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These Thieves Give No Quarter

Thu., Sept. 28, 1995

Thieves roared away with Ted Pulver’s purple Jeep, new Corvette and a vintage race car.

What’s worse, traffic cops won’t spot any of the hot wheels cruising city streets.

These stolen rigs are fueled by quarters, not unleaded gas.

Pulver, 40, is the owner of Joy Ride, a Post Falls-based business that puts coin-fed amusement rides in stores and malls from Eastern Washington to Montana.

He says his Jeep, Corvette and race car disappeared from in front of three Spokane stores during a two-day crime wave last week.

“This area has become so crime-infested the police can’t keep up,” says Pulver. “The only way we’re going to stop it is if we as human beings and citizens do something.

“When we see a crime being committed, we can’t walk by with (blinders) on.”

You know the world is speeding down the highway to hell when sweet, wholesome kiddie rides aren’t safe.

Pulver began his unusual enterprise seven years ago as - get this - a happy stress reliever from his regular job as a private detective.

“I do polygraphs of pedophiles on probation,” he says. “People wanted in heinous crimes. So, if you don’t do something completely silly, you go stir crazy.”

The veteran crime fighter now is a crime victim, thanks to kiddie-ride bandits.

Coin boxes on Pulver’s rides in Spokane have been cleaned out a dozen times this summer. To fight back, Pulver bought tougher coin boxes and expensive, pick-proof locks.

Which created this new problem. He suspects thieves took his machines so they could chop them up in private to get to the money.

They must have been disappointed. Pulver empties his rides every two days. No more than $20 is ever in a coin box.

“They could make more money if they spent their time constructively,” Pulver adds.

No kidding. Removing one of these bulky machines would take two or three brutes with a truck. Maybe even an electric lift.

The machines cost $3,000 apiece. Pulver says his insurance carrier will cover the $9,000 hit and probably then cancel his policy.

If that happens, he may pull the plug on Joy Ride. Even if he doesn’t go that far, he plans to yank all his machines out of crime-ridden Spokane.

That means Spokane toddlers no longer will whoop and holler on these beloved playthings. Pulver, who owns 50 machines, is the only kiddie ride baron around.

Placing coin-fed dinosaurs and horsies in malls for the Barney-watching crowd doesn’t seem like the usual sideline for a case-hardened gumshoe.

Pulver served in U.S. Army Intelligence. He was a private investigator and polygrapher in Los Angeles. Migrating to North Idaho in the 1980s, he worked five years as a Kootenai County sheriff’s deputy.

When he left the department, Pulver opened his PI office.

The man blames his hatred for shopping as the reason he got involved with kiddie rides.

One day in a Seattle mall, Pulver was bored out of his mind watching his wife fondle the merchandise. He wandered over to a ride and his mental wheels began to turn.

Pulver did his research. He began buying machines and cutting deals for good locations.

Like casinos, the host store always gets a piece of the action. But kiddie rides don’t gobble quarters like Vegas slot machines.

At two bits a ride, it takes two years for a machine to pay for itself. A typical ride will gross about $100 a month. Half of the money goes for maintenance and rent.

It galls Pulver that some of his coin boxes were rifled right in front of the store cash registers during open hours.

Pulver says if the thievery continues he knows what will happen: The kiddie ride baron will be kiddie ride barren.

, DataTimes

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