I have been feeling rather sad about people clicking on the about link and seeing “Nothing yet”, so I feel I must fill it out with some info. I wrote up a whole bunch of information, but wordpress seems to have lost it, so here is the shorter version.
History: I grew up in south central PA, and growing up, pinball was considered gambling, so my parents didn’t like me playing the machines. It turns out, in the last year, talking to my parents, they both mentioned how they liked playing pinball machines when they were kids. My mother played them frequently when she was a waitress at a diner because she could get free games. I think that my parents ended up discouraging me from playing pinball mostly because of the expense. Of course I could usually find a way to get 50 cents or a dollar to play a few games, but I never got very good at pinball until much later in life. The reality is that I could play video games for a longer period of time for the same quarter, so I tended to spend the money on the video games. I went away to college and then had even less cash to throw around.
After college I moved to Philadelphia/NJ, and started actively searching out pinball machines to play. I would play pinball for an hour or two at a time, and wasn’t really picky on what I played. Since I had easy access to the Jersey shore, I could play a ton of different machines and I learned a lot about what I liked and what I didn’t like in a machine. At that time, I never even considered the fact that I could own a pinball machine. It would have been a good time to start collecting, but unfortunately the idea of owning a pinball machine was ludicrous to me.
I then moved to CT and started to play more and more. Since there were less machines in CT, I learned that once you learned a machine and got skilled, you could earn games pretty regularly. John and I went and played pinball every week on a certain day. This was the beginning of pinball night, and the first time that my pinball scores were not just random values from the pinball gods. It was great to play for a couple of hours on a few dollars, and walk away from the machine with credits still on it. Different places changed to different machines, so I ended up “learning” five machines during that time. Pinball machines were still just magic to me. I don’t know that I had any idea what was contained within them.
I then moved to VT. Welcome to the pinball desert wasteland. There were no machines around at all. The arcades here are just games of chance. John came up to visit, and before he showed up, I called around and I couldn’t find a machine for us to play at all. Suddenly I thought to myself, hey, I should own a machine. In addition to this revelation, I switched jobs and found one of the guys that I worked with had a machine in his basement that was dead. I started working on trying to get him to fix his machine while looking on Craigslist for pinball machines. Mark’s machine had so much battery acid damage that all of the traces/pads were lifted. He needed to replace the MPU. That was a large outlay of money, but after 2 or 3 years of talking to him, I convinced him that it is money well spent. Finally, there was a pinball machine to play.
My Craigslist search found me a machine that had been sitting in somebody’s basement for three or five years without it ever working. It was an EM, but the price was right. Within a month, I had it working and playing pinball. I learned a lot about the mechanical parts of pinball machines. There is still something to be said about EM’s where almost everything that can be wrong with the machine can be debugged just using your eyes.
Mark still had the Gottlieb Dragon machine in his basement, but I had no reason to go there. After talking to Mark, I found a second EM on Craigslist which is Tropic Fun. This is the add-a-ball only version of Gulfstream which I like for historical reasons. The playfield had water damage, mouse damage, and any other damage that you could imagine. I payed way too much for the machine in the shape that it was in, but it was cheap. Suddenly pinball night was reborn. We had a machine that needed the playfield to be repainted, clear coated and pretty much everything else. During pinball night, we would work on Tropic Fun for a couple of hours, then go play the Dragon machine. It was perfect. Mark is a mechanical engineer with a diverse background, so his skills are very complementary to my skills.
At this point, I started thinking about building my own pinball machine. I believe that everyone has a great song in them, a great novel that they could write, etc. You just need to take the time to tease it out of yourself. Well in that way, I feel that everyone has a great pinball idea in them if they care to figure it out. I started making sketches and delving into ideas. At this point, I bought a couple more pinball machines as a lot, and now I could learn how SS machines worked. This made me very happy because I got to use more of my computer engineering skills. We’ve since restored two out of the three machines in the lot, and now instead of playing Dragon at the end of pinball night, we play Firepower II.
Open pinball project: When I started restoring machines, I found that there were a lot of resources out on the web to help you fix them up. People spent a ton of time writing down there knowledge because they love pinball machines so much. These include pinrepair, Clay’s site which has sadly disappeared in the last year, the newly created pinwiki, and the pinball community at large. If I am having a problem, I can nearly always find the answer, or something to get me closer to the solution by looking on the web. I feel that if you get a lot of benefit out of these resources, you should give back as much as you can to make them even better.
You may ask yourself, “Why does this guy think that he can build a pinball machine? Will this just be another site where somebody says they are going to do something, and they never follow through?” Both good questions. I can’t guarantee that the end machine, Disaster, will ever be completed, but I continue to slowly move forward. Pinball machines haven’t changed that much since the late 70s. I think that it is time for the architecture to be reconsidered, and I have the EE skills to get that to happen. I’ve got around 25 years of experience being an electrical engineer, and have been building cards for just over twenty years. Mark has over thirty years in mechanical engineering, so that is a good foil for my skill set. I have no artistic talent, and that may end up being my downfall. Pinball requires electronics, mechanics, and graphic artistry. The last part is going to be the most difficult.
The effort has already created an inexpensive EPROM burner and projects to replace multiple EPROMs with a single EEPROM. As the project progresses, more things will be discovered and more projects will be documented so others can use the information, and not need to waste their time re-inventing the wheel. The replacement display project should be coming up pretty soon should allow hobbyists to build their own displays for Williams machines at a significantly reduced price and a lot easier than current solutions on the web.
So sit back and relax. This is a hobby so it isn’t going to move too quickly, but you can already see the progress in the first six months.