Like many students, when 1991 Ohio State alumnus Trent Augenstein first started college, he had no idea what he wanted to do. Although he graduated with a degree in finance and real estate, he now makes his living off of what started as a favorite hobby — pinball.
Augenstein works as a distributor for Stern Pinball and also operates, sells and repairs games out of a red-and-black barn in Ostrander, Ohio. Perhaps most impressively, he is the seventh-ranked pinball player in the world.
“He pretty much lives and breathes pinball,” said Al Williams, who has been fixing pinball machines longer than anyone else in the Columbus area by Augenstein’s estimate and helps out with repairs in the barn despite being retired.
The barn sits on Augenstein’s 130-acre farm, just down the road from where he grew up, and hosts his extensive collection of machines.
The collection began with a “Phantom of the Opera”game that Augenstein installed in a comic book shop in Grove City. Then, he began importing containers of 50 to 80 machines from Europe.
“I would keep the ones that I wanted for my collection and then I’d sell the rest to pay for them,” he said. “When that happened, my collection really started booming.”
Although Augenstein doesn’t know how many machines are in his collection, he knows the rulebooks and history of nearly every machine. The oldest is a wood machine from the 1930s, and his favorite is “Attack from Mars.”
Shelves of trophies line the walls, but Augenstein said he has never counted them.
His first award came from the 1994 Ohio State Championship, in which he placed sixth, although Augenstein had been playing at the Ohio Union and other arcades in the campus area throughout his college career. Since then, Augenstein has been playing as much pinball as possible.
At first, there were only three tournaments a year. Now, there are four leagues in Columbus alone and Augenstein plays in more than 100 events a year, which is due to a pinball rebirth that Augenstein credits, in part, to cellphones and the internet.
Augenstein said with people starting to play pinball on their phones, more and more people wanted to play the real thing, which drew in a larger and younger crowd.
“It’s fantastic,” he said.
Although Augenstein never moved away from his hometown, pinball carried him across the world.
In 1995, he helped move his girlfriend to California, staying with other pinball enthusiasts he met over the internet along the way.
“They all had pinballs and we’d play pinballs,” he said. “It was a blast.”
In 1999, he and four other Americans traveled to the Netherlands for a tournament.
“That was a real experience because I don’t think at that point there were really any Americans that had gone overseas to play,” he said.
To make the experience even better, he won.
His experiences aren’t limited to pinball, though. After Augenstein graduated, he got his pilot’s license. Last month, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, inspired 20 years ago by a chapter of Michael Crichton’s “Travels.”
In the future, he hopes to hike the Appalachian Trail and visit all seven continents — he’s been to all but Australia and Antarctica.
“To me, that’s what life’s all about — going out and meeting new people and seeing new places and doing new things,” Augenstein said.