Pingame Journal

Retracing History

Last updated on: 1/14/2015 10:42 AM 
Created on: 11/2/2016 2:22 PM 


There's not much that can compare to the excitement of bringing home a new pinball machine. Now for me new doesn't mean Stern's latest title waiting to be unpacked, call me a sucker for the days of my youth (late 80s, early 90s) but I enjoy playing new pinball on location. New pinball for me is one of those fun deals you find on a game you have been looking for and, because it was a deal, requires some of my restoration skills. Yes I am a geek but I experience excitement in bringing a pinball game back to relive its glory days. I wouldn't consider myself a "restorer" by today's standards but someone who just refurbishes. For example, I don't paint and clear coat playfields.

I am an impatient person so the first thing I do with a new project game is play it often. I'm essentially doing two things, first satisfying my desire as to why I purchased the game and second, I'm making a list of all the assemblies, guides or shots that are not correct. Knowing what isn't right is a great starting point of items to look at closer when opening up the machine. Now begins another part of the refurbishment process that I have fun doing: figuring out the history of this machine.

Of course some machine histories aren't as interesting as others. My first game I purchased was a Twilight Zone in 1996. The machine was assembled at the Williams factory on California Avenue in June of 1993. From there it went to a distributor, where the arcade chain Aladdin's Castle purchased it. That game ended up at the mall arcade that conveniently was in walking distance from my house at the time. Over time I would play it and observe the problems the game would develop without knowing I would be the one who would have to fix them. Finally the game came into my possession when the arcade hung a for sale sign on the game. Twilight Zone wasn't one of my personal favorite games at the time but I took it mainly for the chance to be the one to fix the problems it had.

I essentially am intimately familiar with that particular machine which I find helpful in knowing how to solve the problems it may develop as time goes on. Another not so interesting game history is the most recent game I had the chance to refurbish. That game was on location from essentially 1996 until I became its owner. Not much appeared to break on the game during that time as the only visible repairs were two coils that were replaced. In this case all I needed to know is the game was build, operated and repaired without crazy hacks, and finally became my project.

Then there are the games you come across in which you just have to wonder what happened to this machine. In a previous article I wrote that when No Fear hit the streets on location I didn't find myself drawn into its game play. After playing another collector's, my opinion changed so dramatically that I had to hunt down one for myself. Amazingly, in the 2004 to 2006 time frame in which I was hunting one of these games, I found a few still being operated on location. Of course I would have to play a few games each time to make sure I was still interested. Each location game showed the standard wear and tear that you would expect such as flippers misaligned and weak, lamps not working and layers of dirt everywhere obstructing the vibrant colors of the artwork. Essentially operators continued to leave the games in the wild because quarter droppers like me kept showing up. This would leave you to think the game is making some change for its owner.

My search ended when I found a No Fear for sale at a down state pinball show that was at a price that couldn't be passed. It had the bumps and scraps that indicated it was your typical operated machine but it had two things strike me. First, the playfield gave the appearance that it had been shopped out and second, the game didn't have anywhere near the fade that this particular title is known to suffer. While that was good news there were two noticeable problems. The start button no longer registering switch closures after functioning for 2 days at the show wasn't as much of a concern as the jump ramp take off acting like a diving board due to a mission support post. The seller of the game is a fellow pinball friend who tends to take in a number of games to complete a deal and then sell the ones in which he has no interest. Knowing this I still figured I was dealing with the previous operator(s) rather than him.

Upon getting the game set up in the game room began the fun of trying to piece together what a previous operator did. Hindering my ability right from the start was the battery problem that caused the internal audits to become none existent. In a pinball first, all the bookkeeping audits where 0 but the time was preserved and every playfield switch was marked as bad. I probably should have done a factory reset at this point but instead took the more fun approach of closing every switch in the switch test until I cleared all the test report entries. I replaced the batteries and continued with both my adjustment setting changes and testing.

At this point I am confident that the switches work. All the flipper's hold and flip circuits worked, the DMD functioned, the sound board made no noticeable problems with the music, speech or effects, every coil pulsed, flash lamps worked, GI dimmed and I could illuminate feature lamps on each column and row. During my play testing the game would reset with I pressed both flippers while one of the ramp magnets was engaged. This gave me a reason to pull the driver board and search for hacks. To my surprise, all the soldier points were still factory. Knowing that the original bridges and capacitors were now over ten years old, I went and replaced BR2 and C5. Making this first change to the driver board fix the reset problem.

With a good working board set it was now time to get under the playfield. The bottom of the cabinet had its traditional layer of dirt but the under side of the playfield was the cleanest of all the games I had worked on to date. None of the coils were replaced and their associated assemblies appeared to be untouched. I started to question if this game was ever played at its location. On the topside of the playfield, after removing all the components to shop it out, I learned that the easy access areas were the only areas that were cleaned. The remaining areas were not as dirty as your traditional machine pulled from location. Again I found myself wondering if the game was ever played on location.

There was a clue though, besides the occasional scrapes on the side of the head that the game was somewhere. That clue was in the yellowing of the clear plastics used in various spots to prevent ball traps. I found a set of used plastics at a great price that were salvaged out of game that appeared to be in proximity of a fire, judging by the amount of soot and smoke. My only plan at first was to clean the plastics and prepare them for storage. However I noticed that the areas of blue and purple art, the colors were more vibrant than the ones on my game. I ended up swapping the ones that were faded or yellowed and when I was done noticed that these plastics were limited to the left side of the playfield. Where ever this game was set up, something on its right side blocked UV lighting.

I was considering my understanding of this machine's history closed until I discovered that this machine was featured on the Warehouse Raid DVD in the Life after Death series. In an undisclosed location near Southern Illinois is an old Sunday school that was converted into an operator warehouse. For those who have not seen this video, the shots of the rooms filled with old coin op equipment and volume of items is mind-boggling. Stuck in the sea of old EM machines is the occasional modern SS state game of which this No Fear was one of them.

My suspicion that this game wasn't played much was confirmed. The game went from location to storage and basically forgotten about until a bunch of pinball collectors came and raided the warehouse. Why was only part of the playfield cleaned causing me to think this was a shopped game? They cleaned what was visible for both the camera and the sale at the show. Judging by how little dirt was left, the lack of broken plastics, and all the original components were still in the game I feel it is safe to say this game didn't earn for the operator and was then thrown into storage. Given the volume of EM machines the operator had stored, I would say the odds are better that this No Fear came from a location that didn't want a pinball machine as opposed to replacing it with a different machine.

For this particular game, there is a happy ending. It has been fixed up, cleaned up and tuned up. Of course I trade some old parts for new No Fear parts to make the game even better mainly because I'm not satisfied until I do some level of refurbishment. With all said and done, the machine has gone from sitting in storage collecting dust to being the game most visitors to my game room head to play first. Being a pinball enthusiast I still shake my head at the fact that this game spent a fair amount of time in storage and that many other games are out there suffering the same fate. This machine's existence is reduced to being tucked away waiting for someone to come along and continue writing their pages of history.


More Journal Entries

Throwdown! Brian Bannon Retracing History NBA: Pinball Happens I Now Know Better Supershow 2008 PW Convention 2007 Supershow 2006