Pinball Wizards of Rio Rancho

Rio Rancho resident Tanya Kenney plays the Willy Wonka pinball game at the 505 Pinball section in the Mezel Mods building at 504 Frontage Road, Ste. B.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — What started out as a hobby for one Rio Rancho couple has become a long-running international business.

Mezel Mods, a local company that specializes in fabricating parts for pinball machines as well as restoring them, has been running strong for six years.

“We had several machines at our house because my husband (Tim Mezel) was a collector,” said Kristin Mezel, co-owner of Mezel Mods. “He was part of an online pinball community that always commented on the quality — or lack thereof — of several parts in specific games.”

One game that had many pinball collectors upset was a late ’90s Metallica pinball game that had a snake in the center of it.

“The snake was supposed to have these fangs that moved, but they kept getting damaged during shipments, so the manufacturer discontinued them,” Mezel said. “So everyone who bought one of these machines wasn’t happy because the snake looked like a turtle without the fangs.”

Mezel said her husband had an idea to fabricate his own set of fangs for the game and make them available for the other collectors.

“We’d made a few things already for pinball games using a 3D printer before the fangs came out, but it was the fangs that made us well-known,” she said.

After the fangs caught on, Mezel said the pinball community began asking what other items might be made for other games.

“That’s when we hired our first designer and started moving this hobby into a business,” she said. “It started be a full-time job for me basically in the beginning of 2014.”

Joshua Brown and his son Atreyu play two pinball games at 505 Pinball, a business combined with Mezel Mods. Mezel Mods is a six-year-old business that fabricates and ships specialty pinball items worldwide.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

Mezel said she and her husband were getting so many orders that what was supposed to be a side business started taking all of her free time.

Now, Mezel said she and her husband create parts based on games they have studied and own.

“We primarily focus on new releases,” she said, although Mezel Mods has a 1939 pinball game in need of a major restoration, being 80 years old.

Along with a fabrication business that has created two full-time jobs, Mezel Mods also hosts 505 Pinball, an arcade made of several machines the Mezels have restored or modified. This section of the business allows pinball lovers to pay a flat fee at the front counter and play over 20 pinball machines as long as they want.

According to Mezel, some of the machines are hers and her husband’s, and some are on loan.

“We have all of the pinball machines on free play, so after you pay up front, you play until you can’t stand it anymore,” she said, grinning.

In the back of the 1,500-square-foot arcade are different sections of Mezel Mods’ manufacturing and distribution center. It has five 3D printers constantly creating stock for customers’ pinball machines.

“Once we have decided to manufacture an item, we keep it on rotation,” Mezel said. “We don’t do limited runs; we want to offer what we’ve created at all times for our client base.”

Outside of the print shop is an area dedicated to a categorized inventory from plastic covers to toys that can be used as props for specific pinball machines.

“We sell our products worldwide,” Mezel said. “I would say 20 percent of our sales are global.”

Mezel said the farthest she has shipped a product was to China, where pinball is still considered illegal in some areas.

“I believe if they open up the market there someday, we will have an influx of orders to fill in China,” she said.

Kristin Mezel, co-owner of Mezel Mods points a piece of art that was salvaged from an old pinball machine that she has hanging next to her desk.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

Mezel said the mods, or specialized pinball machine parts, section of the business is growing to the point that Mezel Mods may need to expand soon.

“We could fill this entire space with just the mods section of the business because of how much inventory we have,” she said.

Mezel said she would like to tap into the state’s Job Training Incentive Program next year to help get a new fabricator.

“It’s a specialty kind of job because you need to know how to run AutoCAD and multi-task with 3D printers and engineer small items,” she said.

For now, Mezel said she has plenty of projects to keep her and her small staff busy for a while.

“We have so many projects, whether it’s rebuilding an old machine to creating a new piece for a new game,” she said.

For more information on Mezel Mods, go to mezelmods.com.

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