Things I learned this week

2009-12-15: Espresso pinball by Jimmy Z
No Joke. I used my espresso machine to clean my wire harness and it worked like magic.
I'm near the end of a playfield swap and I have this grungy harness, the one with tons of switches. At first I tried a ton of all purpose cleaner and Krud Kutter but it still looked dirty.
Then it dawned on me; steam. And then: steam under pressure ! Where do I have steam under pressure ? My espresso machine has a wand for steaming milk.
So I spent about 30 minutes leading the harness and switches under the high pressure steam. OK, I admit the kitchen was a mess, but most important, my harness looks new.

2009-12-01: What I’ve learned from pinball multi-tasking by Kim
Playing pinball while doing laundry is good.
Playing pinball while cooking on the stove is bad.
Playing pinball while filling the hot tub is bad.
Turning a game on and playing pinball during an argument with the girlfriend is really, really bad.

2009-11-15: The manual is not always correct.
I was assembling my Bram Stokers Dracula pinball machine, of which the head had been removed to be able to transport it. I hadn't labeled each connector as I had assembled pins before, and I could always check the manual when I wasn't sure (the last chapter of any WPC manual describes each board and what connectors go where, up to each individual wire color).
When I wanted to hook up the flashers on the dmd panel I had a problem. On the connector itself was a label that said something else than the manual said. Now what to do ? Instead of going into the flasher test and pressing the start button to see what the internal settings of the machine said, I decided to gamble and go along with what the manual said. Even though I knew better and thought the label on the connector was there for a reason, but plugging a flasher in can't hurt, can it ?
Wrong !! As soon as I switched on the machine, one of the capacitors on the power board just exploded !! It blew a hole in its top, smoke and a very bad smell escaped from it.. Luckily the backbox was open, so its corrosive fluid was flung onto the playfield glass and didn't leak on the power driver board itself.

2009-11-01: Spinechiller is no more by Dr Gonzy
Pulled my mini PF off whitewater a couple days ago. Installed Cliffy's VUK protector and post sleeves, adding LED's getting it looking sweet. The absolute mess of ramps on this game requires some care. Very careful with everything. I was about a half hour away from being up and running again. I went to put the mini back on and heard my wife coming down the stairs. Oh cool, she can hold Insanity Falls out of the way while I manuever everything into position. Careful babe, I say.
Spine Chiller is no more. :-(
I should have done it myself. I'm going to get another beer.

2009-10-15: Live fuse by Dave
We all do something without thinking once and a while.
A year or two ago I replaced a blown fuse with the game on. And whatever was making it blow was still at it. My finger tip was black.

2009-10-01: Disconnect everything by Bodean
I picked up a Stern Big Game last night. Guy said it just quit working. Popped out the glass and looked at the boards. This game had absolutely the cleanest mpu of this period I've ever seen. Not a speck of corrosion, no hacks, nothing. Just beautiful.
Anyway, it would boot up, but when it got to the 7th flash, it would blow the coil fuse. Hmmm, let's check some voltages. (Shoulda done this first anyway). I pulled J1 and 3 off the rectifier board, and I usually pull J4 off the mpu. Forgot to pull J4. Powered up, grabbed my meter and was fixin to go at it, when I smelled the magic smoke escaping.
I now have a very nice black racing stripe up the left side of this formerly pristine board, along with about 10 black lumps that used to be part of the electronics family. AAAARRRGHH! I'm still not sure what happened. Nothing like creating a whole bunch of extra work for being an idiot.

2009-09-15: Load everything IN the car by Todd
This fall I picked up a Whirlwind and an Earthshaker from an operator and both of the games had the displays out of the games. They were sitting on a workbench.
We loaded up the games in my truck, and I asked him about the displays and and he told me that one of the displays had just had brand new glasses put in, and the other was repaired and ready to go, his tech hadn't had time to put them in the game. So anyway, I put them on the cab of the truck while I finished bullshitting, and to make a long story short, I remembered (that I put them up there) about 10 minutes down the road. By the time I got back they were smashed into a million pieces on the road.

2009-09-01: Cirqus Voltaire neon tube
I was getting intermittent response from my neon tube. Got a good 12 volts from the molex connector under the playfield and the tube seemed good so I bought a transformer. Managed to get it spliced in and back in the ramp but it was a tight fit. But so was the original one so I didn't worry about it that much.
Until I went to remount the ramp and the neon tube snapped.

2009-08-15: Coincidence or Fate ? by Todd
So, after a visit to a pinball museum in the Bay Area, I get the bug to buy a machine. While I was at the museum I played a Flash there and remember thinking 'Man, I played this machine a lot back in the day when I was a teenager'.
2 weeks later I'm bringing home a Flash machine. As I'm cleaning it out, I dig out a little piece of paper that says something about tax collection on the machine, it also indicates the current location in 1980. A bowling alley named Serra Bowl in Colma, CA.... wait for it.... I was in a bowling league at that alley from 1979 thru 1981, so that means I bought the very machine that I had those memories playing when I was that teenager.

2009-08-01: Knock, knock by Mike
As I was restoring this Gottlieb Genie machine I noticed the knocker was not making a sound - it would move but not go high enough to hit the bracket. I thought maybe the coil was bad so I replaced the coil, but I didn't realize the polarity on the connectors was critical, so I fried a transistor on the driver board. I also gave myself a pretty nasty burn with the soldering iron while I was replacing the transistor (my own fault, double bonus).
So anyway, I never was certain the original coil was bad - never understood why the knocker didn't properly work. I ordered a replacement coil (they didn't include the diode.. @#&(#$*) But also being the boy scout that I am, I spent the extra money and bought a whole new knocker assembly just to be on the safe side. When I looked at the assembly I realized the knocker piston was installed in the cabinet UPSIDE DOWN (with the metal side up). I would not have known this if I hadn't seen another unit. This is one of the many stupid things the previous owner did to the game. After replacing the transistor and setting up the coil properly, the knocker worked fine.

2009-07-15: Is the apron secured ? by Rene P.
Never pull up a playfield from an old EM pinball before looking if all the screws are in place where they expect to be�� Especially when your left hand is resting on the wood on top of the coin door.
You wil end up with no skin left on your fingers, blood every where and looking unbelievable to that metal plate in your right hand that normaly is fixed over the outhole.
And by testing a solenoid to ground (50V) I did touch a 6V light a had to replace about 100 burn out bulbs..

2009-07-01: Smashing displays by Stan
JUST got a brand new 16 digit alpha numeric display so I can finally see what the bottom display does on my Robocop. All of the adjustments and high scores etc get displayed on there.
Anyways, it's wrapped in a bubble envelope, sitting on a pinball machine. I go pick it up, walk 3 feet and smash. Out it drops from the envelope. I pick it up just hoping on a wing of a prayer that I didnt ruin it but I already knew. Its fucked. There goes $160 plus tax. And so much for finally fixing that display. DAMN DAMN DAMN!!!

2009-06-15: Power desoldering by Chas
So I'm desoldering light sockets on my Strikes & Spares to replace some bad ones. I have the machine on to see which ones need replacing..
Without even blinking an eye I start to desolder a light socket while the game is still on. I begin to notice some sparks coming from the socket I'm desoldering. Then it hits me! You dumbass the power is still on! D'oh! Luckily no damage was done.
The game plays much better now that I can see what's lit etc.

2009-06-01: Watch your eyes
I was desoldering a wire inside the cabinet. Was working through the coin door as I didn't have enough room to remove the playfield glass. Heated up the big glob of solder that was holding the wire in place..
The wire didn't move as it was wrapped around the metal lug.. so I pulled hard on it. The wire came loose and molten solder flew in my direction, I felt it hit my forehead. When I took off my glasses I saw a small piece of solder right in the middle of the glass. Hadn't I been wearing glasses it would have hit me in the center of my eye ! So always be careful when desoldering: cut wires and pull them in another direction away from your face !

2009-05-15: Battery holders by Karl
So your battery holders pads are shot and not making a good connection with the batteries...
Sure, you COULD replace the battery holder... You COULD install a remote holder and get the batteries off the board... But why go ALL the way to Radio Shack and spend 2 bucks on a new battery holder when you can solder the batteries right to the board...

2009-05-01: Gameroom remodeling by Ed
I had just finished weeks of remodeling our basement to make a gameroom drywall, fresh coat of paint, new ceramic tile floor, trim, etc.
I have a narrow doorway, so took the head off of my Williams Indiana Jones and with my wife's help set it in position. I put the head back on, closed the latch on the backbox, but forgot to screw the bolts back in the side where the "head hinges" are.
When I went pushed on the latch to open the head and connect the wires, it falls right over (if you never noticed it only keeps it from falling the *other* way) and rips a widebody sized hole right through my newly painted wall then crashes to the floor smashing a few tiles in the process. Of course, the wife is there to witness the whole thing which was icing on the cake :)
Amazingly there was minimal damage to the head since the translite was out, but took me a week to patch everything and I still have to repaint the head and entire wall at some point. You can bet I'll never make that mistake again...

2009-04-15: Fixed a game where the fix shouldn't have fixed it by Mike
So, I was having a bunch of problems getting my Gottlieb Corral working.
It was doing really strange stuff. The pop bumpers were acting like rollovers, the top rollovers were behaving like bottom rollovers, the roto was adding numbers to the backbox as it rotated...and so on.
After going through all the PF switches, cleaning the Jones plugs, checking for loose wires and such, I could not find a reason for the games behaviour.
As I would check and adjust certain switches I would do them one at a time to make sure I didn't mess anything up further, and that I could easily undo anything in case matters became worse.
I then cleaned a real dirty motor switch I looked at this switch initially because I thought I might have issues with the 0-9 unit. After cleaning this switch, the game worked perfect!
OK....lets check the schematic. As far as I can see, as well as someone else who is real, real good at reading these, the dirty contact shouldn't have caused any of the problems I was seeing, nor fixed the issues obviously.
Anyone ever fix a game where the fix really shouldn't have fixed it?

2009-04-01Life as an operator. by Pinaholic
Last night(actually morning) at 1 AM, I get a call asking me why the pinball machine is not working. Is it turned on?, I asked. After I told him where to find the on/off button, he tells me that there is no display.
Took a ride out this afternoon, to find a working machine, with a working DMD. Thanks for the call!

2009-03-15: Simple things first by Jason C.
I have been working on my BSD tonight. Got the mist ball back working and found out the right pop bumper was not working. It would not work in test. Figured it was the transistor or driver. Pulled the board, replaced the tip 102 and 5401 driver.
Fired the game up, bumper still would not work. Decided to lift the playfield and check the switch, figured it might be dirty.. Cleaned it, and only then did I notice one of the wires on the coil had broken off. Resoldered it and all is well, Dracula is back. Guess the most simple, basic things should be checked before assuming anything.

2009-03-01: Pinball repair experience. by Rick S.
The great thing about experience is.. ... that it allows you to recognize the same mistake every time you make it.
I was putting my Time Machine back together last night and flipped on the power switch to see if all the bulbs were burning. I left the machine running in attract mode. I noticed that all 3 of the bulbs on one board remained dark and that 2 of 3 bulbs on another board remained dark. I got out the wiring diagram and began to trace down the problem. About an hour later I still couldn't figure out why they wouldn't go on. Then I decided to put the machine in "all lamps" test mode. Sure enough, every bulb was burning bright.
Lesson re-learned (for maybe the third time)... don't assume that all playfield insert bulbs flash during attract mode.

2009-02-15: Check the orientation of ICs.
I just soldered the new replaced ic's backwards..
What was that? Did I socket them? Why would anyone do that!?
No, I didn't socket them. I thought I had 16 pin sockets but they were 14... gah.
The 74175s on my sys80 driver board have a circle and a half circle on one side. The 74175s I bought have a circle on one end, so I matched that up in the orientation as all the others and soldered the puppies in. Does the circle not indicate where pin 1 is? Anyway, the half circle is on the OTHER end. Not to mention all the text on the chip doesn't match the orientation of the others either.

2009-02-01: Count your digits.
I did just finish soldering a 7 digit display into a 6 digit Bally/Stern display board.
The package I took it from had my writing on it, clearly indicating it was a 6 digit display glass. I didn't even bother to count the digits. I just soldered it in, plugged in the display, and fired her up.
Guess what? A 7 digit display works in place of a 6 digit display, kind of. You get 6 digits, with a space where digit two should be. At least nothing blew up..

2009-01-15: Verbal abuse by Mario
I get a call from a local guy who bought an 8 Ball for his kid last Christmas. It does what all early Bally SS's do when they haven't been taken care of in a while: it starts resetting randomly. Sure enough the connector for the +5 and Gnd on the Sol Driver is burnt. Time to touch up the headers, replace the bad header and connector and that should do it. I let him know what I am doing and that I have a hot soldering iron running, so please keep the kids and cats away. He acts like he hears me but this guy hasn't shut up since I arrived. I mean, he knows everything.
Well as I am preparing to work the headers this guy is crowding me. Then he puts his hand right on the soldering iron while trying to lean in and talk to me. (Close talker, just great, bad breath too). Burns the crap out of his palm.
He leaves for some first aid and returns. I figured he may have learned a lesson and back off. No way. He now starts telling me everything I never wanted to know, and then some.
His kid arrives home with Mom and guess what? The kids a chip off the old block. He can't shut up either.
Well I finally got done and powered up the 8 Ball. After 15 or 20 mins of really beating her up, no resets. All is well again and I get ready to leave. I present the bill to the wife and she leaves to write me a check. She comes back as I am putting my stuff in the car and hands me the check.
She says this: "I added an extra $25 for the verbal harrassment you took today. I wasn't here but I can only imagine how much Einstein over there bothered you".

Older stories can be found in the archive 2005 - 2006, archive 2007 and archive 2008.