The concept of the derby has been around for almost a century. The original game was brought to the UK in the early 1920’s by George Valentine Tonner, an Irish/American jockey and amusement caterer. Tonner invested in a number of concessions on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, along side two of his “Kentucky Derby” games. Here he was involved with the games until his death in 1958 aged 73.
It was at this point that Arthur Helm’s father got involved and re-sited and operated one of the derbys on Southport Pleasureland for a number of years. Arthur, who started Elton Fabrications in 1962 as a motor vehicle repair shop, took an interest in the game and reformed his business in order to produce his own version of the derby. In 1972, the first game was completed and sold to New Brighton fairground.
Arthur teamed up with Stuart Keane in 1974 and the next 18 years saw the successful partnership installing and in some cases operating derbys, all over the world.
Tonner’s original game featured small animated wooden horses attached to a motor which ran along an electrified track. Arthur developed this idea which became the method that was used on all Elton games up until 2012.
It wasn’t long before other manufacturing companies began building their own version of the derby, the most well known being Bobs-space-racers. All these manufacturers used a motor and pulley system to propel the race characters, either via a wire, belt or chain. The main downside of this system being that there is no animation of the race characters.
Roll a Ball still uses the electrified track system to ensure reliability and continue the tradition of animated race characters on all its arcade games.
Other notable dates in the history of Elton;
1978 – Dave Bridge began work, bringing the workforce to 10.
1990 – Carl Spencer started work, workforce rose to 21. Electronic coin acceptors were first used (Version 2).
1992 – Stuart Keane leaves.
1998/99 – Arthur retires. The first all-electronic derby is produced. (Version 3)
2003 – Anthony Brown joins the team.
2004 – Anthony Brown leaves. Electronics are updated (Version 4)
2005 – Manufacturing moves to Wigan with 8 employees.
2007 – Manufacturing moves back to Southport.
2012 – With a workforce of 5, Elton goes into liquidation, Dave and Carl are made redundant. Roll A Ball is formed.