This is one of those videos I keep reminding myself that I should make. And it turns out, I did awhile back and didn’t post it. So here it is. A short video about fuses in pinball machines and why it’s important to check them, how to check them, how to determine if they are proper, and how to ID fuse specs. Enjoy!
In this installment, I take a break from pinball repair and work on an interesting old arcade device that is mostly mechanical. In addition to this, it’s a specific machine I remember from when I was in high school and worked at a local amusement park. This device was saved from being taken to the city dump and stored for 30 years until I found it. The challenge is, can it be made to function again? Let’s see!
This is an interesting mechanical device that will take aluminum “tokens” and allow you to stamp your own messages on them. These were vary popular at carnivals and amusement parks and museums and arcades around the world. The tokens originally cost about 7 cents each, so for a quarter, the operator could make almost 3x his money. But now it’s hard to find the original blanks for under $1 each. Still, this is a very unique piece. These machines were made from the 1930s until the 1980s.
In this video, I basically have to “reverse-engineer” how the machine works because there is so little documentation on it. I only found one other video online showing the game’s basic operation, so I decided to document my progress with this, including the mistakes I made. This 8 part video series covers the trials and tribulations of getting the machine operational. When I picked it up, it had been sitting in storage for 30+ years. All the movements were seized. I wasn’t even sure if the machine was complete.
If you ever wonder how these things work in the movies and television series, here’s some insight. Why are some games modified? What happens when there’s a scene involving a game, that *gasp* gets smashed?
A few years ago, I was involved in bringing some pinball machines out to a movie set for a series done for HBO/Cinemax called, “Quarry” – it was a very cool story based on a series of fictional books, about a Vietnam Veteran who comes back from the war and is shunned in society and becomes a “hit man.” The series was set in the 1970s and the filmmakers wanted various pinball machines and coin op devices which we supplied.
Here’s a promo trailer featuring some of the scenes and pinball sounds:
Here’s a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the set design and work that went into re-creating a vintage carnival arcade, and some of the things the set designers have to do for legal reasons. I wasn’t able to show this video at the time the show was in production, but the series has since been canceled so I don’t think there’s any issue in sharing it.. here’s a neat glimpse behind-the-scenes…
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…
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.
Once again, our group descended upon Houston for one of our favorite events of the year, the 2017 Houston Arcade Expo. I apologize in advance for this really crappy video.. I should know better than to move the camera around too much, but I was excited and wanted to capture things as fast as I could so the video isn’t super long. I’ve used Google’s video stabilization which creates some artifacts.. if it’s too bad, let me know and I’ll try to fix it. Otherwise, enjoy a quick glimpse into a very cool festival featuring arcade and pinball both old and new!