneider.

Our evening together ended with Jett’s rendition of her father’s hit song, “Your Cheating Heart” and Stella Parton gave me another big hug before we parted ways. She autographed the label from her beer and gave it to me before leaving.

Stella has made other television appearances through the years, and has received several awards during her singing career.

[Via] Brandstrans

But, I will always remember her for the hugs and kind words – just because I remembered her as my favorite Duke…
stella-parton-deputy-dukes

U.S. Army Preventive Maintenance Monthly

Be All You Can Be With The U.S. Army Preventive Maintenance Monthly Comic Book!

Did you know that the U.S. Army produces a monthly “comic book” and has been doing so for more than 65 years?
Kubert cover
And did you know that several of the artists responsible for creating the comic over the years are considered legends in the industry?
Rust = Bad
My first experience with “PS, The Preventive Maintenance Monthly” dates to 1977 while I was 8 years old and living at a military base in Schwäebisch Hall, Germany.

I loved comic books, but new issues cost money, and finding popular titles became hit-and-miss during the three years I spent as a guest of the German people. But this “graphic novel dry spell” ended during a spring break trip to visit my father at work.

Dad spent his military career either turning wrenches on various Army helicopters – or leading those who do. Growing up around those whirly-birds was an amazing experience, but the fear of me getting smashed or sliced by a spinning rotor blade usually kept me confined to the main office area.
The AH-1 Cobra helicopter. The bird I maintained while in the Army
I was stuck in that office for several hours before I started digging through the extensive technical manual library found on a large bookshelf behind his desk. These manuals were written so soldiers with varying degrees of reading skills could follow along and work on the equipment as needed.

In between a guide to replacing the transmission coupling on a CH-47 Chinook and a pamphlet explaining how to balance a rotor blade on a UH-1A Huey helicopter, I found “PS Magazine.” It was a full-color guide, about the size of an Archie Digest, and featured art by a comic artist I recognized, but couldn’t think of his name.

The comic format for PS Magazine was created in 1951 by the U.S. Army when it “enlisted” the help of a young soldier named Will Eisner to make a guide for preventative maintenance for soldiers in the field – and in the garrison environment. It used humor combined with life-like art to help the troops keep their equipment fighting-ready in a 25-65 page guide that could be taken anywhere. The going price for this artistic gem? It was free…!
Under the full moon
I was simply amazed. I read through the 6-months worth of back-issues on my father’s shelf and was hungry for more. A few days later, dad brought home boxes full of PS Magazine back issues for me to enjoy. It turns out that the Army suggested that offices only keep the last 12 issues or so on hand.

Each issue came with a central theme that resonated throughout that month’s offering. The best issues are the ones that incorporated current trends from the “outside world.” The creators of the magazine also borrow heavily from pop culture, and evidence of this practice can be found in many covers including a Spider-Man issue and issues with Star Trek themes. Yes, even Commander Montgomery Scott had to perform preventative maintenance on the 1701 Enterprise…!
Page from the Spider-Man issue


The art was amazing. After digesting about 200 issues of PS that next summer, I finally realized that the comic book artist who brought life to the its pages was Joe Kubert, who was responsible for two of my favorite comic books, “Haunted Tank” and “The Unknown Soldier.” Years later, while I was an editor for a military newspaper, I had a phone interview with Kubert about the time he spent on the maintenance guide for the army.

Each issue is full of anthropomorphism with M1-A1 Abrams tanks talking to an AH-1 helicopter at the motor pools with smiles on their faces if an oil change was performed correctly.

The artwork had been co-created over the years by students at his New York art school, but his influence can still be felt today – more than four years after Kubert’s death.

There is a core of characters in the magazine that have lasted – and not aged – for more than 50 years. However, hair styles, fashion and attitudes toward women and other minorities changed through the years in the U.S. military, and these updates can been seen throughout the run of the magazine.
The leader of the PS Magazine troops and my Facebook friend, Master Sergeant Half-Mast


If you want to take a peek at these gems for yourself, a nearly compete list of issues broken down by years and cover art is available at PS Magazine Archive.
There is also a free iTunes Store and Android app available to view new issues and an archive for a couple years back.

Download a few examples from each decade and imagine yourself being 8 years old and stepping into a whole new world…