Bringing a Gottlieb Haunted House pinball back to life (parts 1-3)

I’ve had this game now for many years. It’s always been on my list to get it working but life has a way of creating lots of distractions. I finally decided the best approach was to move the game from my shop to the living room in my house, so it will hover over me and remind me of my failure to get it working… eventually that strategy started to work and I am diving in to getting the game working. First an initial look…

Gottlieb’s Haunted House is an amazing engineering achievement: 8 flippers, three separate playfields, four different flipper buttons. Pop bumpers everywhere. The bill of materials of this game must have been quite substantive. But what’s even cooler is how well engineered the game is despite having so many different levels. Usually multi-level playfields are a real pain to service, but each level can be gotten to without having to remove hardly any parts.

In the second video of the series, I show how to access the lower playfield, and cover the work I’ve done to the power supply/rectifier section:

In part 3, I continue my work, fixing stuff, replacing rubbers, minor wiring issues and how to access the upper playfield:

Here are some more images of the work in progress:

What happened to the Earthquaked Earthshaker pinball?

Over the years, probably one of the most asked questions I’ve gotten from people is, “Whatever happened to that Earthshaker you were working on?”

People are referring to this video series: Williams Pinball Earthshaker Looks Like It was in an actual Earthquake!

I picked up this game nine years ago. Pulled it out of a filthy house where the game had sat for years, no legs, no glass, non-operational, in a house full of cats. The game looks like it has numerous things living in it, and the cabinet became a cat scratching post.

The more I looked at it, the more problems I found. The game had been monkeyed with in more ways than I’d seen with any other machine. Nonetheless, I managed to actually, finally get the game to boot up, but it was so horribly mangled in so many ways, it would take years to acquire the necessary parts at reasonable prices, so I stored the game and would pick up parts here and there over the years, hoping one day to restore the game.

Last year a friend inquired about the game and I realized, I didn’t have the time any time soon to tackle this project. I had so much going on I decided to sell it to a friend who I knew would invest the time needed to bring this treasure back. So I gave him all the parts I’d collected, including original cabinet artwork that I got from Gene Cunningham of Illinois Pinball.

The other day, my buddy Josh contacted me to let me know he had finished the restoration and if he could bring the game to the PinChurch to share with others. I jumped at the chance to see what progress had been made with the game, and share with everybody else.

Before I show you the AFTER, take a look at these two BEFORE videos:

You can find more details on the repairs and early restoration here.

Here’s a video of the restored Earthshaker – check it out – amazing work!

Here are some pictures:

Pinball Stories #2: Escape from the Lost World

This is the second installment in a new series I’m doing with the “stories behind the games”. Each owner has his own unique story about how they came to acquire the game. Sometimes the stories are as interesting as the game itself. The first episode was on my first game. This story covers a more recently acquired game and how I saved it from imminent destruction.

“The Three Strikes” in pinball appraisal

You might think.. “Is the game working?” is the big critical issue when examining a pinball machine, but a recent trip to look at a game made me want to revisit what are the “three strikes” that make a game less desirable?

Today I had a great example of that.

I got a call from a guy who initially asked about needing pinball repair.

This is always a tough call… because, well, I’m not formally in the pinball repair business, and given the nature of these machines, how old they are, and how often and random they can fail, I don’t like putting myself in a position to charge somebody to fix something, and then offer any kind of warranty/guarantee that the machine will continue to work. It’s just not practical. I like to help people. I want to preserve the hobby, but I can’t go out and fix everybody’s broken game. But every once in awhile I’ll do a house call.

In this case, the guy, as his New Year’s resolution was to clear out space from his house, and the game in question was an old game I fondly remember playing as a child, so I was willing to take a look and see what he might want to take it off his hands.. This is a scenario where the “three strikes”, in combination with other issues, made me not make an offer, and leave the game for someone else and another day.

Here’s the game in question…

1975 Williams Pat Hand (4 player version of “Satin Doll”)

When appraising the value of a pinball machine, I like to look at the various elements and go for the “three strikes” rule.

On top of everything is the over-arching question of, “Is it complete?” Are all the parts there? That’s almost a pre-cursor, because if the game is incomplete, the other stuff may not matter as much — it depends upon what’s missing.

Assuming the game is complete, then, “Has it been messed with by un-trained hands?” Is it working, or basically working minus time and use-based problems? It’s one thing if something breaks because of wear. It’s another thing if something stops working because your cat or your 6 year old got in the cabinet and started fiddling with things. The latter scenario can significantly affect the value.

Assuming all that is good, let’s get to the traditional trinity: playfield, backglass, cabinet.

Playfield: You want a game that does not have significant playfield wear. The main perpetrator of this is corroded/rusted balls that are left in the machine. I’ve done articles before elaborating on the damage this can do.  You also want to look at the inserts.  Are they flat or curved?  Are all of them there?  In this case, there was an actual insert missing.  It’s not necessarily impossible to replace a missing insert.  There are still sources for some of these, but there’s always a chance it’s an odd shape and unobtainium.  But even if it isn’t, this is another set of steps you have to go through to make the game minimally playable.  Most people will examine playfield rubbers, but they really don’t matter.  You will always want to replace rubber on a regular basis – it shouldn’t affect the value of the game.  On this game there was wear down to the wood in at least 5-6 spots, in addition to the common areas around pop bumpers.  Strike one.

Backglass: With backglasses, the key is how well they were maintained? Are they flaking and de-laminating? The artwork on these vintage machines is a primary portion of their value. If there’s significant flaking of the backglass, this is not something easily repaired. It will severely affect the value of the machine.  If you’re looking at a game, such as the one in the picture, one thing to note is that there’s not many lights lit up in the head, so the actual condition of the backglass, how much it really is flaking, isn’t apparent when it’s mostly lit from the front.  Not only was there cracking and crazing, but it looked like the back had been painted in some spots.  It wasn’t the worst I’d seen, but I’d consider the backglass to be strike two.  

Cabinet: It’s all too easy, unfortunately, for a layperson, or quick flipper to re-paint a cabinet.  It doesn’t take much effort to just slap some white paint on the cabinet and make the game look much nicer at first glance, but it really does mess with the integrity of the game as a piece of history.  The original stenciled designs, as remedial as they were, make up part of the unique artwork of the game.  Also these cabinets were rarely painted in solid colors.  They had flecks of off-color speckled into the paint.  There’s a distinctive style of pinball cabinet paint.  I’ve seen many cabinets painted over… it might look better aesthetically to a layperson, but it really tarnishes the value of the game in the eyes of collectors and enthusiasts.

In this case, all three of these things were issues. I passed on making an offer.

There’s also another lesson to learn here.. if you look at the picture I posted, aside from the cabinet repaint, you can’t see the other issues, but there actually is significantly playfield wear, and significant flaking of the backglass (with lights out in many portions that don’t illuminate the flaws in the backglass). The owner had an inflated idea of what the game was worth. I didn’t want to argue with him. It is unfortunate such complicated, hand-assembled items don’t command the prices people expect, but that’s just the way things are. Someone may pay a premium for their first game, but this isn’t my first rodeo so I left this for someone else.

This isn’t to say the game isn’t worth what the owner wanted.  To the right person, especially someone who may be getting their first pinball machine, this could be a special item they’d spend lots of time restoring, just like I did with my first game.  

First Look: Williams Skylab pinball and gameplay – PinballHelp.com

Here is another video on a recent pickup: Williams Skylab – a very cool theme featuring a classic real-life space station that was in orbit from 1973 to 1979, and at the time was a huge point of pride for America and the field of science. In this game I take a quick look at the game before I’ve done any work on it, what condition it’s in. What I see wrong. And try to get the game to play a little bit.

eBay Impulse Buy? Willliams Love Bug Caveat Emptor?

This is a story about an impulse buy off eBay for a pinball machine. It perhaps may be a cautionary tale of how sellers can hide the true condition of a machine. This also explains why it’s important to really “low ball” unknown sellers of games. There’s a very good chance what you see and what you get are two different things… here is my story of an eBay purchase of a Williams Love Bug (the add-a-ball version of Williams Doodle Bug).