>Go to the National Pinball Museum Website" width="597" height="131" border="0" align="bottom"/>

2010 Special Edition:
The Wayne Neyens Pinball Odyssey

Part 1: Wayne's Early Years

Wayne Neyens was Gottlieb’s chief engineer and pinball designer for over 30 years. He began working with Dave Gottlieb, the founder and president of D. Gottlieb & Co. until Dave retired. Next, he worked with Alvin Gottlieb, Dave’s son, and Judd Weinberg, who became the company’s next President. Judd continued as President until he sold the company to Columbia Pictures, who in turn sold it to Coca-Cola.

After Judd Weinberg sold the company to Columbia, the place went downhill. Wayne and Judd left the company the same day and walked out the front door at the same time. But Wayne was kept on for an additional three years as a consultant, so he could reach his 65-year retirement.

Wayne was one of the main inspirations behind the idea of starting the National Pinball Museum. There is no succinct historical record of the pinball industry, so after amassing more than 800 pinball machines, I decided to interview him and glean any facts he recalls about his time at Western Electric and D. Gottlieb & Company. He now lives in Springfield, Missouri, and recently turned 91.

DS: Wayne, tell me a little about your family history.

WN: I was born in Mason City, Iowa like my parents, in 1919. When I was eight years old, my grandfather broke his hip, which in those days was the kiss of death. The plan was that my family would go and take care of him. Unfortunately, on that same day my father, who was an electrician, was doing some work in a basement and was electrocuted. So both my father and my grandfather died on the same day leaving my mother with my 10-year old sister and me to take care of. My father had a $10,000.00 insurance policy which helped us out quite a bit. So she moved us to Chicago where her sister was living and that’s how “country boy” Wayne came to live in the big city. My mother invested the money in the stock market and two years later she was wiped out in the crash of ‘29.

DS: What was your work experience like?

WN: I had to start working pretty early on to help support my mom and sister. I was young, but ready for work, after school of course. By age 12, I was making my way in the business world selling newspapers. At the height of my entrepreneurial prowess I was running 100 newspapers a day making an amazing $3.00 profit. My mother also worked and my sister took in and watched over young women borders. The borders slept in our bedrooms, my sister and mom slept in the living room, and I slept on the porch. I became the head of the household at a very young age. I was a real go-getter. That said, I lived a very different lifestyle from most people my age; working long hours and coming home after everyone had eaten. I’d sit with my mother in the kitchen and discuss the day’s events as I ate. I did just about everything from selling Christmas trees during the holidays to selling newspapers with my own stand.

DS: What did you do after your newspaper business?

WN: Well that reminds me of an interesting story I’d like to tell you. During one really hot evening, my aunt was taking a bath and got her limbs so tangled up that she couldn’t get out of the tub. The women of the house came running to try and get her out of the tub, albeit unsuccessfully. I called up to them and asked if I should get Mr. Ramstead to help; a rather lecherous old man living on the floor below my aunt. They all screamed in unison…”No!” To me it was a perfectly logical idea, considering he was the only man in the area. It wasn’t a joke to me until I learned that men, particularly lecherous old men, aren’t supposed to do such things.

Well, Ramstead had a son, Raymond, who went to a school called Crane Technical High School, where he studied mechanical drawing. One day Ray came home from school and showed me some of his drawings. I was so impressed with them that when I was old enough, I went to the same school just so I could learn to draw like Raymond. I learned to do mechanical drawings, and when I’d finished with that, I moved on to doing architectural drawings.

It’s funny when you think about it, but if my aunt hadn’t gotten stuck in that tub I might never have met Mr. Ramstead, and if I hadn’t met him I’d might never have met his son. And if I hadn’t met his son I might have never seen his drawings, I might never have gone to his school, never learned to do mechanical drawing, and might never have ended up designing pinball games.

DS: Well then how did you actually get into the pinball business?

WN: This might be a bit long-winded but here I go. While I had my newspaper stand, I’d watch people going in and out of a butcher shop across the street. While on a short break one day, I went into the shop and started talking with some of the men who worked there. They told me they made a pretty good living and that was all I needed to know. I told them if an opening ever came up to please let me know.

So after pestering them day after day, I finally got a job and gave up my newspaper business. I showed up on my first day and worked like the dickens. The next day my boss came in and said there was some work that had to be done on the store and that there would be no work for us for the next few days. He assured me that as soon as the work was done I could come back and resume my job. Well I wasn’t too happy about that, so I looked for a new job in the newspaper. I found an ad for a mechanical artist. It gave the location and said to bring some sample drawings.

The next day I walked into the offices of Western Electric and into the office of the owner, Mr. Jimmy Johnson. I showed him my samples and then he asked me to draw something right on the spot. No sooner had I finished than he offered me the job. I thought I was only going in for an interview. What a surprise! I said yes and worked there for the next 3 years. The butcher wasn’t too happy when I broke the news to him, but that’s how it goes. Anyway, that’s how I ended up in the pinball industry instead of the butcher shop.

DS: What was it like working at Western Electric and for Jimmy Johnson?

WN: Jimmy Johnson was a strapping man, a former college football player, about six-and-a-half feet tall. And, as I was to find out, he was a tough nut to crack. His office was up on the second floor along with the secretaries and engineers. That’s where I ended up working too. Way in the back of that floor there was a fully stocked bar, and with all the people that came in to see Jimmy it was just about non-stop drinking every day. They’d come in and he’d start schmoozing and before long they’d buy some of his games.

He had a wonderfully happy demeanor when the customers were visiting; I only wish it was that way for the rest of us. He was, as I said, a tough nut, a miserable nasty man and impossible to get along with. Fridays were payday and the employees had an armored car come by to cash their checks. They were all afraid that if they waited till Monday there wouldn’t be enough money in the bank to cover them. Jimmy could never seem to hold onto any money and the business eventually went belly up. He moved down to Texas and opened an amusement park.

Harry Mabs, the inventor of the pinball flipper, was the chief designer at Western Electric when I came to work for them. I had a very good relationship with Harry, even though he was old enough to be my father. Harry had a son my age named Bud. He was real problem kid and Harry asked me to keep an eye on him as much as I could. He knew I was a good up-standing kid and hoped I could have some positive influence on Bud. On one of many occasions Bud and I, and a number of other young workers, were assigned to assemble plungers for the games. Putting a plunger together required sliding a piece of plastic onto a rod, then a beefy spring, a washer, and a cotter pin pushed through a hole in the shaft to keep all the parts in place. Bud had the great idea to launch washers at the secretaries using the spring on the plunger shafts as the means of propulsion. When Jimmy caught wind of what Bud was doing, he didn’t see the humor in it and all of us were reprimanded.

Jimmy had some very talented designers at the company; one in particular was Amel Goodmar. He created an amazing coin-operated crap table called Monty Carlo, but it was so complicated and broke down so often that Jimmy only produced one of them. It had a beautiful wooden cabinet about 36 inches long and 24 inches wide and was lined in green felt. At the top, an illuminated hand would shake a cup and roll “lit” dice onto the play field revealing different numeric combinations. If you got a 7 or 11 you won and the machine paid out, but if you rolled snake eyes or boxcars you’d lose. It was an absolutely amazing game.

Along with the bar in the back, there was an ongoing crap game in the latrine every day. Jimmy would walk into the bathroom sometimes and say, “if I catch any of you guys with your pants up, you’re fired.” The place was crazy.

My last day at Western came about when I told Jimmy I really needed a raise. He’d promised me one for a long time but never made good on it; he just kept putting me off. I watched as he hired new people and started them with more money than I was getting. They were rookies and I’d been there a lot longer and it was getting to me. I finally told him if I didn’t get the raise I was going to quit. Jimmy, the tough nut, said “no,” and I walked out.

I hopped on a bus heading towards the GENCO Company, but when I got off, instead of walking towards GENCO, I headed off in the other direction towards D. Gottlieb & Co. I remembered that Harry Mabs was working for Gottlieb so I thought I’d take a chance on applying for a job as well. I walked in and asked if they needed anyone with my background. I got the job and a 10 cent per hour raise to boot. I started immediately. My job was testing pinball game boards.

I worked overtime that day…well into the night. When I finally got home I found Jimmy Johnson’s Lincoln Continental parked outside of my apartment building. He got out and said he wanted to talk to me. I told him if he wanted to talk he should come up to my apartment. Once inside he told me I just had to come back to work for him tomorrow. I told him that I couldn’t do that; I was working for Gottlieb now and wasn’t going to leave. My mother happened to be in the room at the time and she told Jimmy not to worry, that I’d be back at his place in the morning. I got pretty insistent at that point and said I wouldn’t be back.

The next morning I went to Gottlieb. I didn’t tell Mr. Gottlieb (Dave) what happened with Jimmy, but during that day Johnson came into Dave’s office and demanded that he fire me. Now Jimmy was 6’5” and Dave was just 5’6”. Physically Dave was no match for Jimmy but he never backed down. He said, “as long as I’m here, Wayne will always have a job.”

So within 24 hours, I quit my job at Western Electric, got hired by Gottlieb, worked an overtime shift, got home to have Johnson threaten me, and went to work the next day to find him trying to have me fired. That’s what it was like working for Jimmy Johnson.

That concludes Part 1 of my interview with Wayne Neyens. Part 2 will explore what it was like when Wayne worked for Dave Gottlieb at D. Gottlieb & Company. It will be coming soon to an email-box near you.

Yours truly, fellow Pinhead,

David Silverman




When Wayne was about 9 or 10, he had his newspaper business. Every day at 3pm when school let out, he had to get to work.

On this particular day, one of the sisters at his Catholic school said that there was a special after-school function he had to attend. He replied that he had a job to go to, but the sister told him his attendance at the function was required.

Always loyal to his work responsibilities and already showing a determined nature, Wayne put himself at the end of the line going into the function and skipped out at the last minute to go to work.

The next day, he was expelled from school, and ended up going to public school.

There, he was able to take woodshop, which he loved, and which gave him some of the skills he used later in his pinball days. If he hadn’t been expelled from school that day, he might never have become the pinball legend he is.