First Look: A vintage 1940 flipperless woodrail pinball

For more than a year, I’ve been drooling over a particular pinball backglass I’d seen in a private collection.  I finally managed to pick up the machine and am pretty excited.  This is another daunting project: A pre-flipper, pre-WWII vintage woodrail pinball game from Genco.  “Big Town” was produced in 1940, and as you can see from the backglass, it’s got a beautiful vintage art-deco look.  To me a perfect example of how glorious pinball art can be.

Here are some still images of the machine:

Protecting and sealing pinball backglasses

Continuing the ongoing saga of restoring a Williams Earthshaker, in this episode, I take a look at the backglass and go over some basic ideas on how to preserve and secure an old backglass from further flaking and damage..

After waiting awhile, let’s take a look…

Ok… we wait awhile and check it, and add some more coats..

So what do you do about clear areas on the backglass? You need to avoid creating any kind of “haze” that obscures score reels or other things that need to be viewed behind the backglass/translight. Here is how we deal with that:

Some additional tips:

  • When you work on the backglass, make sure the humidity and temperature levels are moderate.   It should neither be too dry nor too humid, but err on the dry side where possible.

  • Avoid cleaning either side of the backglass until after it has been treated, especially the screen-printed side.  Even if the screen-side is dirty, it’s best to seal in the dirt, rather than clean it and run the risk of causing the backglass to flake or crack.  However if you want to dust it with something like a Swiffer, you can try to do that, but again, be very careful that the Swiffer doesn’t hook on to any flaking and pull it off.  Ultimately it’s best to seal the screen-side before even trying to wipe down the front – you don’t want to risk getting any moisture on the screen side until it’s sealed.

  • Make your first 2-3 coats relatively thin.  Don’t slather on the Triple Thick unless you do it after several coats have dried and started to seal the backglass well.  There’s a lot of evidence that moisture if subjected to certain types of screens, can cause the backglass to wrinkle and peel off catastrophically.   So take your time and put a few very light coats on at first and see how the backglass reacts.

  • If you may have any loose flakes on the backglass, be very careful with the first few coats of Triple Thick.  Watch your spray angle and spray downward instead of across or you might risk blowing flakes of backglass around.

  • Spray in a well-ventilated area, or immediately leave the area after spraying

  • Avoid subjecting the backglass under any conditions, to freezing temperatures.  This may cause the various materials (containing different amounts of moisture) to expand and contract at different rates and cause cracking and flaking.

HAAG Show Swap Meet report

On Saturday morning at the Houston Arcade Expo, there was a small swap meet in the parking lot. While it wasn’t big, there were certainly some good deals to be had and it was a lot of fun.  I picked up a neat old Stern “Memory Lane” that I’ll be showing more of on the web site in future PBH episodes.  At just over $100, it was another “no brainer” deal for me.

There was a nice T2 (Terminator 2) Williams DMD that went for less than $800.  There were two “Charlie’s Angels” machines, one of which went for about $100 (it had seen better days) and lots of miscellaneous parts.  I even found a coin mech for the 1940 Genco machine – what tremendous luck!

As you can see from the video, I picked up not one, but two pinball games, along with lots of other goodies.  I also found a set of sideart for the Earthshaker machine (prototype side art – woot).

Images from the 2011 Houston Arcade Expo


We had a total blast at the 2011 Houston Arcade Expo. Special thanks to Keith and everyone who helped put the show together, and everyone who brought all the wonderful machines and exhibits and stuff to sell. I’ll be posting more media, but here are some pictures of the game areas before the show opened.

And here’s a walk-thru of the show in progress…

A quick peek at a very cool pinball collection in Texas [pbh10]

Just north of Houston, there’s a very cool guy named Dan who has been collecting pinball machines for many, many years.  We came out to visit him this year while in town for the Houston Arcade Expo and I took a moment to grab the video camera and make quick walk-through of his museum, which houses hundreds of games from the earlier pinball eras.

I know it would look better if all the machines were fired up, but we weren’t staying long and I didn’t want to trouble him to flip everything on.  But you can get a feel for how many old games are in the museum, covering the earliest of eras in the 1800s and early 1900s to pre-flipper woodrails, bingo machines, EM woodrails and lots of classic 60s and 70s electro-mechanical games.  Distinctions in the collection include all four versions of Bally’s classic “Fireball” game, Atari’s gargantuan game “Hercules”,  rarities like “Spectrum”, “Asteroid Annie” and “Solar Fire”, and many very early games for which there’s very little information on how many were made.  There are also lots of vintage EM baseball, shooting and aviation games.  I plan to post more details in the future including some high-quality pictures.  Once again, a huge thanks to Dan for his hospitality!


Earthshaker looks to have been in an actual earthquake


This week I pulled a Williams Earthshaker pinball game out of a guy’s apartment.  It had been sitting in the corner for a long time, not operating.  He got it off eBay more than a year earlier, paid a lot of money and I’m not sure he ever got it working, so it sat around collecting dust.  As usual, the description described to me on the phone verses what I saw in person were two different things, but he appeared to be flexible enough on the price to motivate me to go take a look at it.  We made a deal and I threw it into my car.  Here’s a first look…

Later on, I moved the machine inside and took a closer look.  I’m posting this video which was done before I attended the Houston Arcade Expo, and I managed to find a complete set of sideart for the machine from Gene at Illinois Pinball, so there is hope for the cabinet!

In the next video I pull up the playfield and take a look inside the cabinet.  I’m just getting this new web site going so I don’t have much traffic, but I envision in the future with more people visiting, after I post a video like this, other owners of the game might comment and we can collectively ruminate over the status and future of this pinball game.