PINBALL EXPO '85" - The First 'Hurrah!"
A major 'first' in the world of pinball
collecting/enthusiasm occurred on the weekend of November 22-24,
1985 at the Holiday Inn O'Hare/Kennedy in Rosemont, IL. It was a
fantastic event, dubbed "Pinball Expo '85", and it appears that
it was the first of more such events to come.
This get-together was put together by pinball
collector/enthusiast Rob Berk of Warren OH, ably assisted by Bill
Kurtz of PLAYMETER magazine and Mike Pacak of Fun And Games
Incorporated, who is also a collector of pinballs and pinball
brochures. Much credit must certainly be given to these
individuals as they got together a super show of nothing less
than professional quality.
The show essentially had four 'parts': Lectures by
collectors, authors, and industry greats; an exhibition of games
and associated items; a tour of the Premier Technology pinball
manufacturing plant; and a banquet, complete with quest speaker.
I shall try to summarize what occurred at this event, although it
would probably take a book to adequately cover everything that
went on in those three days. I shall only do a short summary of
the 'Designers Seminar", one of the highlights of the show, as I
believe it important enough to be covered by a separate article,
which I plan to present in the next issue of COIN SLOT.
Before I start describing the show I would like to make a
few remarks concerning the personal pleasures I gained from
attending this event. First, I would like to say how glad I was
to be able to attend the show. When it was first announced I did
not see any way I could possibly afford to make such a trip for
'hobby purposes' alone. Well, a month or so before the show I
had some financial good fortunes which all of a sudden made it
all possible. I was thrilled and immediately made plans to
attend. I sure did not regret that decision. I had a great time
and am already making plans to save up to attend next years'
One of the thrills for me was to finally meet, in person,
many people I had only 'met' by phone or correspondence over the
years. The opportunity to finally associate names and faces; I
loved it! The other great thrill was to meet so many of the
industry greats I had only heard or read about. I had known the
late Harry Williams and he was great! I discovered, while
meeting with and talking to the other industry greats at this
show, that they were all so friendly, and just all-round good
people, just like Harry. To me it was like having 'multiple'
Harry Williams' all in one room. I loved that too! Now to the
After some opening remarks by show producer Rob Berk,
including introduction of his co-producers Mike Pacak and Bill
Kurtz, the first scheduled lecture began. This talk, titled
"Pinball Art", was supposed to have been given by New York
collector Gordon Hasse. Gordon, however, could not make it to
the show until later that day, so fellow collector Steve Young
put on his "Gordon Hasse hat" and very ably presented Gordon's
talk. What we had was a slide show "pinball art exhibition"
of the backglass art of the Gottlieb pinball machines of the
period from 1946 through 1959, featuring primarily what Gordon
referred to as the "golden age for Gottlieb" of 1947 through
The first backglass to be shown was STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, the
first Gottlieb pinball to be produced when the World War II
pinball production ban ended. It was pointed out that this glass
represented one of the major themes Gottlieb used for their games
of this period, namely "show business." The other major themes
of this period were said to be "card games" and "sports", but
other themes also showed up, such as "nautical", "distant
places", and of course, the famous "fairy tale" theme series of
games in 1948, exemplified by the first Gottlieb flipper game,
Some examples of these themes which were shown were, for
"show biz": LUCKY STAR (1947), ROCKETTES (1950), MINSTREL MAN
(1951), DIAMOND LIL (1954), and DRAGONETTE (1954), which of
course, came from the very popular tv show of the period,
"Dragnet". It was pointed out that the Gottlieb game LOVELY LUCY
(not shown) represented the other very popular TV series of the
1950's, "I Love Lucy".
The examples shown for the "card games" theme included:
JUST 21 (1950), QUEEN OF HEARTS (1952), EASY ACES (1955), and
ROYAL FLUSH (1957), among others. Some of the examples shown
illustrating the "sports" theme were: BOWLING CHAMP (1949),
KNOCKOUT (1950), SKILL POOL (1952), GRAND SLAM (1953), and AUTO
RACES (1956). The "nautical" theme was exemplified by BARNACLE
BILL and BUCCANEER (1948), and HARBOR LIGHTS (1956), and for
"distant places" we saw GLOBETROTTER and NIAGARA (1951),
CHINATOWN (1952) and HAWAIIAN BEAUTY (1954).
As a final example of another theme, two games were shown
with a "western" motif, STAGE COACH (1954), and FRONTIERSMAN
(1955). The last glass of the show was the very plain (no Roy
Parker here) DEUTTE (1955), the first two player Gottlieb
A good majority of the backglass art illustrated was created
by the late Roy Parker, who's comic style of pinball art has
never been equaled. A prime example of his work was the famous
DRAGONETTE which contained many spoofs on the popular TV show
"Dragnet". It was also pointed out that most of the games
illustrated were designed by Wayne Neyens, one of the Expo's
honored guests and speakers, illustrating that the team of parker
and Neyens created some of the most flashy and exciting pinball
machines ever produced.
This talk, and the accompanying slides, made such a great
presentation that many of the attendees approached Gordon later
asking if he could publish it, or at least make available prints
of the slides. I, for one, strongly recommended to him that he
publish the whole thing in a 'book' form so that his fine
commentary, which included many of his childhood remembrances of
these machines, be preserved. All in all this was a beautiful
and exciting presentation to start off the show with.
Next Steve Young returned 'as himself' to present his talk
"Pinball Mechanics", which, due to scheduling problems, was
presented in two parts at different times. He began by saying
that it is inevitable that pingames will require repair and
restoration, due primarily to two factors (other than the fact
that old games a collector acquires may have been setting unused
for many years). These factors are the short planned life for
machines when originally produced (of 6 months to a year) and
poor maintenance by many operators while the games were on
location. For these reasons he stated that repair should be both
competent and thorough.
He recommended that a newly acquired game be serviced, as
much as possible, before plugging it in for the first time. He
went on to say that your "goals" for servicing a game should be
to make it fun to play and reliable. He pointed out that proper
maintenance would result in avoiding embarrassment later if the
game doesn't perform properly and also that it will not require
rework after a short period of time.
Steve next described the tools and materials which are
required to do a good job on a game. He said your "maintenance
kit" should include a good spray lubricant and a spreadable
lubricant, and that commercial "contact cleaners" should never be
used (HERE! HERE!). Special tools which should be included in
your kit are: needle nose pliers, contact adjusters, lamp
remover, 1/4 inch wrench (for holding nuts while screws are
removed), spring hook, contact file, line level, and, of course,
a soldering gun. He stated that a small hand grinder was a very
useful adjunct to the kit and could perform many useful
functions. He also recommended that the following parts/materials
be included in the kit: small screws, tape, bulbs, fuses, rubber
rings, contact blades and points, very fine steel wool, and a
good playfield cleaner.
He next briefly broached the subject of "cosmetic" repairs.
He stated that as of that time he still did not have a final
answer on backglass paint restoration and preservation, but was
still experimenting. For cabinet paint repair he said Sherman
Williams had a good paint product and also mentioned a "Bisonite"
which he said was made in Buffalo, NY.
Steve then described switch (contact) adjusting techniques
and then went into the cleaning of stepping switch contact plates
('biscuits'). For this he recommended using steel wool first and
then a light coat of lubricant. He also stated that worn contact
"rivets" could be replaced, if necessary, but that in some cases
they could be 'rotated' to get a better contact surface.
Steve's second session ended with a question and answer
session with much interactive discussion, with members of the
audience pointing out some of their experiences with game
maintenance and 'pet techniques'. All in all this talk, and the
ensuing floor discussion, provided much useful information for
On the first day, after a brief lunch break, we boarded
three buses for a trip to the Premier Technology pinball
manufacturing plant. As an interesting sidelight, before the
tour it was announced that persons from competing game
manufacturers were asked not to attend the tour. It seems that
strong competition still exists within the coin machine industry.
The bus I was on was 'hosted' by one of Premier's design
engineers, Mr. Adolph Seitz Jr., who stated he had joined D.
Gottlieb and Co. in 1972. Before our bus left, Mr. Seitz gave
us a brief outline of the corporate history of Gottlieb/Premier.
He said D. Gottlieb and Co. was founded in 1927 and was family
owned until 1972. At that time Judd Wineberg took over as
President with Alvin Gottlieb as Vice President. In 1976 Judd
sold the company to Columbia pictures who changed the name to
"Gottlieb amusement games". Then, in 1983, Coca Cola bought
Columbia and the new owners decided to change the name to Mylstar
Electronics as they thought "Gottlieb" was too synonymous with
'pinball', and coke wanted to emphasize video games, which were
extremely popular at that time.
Then, in 1984, Coke decided to shut down Mylstar. At that
time Mr. Gil Pollack, who was Vice President of Sales/Marketing
at Mylstar, got together a group of investors and purchased the
pinball operation of Mylstar and also bought the rights to the
"Gottlieb" name. The new company, to be called Premier
Technology, started business on October 24, 1984 and within two
months began production. So the name Gottlieb lives on in the
pinball world thanks to Mr. Pollack.
Upon arrival at the plant we all gathered together for a
briefing by Gil Pollack. Alvin Gottlieb was also present. We
were welcomed to Premier and told that many of the current
employees are "old time" Gottlieb people. The plant foreman we
were told had been with the company for over 30 years. Much of
the experience of other employees went back to the 60's and 70's.
He said their games were "built to last". We were told that
Premier did its own artwork, but that the actual 'screens' were
produced by Advertising Posters Co. We then started the actual
On our way to the assembly area we passed through a storage
area for backglasses, plastic light shields, instruction cards,
etc. It was interesting for me to observe that many of these
items were for Gottlieb games going back into at least the late
We then reached the assembly area where they were
manufacturing Premier's latest pinball, a flashy game called
ROCK. We were told that all cables were built in a plant in
Fargo, ND, a place where it gets "mighty cold". We viewed the
assembly and wiring of playfields and some smaller assemblies and
then went to the testing area where automated continuity tests
were being performed on newly assembled playfields. We next saw
the final assembly area, and finally the area where the completed
games were being boxed for shipment.
Before boarding the buses for the trip back to the show we
waited in the room where we first assembled. Alvin Gottlieb was
there talking with many of the visitors. It was at that time I
picked up what I consider a very interesting bit of "pinball
trivia" (I love trivia!). Alvin said that the "AG relay", used
in many Gottlieb electro-omechanical pins, was actually named (or
rather 'initialed') for him (A.G.). How about that, folks?
Upon returning to the show we assembled in the lecture hall where
Gil Pollack gave a short talk, followed by a question and answer
period during which he, and several of his key people, answered
questions from the 'floor'.
Gil told us how a new game comes into being at Premier. He
said the concept is first converted to a rough sketch and an
"evaluation team" looks it over and discusses it. If the idea is
judged to be good "full scale sketches" are made and from these
production prototypes are produced. These are played by many
people in the plant who make suggestions on how the game can be
improved. Changes are then made and the game is finally released
to "Production Engineering" so that final preparations can be
made to start producing the game.
Regarding game 'themes', he said that the designer generally
has a theme in his mind when he comes up with the design. This
theme is usually modified later, however. Once the theme is
decided upon artwork development begins, which usually takes
approximately two months. The total time span from "concept" to
start of production is normally somewhere in the neighborhood of
As I said earlier, Premier's portion of the show ended with
a good question and answer session involving many of the
company's key personnel. The whole session (tour, talks and Q
and A) proved to be very enlightening, especially, I am sure, for
those who had never visited a real pingame production plant.
The next item on the show's agenda was the "Designers
Seminar", an event which was definitely one of the 'highlights'
of the Expo. Because of its importance, and the interesting
questions and answers presented, I have decided to devote my next
article to details of this part of the show. At that time I will
present all of the questions that were asked and outline the
answers given by the designers. I shall now, therefore, very
briefly describe this event.
The three designers who participated were Wayne Neyens
(famed Gottlieb designer of the Fifties and Sixties, but with the
company much earlier as well), Norm Clark (designer for both
Williams and Bally since the mid Fifties) and Steve Kordek
(originally with Genco from the late Thirties and then with
Williams, and still there). The combined pinball design
experience of these three men covers almost six decades and
hearing them was a real treat. Neyens was responsible for such
pingame innovations as the first 4 player game, the 'add-a-ball'
concept, the modern style bumper contact, and the 'roto-target'.
Clark originated the 'spinner unit' and 'roulette wheel' devices
used on some pins. Kordek was also responsible for many design
innovations through the years, both for Genco and Williams.
The format of the seminar consisted of the three designers,
seated at a table on the stage, "fielding" questions from the
floor. Each question was generally directed at one of the
designers. He would then reply, and in many cases, one or both
of the others would add their comments. This resulted in a very
As I said earlier, I will not go into any details in this
article; I will only mention the major topics discussed. Some of
the questions dealt with personal remembrances and experiences of
the designers, including such topics as "how did you get started
in the industry?", and "what was the first (and last) game you
designed?". They were also asked to name their favorite game and
what games they thought should be the most collectible.
Other interesting topics included: the impact of the
flipper, their opinion of current games and what they thought the
future would bring, and, a subject which drew much interest,
their advice to young designers trying to get into the field.
All in all, it was a very interesting session, so "tune in
next time" for the fascinating questions and answers presented
during this seminar.
THE AUTHORS - ED TRAPUNSKI
Next came the authors. Originally three were scheduled to
talk, but, due to last minute business commitments, Roger Sharpe,
author of the 'pioneer' pinball book Pinball, was unable to
attend. However, we still had two fine representatives of
pinball writers to speak to us.
First was Ed Trapunski, a Canadian and author of the fine
book Special When Lit back in 1979. I personally had the
pleasure of being visited by Ed when he was gathering information
for his book, and it was very nice to see and talk to him again
after so many years.
The theme of Ed's talk was "pinball people are good people."
He said "lets talk about us; we all have a dedication and a
'passion' for pinball." "Who are we, and why are we so concerned
with pinball?" He then continued describing the groups of people
who were at the show as follows. First, there are the
collectors. Why do people collect pingames? It's not for the
money, they are not really true 'antiques'. Prices are not
really high as they are with many other collectables. The value
of a game is really "whatever somebody is willing to pay for it".
(AUTHORS NOTE - That is exactly what I have been saying all
along when asked the value of a given machine).
What do we collect; what 'specializations'? Ed said he knew
of one collector who collected nothing but games made in 1951.
Some only collect 'wood rails', others games by a certain
manufacturer. Others may want to collect 'firsts' (first
electric, first replay, first flipper game, etc.). Ed said he
had only three games. One was Gottlieb's 1966 MASQUERADE, a
personal favorite of his. He said he also owned two early
'bagatelles' which are on display in a "game museum" at the
University of Waterloo in Canada. This museum, he said,
contained many pingames.
He next talked about "why we collect pins". Some people
love the artwork. The "Tilt Catalog", published in Canada
several years back when a traveling pinball art show toured the
country, impressed Ed very much. Others like the game
(playfield) design and how the games differ in their playing
aspects. Still others enjoy the history. The history of pins
also reflects U.S. "social history" and game themes represent
the current interests and events of the times.
Next he talked about a second group of people attending the
show, namely the designers. He said it was very nice that they
came to the show as it shows they have an abiding interest in
their industry, even in their private lives. He felt they had an
overall 'passion' for their work. He said he believed the
designers liked the enthusiasm others, such as the players and
collectors, had for their work efforts. The designers were
certainly a wonderful part of the show.
Finally, he talked about the players. He said that pingames
are most beautiful when "in action" and that pinball was "the
ultimate game to play." He commented that pinball must have
something 'going for it' as evidenced by its 'staying power' Over
many years. Pinball is 'hypnotic', but relaxing, and it gives
the player a 'lift'. For these many reasons he said many people
love to play pinball.
He concluded by saying that pinball was "the star of the
show" and advised us to "keep playing, collecting, and enjoying
this wonderful game."
The final author to speak was Coin Slot's own Dick Bueschel.
The subject of Dick's fascinating talk was "Pinball, A
Revolutionary New Idea 'Invented' Seven Times!" Since much of
the information presented by Dick will be covered in the first
volume of his soon to be released (we hope!) Book "100 Most
Collectible Pinball Machines", I will not go into detail here,
except to briefly outline what he calls the "seven inventions of
Dick began his talk (which was illustrated by slides) by
saying that pinball history was his favorite subject, primarily
because it was a study of "industrial history with special
interest in popular culture", and was a "rich combination of
human beings, graphics, and popular culture." He then told of
pinball's ancestor, the 18th century game of "bagatelle", the
"game of the French Court", which in many ways resembled the
modern game of pool, only with a sloping table with 'pockets' at
the upper end. He then proceeded to describe the "seven
inventions of pinball."
What he called the "first pinball game" was invented by
Charles Young in 1892 for use in his billiard hall. It was coin-
operated, a "payout", and had a very steep playfield. This idea
didn't stick, however. The "second invention" he said was the
first English 'pin' around 1897. Patents for this game existed
and one of the games has been found. He said there were also
"vertical pins" in England around the Turn Of The Century.
The "third invention" he said was also the 'first commercial
pingame'. It was produced by the Berger Mfg. Co. of Chicago
Heights, IL and called the "Auto Flag Table." It was coin-
operated, used billiard balls, and had "flags" at the end of the
table for score indication. The "fourth invention" was the game
called LOG CABIN which first appeared around 1902. There were
two basic models which came out about a year apart, a 'square
top' and a 'round top' model. An actual example of a 'round top'
LOG CABIN, which was owned by Alvin Gottlieb, was on display in
the exhibit hall at the show.
The "fifth invention" was a game invented by George Miner of
Los Angeles and was patented. The game was called BASEBALL. It
had a glass top and was coin operated. None have ever been
found. Dick said that Bally obtained rights to this patent and
used its number on many of their early games. They also hired
Mr. Miner and he worked for Bally in the early Thirties. The
"sixth invention" was a game designed by Sam Pressberg who had
the Capitol Automatic Music Co. in New York. He supposedly made
around 100 machines and put them on location around New York, but
to date none have been found.
What he called the "seventh invention" was the famous
WHIFFLE game originally conceived in 1930 by three men in
Youngstown, OH. This was the real beginning of the popularity of
pingames and was soon followed by such games as BINGO, BAFFLE
BALL, and BALLYHOO. Dick even favored us with a brief chorus of
Bally's 1932 coin machine convention song "What'll They Do In 32,
Play Ballyhoo". I found I was later singing this catchy ditty to
myself for the next few days.
Dick's talk, which was followed by a brief question and
answer session, was filled with much interesting detail and
stories about these early games, but for this exciting
information you'll have to read his book.
PINBALL POTPOURRI - GEORGE MOLENTIN
The next portion of the lectures was dubbed "Pinball
Potpourri" and featured several speakers providing much
historical information and many personal sidelights involving the
coin machine industry.
The first speaker was Mr. George Molentin, one of the great
pinball artists. George was in the industry for 42 years (1935-
1975), much of that time as Art Director for Advertising Posters
Co., the outfit that did much of the pinball artwork for many of
the pingame manufacturers from the mid 1930's through today. He
started by saying he had led an interesting life during which he
had both "fun" and "aggravation."
He said he first got into pinball art when he brought some
rough sketches to Rockola in 1935. He got in to see Dave Rockola
who thought he was too young, but asked him to come up with
sketches for a new game of their's called GOLD RUSH. Dave told
him to bring him sketches by 9 AM the next day. George said he
worked on them until after 2 AM and brought them to Dave by Nine,
as promised. Dave liked them and immediately had "screens" made
from them. George's pinball art career had be launched!
George said he continued designing pinball artwork until
1943 when he went into the Army Engineers. He told us how they
were first sent to England, quarantined for three days, then
finally allowed to go to town. While checking out the "local
pubs" he said he heard the familiar sound of bells, and sure
enough there were some pingames in a small store. He said it was
"just like home." When the war ended he returned to work at
He recalled that he started designing when pingames had no
backglasses (only playfield art), then came short backglasses
with only score numbers, and then also pictures. Later on the
score numbers were worked into the pictures. He remembered doing
artwork for "conversions", where a new theme was used for an old
game. He said that was interesting, but tough, since the score
numbers had to be in the same positions as in the original game.
During the 1950's he remembered doing "bingos" for Bally and
United and also games for Williams, such as THUNDERBIRD and ALL
STAR BASEBALL. Throughout his career he said he designed for
most of the companies (such as Rockola, Keeney, Jennings, Chicago
Coin, and Bally) - most everybody, except for Gottlieb. He ended
by saying that one of the toughest jobs he ever had to do was
find a replacement for Roy Parker when he died. He said he
finally came up with a fellow named Ray Steinholm.
The next speaker was Mr. Harvey Heiss, who had been with
Genco from the late 1920's until 1954. Harvey was a very
interesting and entertaining speaker. I personally talked with
him several times during the weekend and found him to be a very
delightful individual. The theme of Harvey's talk was that "his
life had been 'laid out' for him ahead of time." He then told of
happenings in his childhood which he said had a bearing on his
future career in coin machines.
He first told of a game he played with other kids in 1916,
when he was eight years old. The game was called "Baby In The
Hole", and went something like this. Each player would dig a
small hole and stand in it. Then one player would try to roll a
ball into another player's hole. If the ball rolled into your
hole you would pick it up and throw it at another player. If a
player was hit by a ball he had to put a stone in his hole to
count how many times he had been hit. When any player had been
hit 5 times he was declared "loser". At that point, each of the
other players would throw the ball at the "loser", the number of
throws each player was entitled to being based on how few stones
he had in his hole. Harvey said that remembering this game gave
him ideas which he used in design of "roll down" games, such as
TOTAL ROLL and ADVANCE ROLL, which he designed for Genco many
He next told of an event which happened when he was 13
years old. It seems a widow who lived next door asked him to
clean out her attic. He said her late husband had been a
'telephone inventor' and had worked with Alexander Graham Bell.
He remembered throwing many old telephones out of her attic
window and also a very interesting device. He described it as
being a "pinboard" approximately 6 feet by 2 feet with hand made
walnut side rails and a green felt field. The field he said was
studded with brass nails and had 'holes' with pictures of animals
(eagles, bears, etc) next to them. Two 1 inch copper balls were
used with it. He said the inventor had built it before the Turn
Of The Century to be used by rich people in resorts. Harvey said
the kids played with it for about two years, then it disappeared.
This, he said, was his first connection with a pingame, which
later became his life's work.
He next told of how he first got into the industry. When
he was a young man he worked in a foundry. He said at that time
the Gensberg brothers (Meyer, Dave and Lou) had a small factory
and had just invented a game called SPIRAL GOLF. He said they
came to him for ideas and help and he made cups, posts, and metal
playfield castings for them. He later went to work for them and
stayed with Genco until the Fifties.
Harvey recalled working at Genco during the war when they
were engaged in military related products and said they were one
of the first companies to resume game production after the war
ended. He said at that time there was a severe shortage of
lumber to make cabinets and told a story of how Howard Hughes
sent them surplus lumber from his "Spruce Goose" project by plane
from California to help them out.
He then told of the coin machine conventions in the 'old
days'. He said most of the industry people were "conmen" and
were like "friendly enemies" (fierce competitors, yet personal
friends). He said the early conventions were held at the La
Salle Hotel in Chicago which he said was "the best 'cat house' In
town." They really had "wild times" at these shows he said and
told of some incidents of food throwing. He also remembered they
had entertainment, usually from 'rising new stars', which
included Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy before they really
became well known.
He briefly told of Chicago Coin taking over Genco in the
1950's (they were both owned by members of the Gensberg family,
anyway) and that one of the young Gensberg boys, sent to Genco as
a designer, really "drove them nuts" with his crazy ideas. He
said he left the company in 1954 and went to a company which made
"kiddy rides" and "merry-go-round" equipment. He finally moved
to Florida (where he still lives) and got into vending machines.
He ended by saying that he considered this show his "last hurrah"
when it comes to coin machines, but I for one certainly hope not.
Maybe he will grace us with his presence at the next "Pinball
Expo". Let's hope he can be persuaded!
The next 'potpourri' speaker was Mr. Wendell McAdams who
had been in the coin machine industry since the late Forties, and
eventually founded one of the later entries in the pinball field,
Game Plan Inc.
He said his entry into coin machines began "by accident".
In 1947 he went to visit his brother in Chicago before starting
college. While there he got a temporary job at Chicago Coin. He
said at that time, not too long after the war, pictures of
"Kilroy" were on all the walls. Chicago Coin produced a pingame
by that name at the time which was very popular. In fact, he
said, it set a production record which was not equaled until
Bally's WIZARD in 1975.
He decided to make coin machines his career. He worked for
Chicago Coin for awhile, worked for other companies such as
Jennings and Keeney making console slots, etc, and then returned
to Chicago Coin. He finally ended up with Stern in the mid
seventies, he recalled.
In 1977 he decided to form his own pinball company. Other
people told him he was 'crazy', but pinball was riding pretty
high at that time so he went ahead with his plan. On May 16,
1977 Game Plan Incorporated opened its doors.
They started out making "cocktail table" pins which he
thought would go good in locations where standard pinballs just
wouldn't fit; places where they wanted more attractive cabinets.
Many of these games he said had advertising on the playfield,
another of his ideas. He remembered doing one for the R.J.
Reynolds Tobacco Co. with cigarette advertising, but it did not
go over too well. Not because the game was not played, but
because people did not get the advertising message. He said
Reynolds sent people to some of the locations to question patrons
as they were leaving. They discovered that people knew that
cigarettes were advertised on the game, but not what brand!
In 1979 they came out with SHARPSHOOTER, a full sized
pinball which was designed by pinball enthusiast and author Roger
Sharpe. In fact, the backglass featured caricatures of Roger
himself and his wife. He said the game had a long run and was
quite successful. After that they came out with a few more pins,
later put out about ten video games which were not too
successful, and even made some slot machines.
About two years ago, he said, they decided to try pins
again. They 'reissued' SHARPSHOOTER as SHARPSHOOTER II at a time
when other manufacturers were 'reissuing' pinballs. He said that
a SHARPSHOOTER II game is now on display at the Smithsonian.
They tried a few more standard pinballs and then went back to
Mr. McAdams ended by paying tribute to the people, such as
Roger Sharpe, who had helped him at Game Plan. He concluded by
saying that he expects Game Plan to become a "major force" in
pinball in the future.
The next speaker was Tom Kayhill of the Williams Electronics
customer services department. His talk, complete with
demonstrations on a brand new Williams COMET, gave us some
insight into the new solid state ('digital') pinballs and their
built-in features which aid the operator in the field. Tom said
he was fairly new in the industry, coming into this line of work
only since the introduction of digitals, which he said he thought
would be the "next collectibles."
He then said that "collecting money keeps the industry
going" and that "operators need bookkeeping". He then proceeded
to describe the 'bookkeeping' features built into the new
Williams pins. He showed us that the game's internal computer
automatically kept track of (and displayed to the operator upon
request) such information as: how many coins were taken in, how
many games had been played, how many replays awarded, the total
balls played, the number of 'extra balls', total minutes the game
had been played, and, of course, high score information.
Regarding "replay payback percentage" he said 25 to 30 percent
was about right, but that this should be adjusted to fit the
players' skill at each location.
Tom then digressed for a minute on the subject of the future
of pinball. He said that novelty games and pinballs were coming
back and that he felt pinball was not "going to die" as some had
predicted. He believed pinball was going to hit another 'peak'
in the near future, and that its popularity would keep on
'cycling' as it had in the past.
He next broached the subject of maintenance of solid-state
pins. He first reminded us that the gold contacts should never
be filed. He said that playfield maintenance of digitals was no
different than for electro-mechanicals. He stated that the coils
were almost the same, but that coils on digitals had diodes which
must be checked when a bad coil is suspected. He finally
remarked that we should treat the "module boards" as 'black
boxes' and generally replace them as modules rather than trying
to troubleshoot a suspected board.
Tom ended with an explanation, and "live demonstration", of
the built-in test features of most digitals, and Williams games
in particular. The tests shown included: display test, sound
test, lamp test, coil test, and switch test. He also said that
they had 'CPU' and sound board 'self-tests' built into those
The next speaker was Mr. Steve Epstein, owner of the
Broadway Arcade in New York City and long time friend and pinball
playing buddy of Roger Sharpe. Since Roger was unable to attend
the show he asked Steve if he would come instead, and he did.
Steve is a devoted pinball fan, an ardent player, and has done
some designing including a game for Williams and assisting Roger
in the design of SHARPSHOOTER. Steve has been the owner of the
Broadway Arcade since 1970, a business his father started in
Steve began by saying that he started playing pinball when
he was 3 or 4 years old at an arcade his father then managed in
Newark, NJ. He said he had played pinball most of his life and
told of meeting Roger Sharpe in 1976 and that they have been
friends and 'playing buddies' ever since.
The theme of his talk was that "pinball is a 'sport', a
'religion' and a 'science'." He said as a 'religion' it is
"something you believe in." He said that idea was exemplified by
Harry Williams. He told of meeting Harry at an AMOA convention
several years back and said "after one second I felt I had known
him all my life." He remembered Harry's enthusiasm for all the
new things at the show.
He then talked about pinball being a 'science'. He said
this was borne out by the skill of the designers, such as the
'greats' appearing at the Expo. He then commented that he never
believed pinball was 'dead' as some had said. He never gave up
on pinball and his present arcade has 63 games, 25 of which are
Finally Steve talked about pinball as a 'sport'. He said in
1977 he came up with the idea of a "pinball league". He
developed a 'scoring system' which made all games 'equal', even
though they had different score values, etc. He had Saturday
morning tournaments at his arcade and individual 'leagues' seven
days a week. For instance, he said they had a "father and son
league" which was sponsored by the Big Brothers organization. He
said he felt that "pinball can be a healthy family experience."
Steve ended by telling about a pinball tournament he was
organizing in New York as a fund raiser for United Cerebral
Palsy. He said if this proved to be a success that he might
organize a similar tournament nation-wide.
COIN MACHINES# '101'
The final item on the lecture agenda was a two man show
dubbed "Coin Machines '101'". The featured speakers were two
grand gentlemen with a combination of 101 years in the coin
machine industry (hence the title): Paul 'Mr. pinball' Calamari
and Bob Breither, who among many achievements, were responsible
for setting up the Bally service schools in the late 1940's.
Bob began with a little bit of his history in the industry. He
first remarked, however, that he also had played "Baby In The
Hole" when he was a kid, the game Harvey Heiss had described
earlier in the afternoon.
Bob recalled that he got his first job at Bally in 1932
after his father had told him if he wanted a car he had to go to
work. His father got him an interview, but he had to go back
four times before he was finally hired to work on the production
crew. He remembered that Paul's uncle was the one who first
trained him, and that his starting salary was 25 cents an hour.
He said his first job was straightening steel rods but he
was shortly advanced to inspector. His job was inspecting
playboards for BALLYHOO into which girls in the production line
had inserted tiny nails ('pins'). He told of one girl, Mary, who
was a fast worker but not very exacting, as most of her pins were
not straight. When he rejected some of her work she hit him over
the head with her hammer, knocking him out! He said, however,
they later became friends and even dated.
Bob next told an interesting story about the first time he
attended a coin-machine show in 1933. He was told by his
superiors not to "fool around" during the show, but after a day
or two he decided to go to a nearby bar for a beer. He said a
guy sitting next to him at the bar asked him what business he was
in, and when he told him it was pingames the fellow remarked
"that business will be good for 50 years". It turned out that
this fellow was none other than Will Rogers, and he was certainly
Bob next remarked that pinball has changed a lot over the
years and cited the introduction of the bumper in 1937 and the
flipper in 1947 as important changes which caused growth in the
industry. He said that he was intimately associated with "one-
balls" and "bingos" as was Paul Calamari. He said these games
were quite complicated and they felt that training was necessary
since the people servicing pingames did not use any type of
'logical troubleshooting methods' in those days. He said the
first Bally service school was held in Portland in 1947.
Paul Calamari next took over and began with a little of his
personal history. He said he started working at Bally in April
1937 and that his uncle, John O'Brian, got him the job. He
started as a solderer on BUMPER at 40 cents an hour he recalled.
He said he was also a pitcher on the Bally softball team and when
he was later layed off from Bally Ray Maloney's father missed him
on the ball team and got him rehired, this time as a "blue print
boy". In this job he helped the engineers, and the chief
engineer, Wayne Price, made him a 'helper'. He worked at Bally
he said until the war, was in the service, and returned to the
company after the war.
He next talked more about the Bally service schools, which
he said Bob had instigated. He said at that time 95% of the
pingame mechanics could not read a schematic. At these schools
he said they taught the mechanics to think of a game as a 'single
system' and of the schematic as a "road map". They tried to
instill confidence in the service men. They were taught how to
use a volt/ohm meter and the use of "clip lead methods" of
testing. He said at Bally they felt that "service after the sale
was the most important thing."
Finally Paul gave his views on the great inventions in the
coin machine field. He called Harry Williams "the father of
pinball" and said he worked with Harry and Lyn Durant in 1938.
He said they were "barnstormers" at that time, working 'free-
lance' and not actually on the company payroll. He also recalled
that Harry and Lyn fought a lot. He then gave his candidates for
the most important inventions in coin machines over the years.
He said these were the "tilt", the bumper, the flipper, the
'shuffle alley' and "bumper pool". Paul's talk was then followed
by a brief question and answer session with him and Bob
'fielding' questions from the floor.
On Saturday evening came the banquet. The hall was filled,
and during the pre-banquet cocktail hour everybody had a good
chance to mingle and talk with the honored guests from the coin
machine industry. Then we all sat down to eat, and the food was
pretty good too. The small groups at each table, of course,
talked more about pinball while eating and waiting for the guest
speaker, Mr. Alvin Gottlieb.
Alvin's talk was accompanied by slides featuring many photos
of the Gottlieb plant, various Gottlieb employees over the years,
and pictures of many early games. Many of the game pictures
shown were recognized as being from the "Pictorial History of
Pinball" series put out a few years ago by trade magazine
publisher, and long time coin machine industry figure, Bill Gersh
in his publication Marketplace.
Alvin's speech included many of his childhood remembrances
of his father and the many Saturday afternoons he spent at the
plant. He told of always finding interesting items to 'play with'
at the plant and of one time attempting to eat some of the mints
used in the "mint venders", which he said tasted like chalk.
One of the interesting things he said about his father, Dave
Gottlieb, was that you could always tell what mood he was in by
the angle of his cigar; the higher up it pointed the angrier he
was. Near the end of his talk he told what I considered a very
funny story about his father after he had retired and moved to
Florida. He said his father loved to fish and often went out in
his boat the "Flipper III". Each time, as they were returning to
shore, he had his crew wrap his 'catch' in small packages which
he would deliver to many of his friends on his way home. One day
while making one of these deliveries a friend said to him, "Dave,
there's something I just don't understand; here you retire from a
'cushy' job in Chicago, making lots of money, and come down here
to Miami and start a 'fish route'."
One interesting thing occurred during Alvin's talk. While
showing a picture of him and some other people at the factory
just after the war he noticed that he was smoking a cigarette in
the photo and remarked that he had quit smoking many years ago.
At that point the audience broke into a spontaneous round of
applause, a heartening happening for a devout anti-smoker like
Alvin's talk and slides were very interesting and gave much
insight into the history of D. Gottlieb and Company and his
colorful father, coin machine pioneer David Gottlieb. His talk
also made references to his father's philanthropic endeavors,
including the Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Chicago which was
named for him. I should point out that Alvin is "following in
his father's footsteps" when it comes to community involvement.
After Alvin's talk show producer Rob Berk took the podium
for some final banquet events. He first did an interesting
thing. He asked everybody in the audience who was associated
with the coin machine industry to stand up. A large portion of
the audience did. He then asked all those who had been in the
industry for less than five years to sit down. He continued
this, for less than 10,15,20,etc...up to 50. The group standing
got smaller and smaller, but even at 50 years there were several
people standing, including Harvey Heiss.
Next we had prizes, the result of a raffle that was held.
Some people won pinball related items, such as hardbound copies
of Roger Sharpe's book, "Pinball", and even a backglass. Then
came the presentation of some awards.
First Alvin Gottlieb was presented with a plaque for his
outstanding contributions to the coin machine industry. Then
there was a surprise presentation by Steve Kordek to Harvey Heiss
of a plaque presented to Genco in 1948 for the "Game Of The Year"
awarded for Genco's SCREWBALL. Steve said he had the plaque all
these years but thought that Harvey really should have it.
Harvey gratefully accepted.
Next Rob presented "certificates of appreciation" to all the
speakers at the show. Finally, Rob made a special presentation
to "our English cousins", Gary Flower and Ray Foster of the
British "Pinball Owner's Association", in appreciation for their
making the long trip to attend the Expo. It was a box of candy
which Rob said he thought appropriate considering the English's
love for sweets. That ended the banquet, a very enjoyable event
of pinball Expo '85.
Certainly one of the most popular areas of the show was the
exhibit hall. It was filled from almost the minute it opened,
every time it was open, and was the last place people congregated
during the closing moments of the show. It was also the place
where a good portion of the 'interface' took place between the
show's attendees, and where collectors, players, etc, got a good
chance to talk to the industry 'greats', as most of them also
spend considerable time in the exhibit hall. In fact, one of the
first visitors to the hall was Steve Kordek who made it a point
to introduce himself to most everybody who was in the room, which
I thought was a very friendly thing for him to do.
What was there on display? A little of everything that
interests pinball people. As far as machines were concerned,
there was a wide assortment; from the early classic games of the
1930's up to the latest in solid state pinballs by Williams,
Premier, Game Plan, and Bally. There were a lot of games for
sale for the collector or player; some just for admiring, like
the marvelous collection of 1930's pins displayed by COIN SLOT
author and collector Ed Smith; and many to be played,
particularly the latest releases from the pinball industry. The
players at the show had a fine time being challenged by the fine
new games on display, and there was hardly a minute that the
electronic sounds of the "digitals" were not heard above the
rumble of conversation in the hall.
In addition to machines there were other items available for
sale. There were materials for game maintenance available from
such outfits as Wico and wildcat. Then there was 'paper', one of
the popular items for many collectors. Rich Grant from St. Louis
had many "new-old-stock" instruction and award cards for Gottlieb
games from the sixties, etc. These were very good sellers as
that type of material is usually hard for the collector to find.
There were also brochures, a very popular item for many
collectors. Expo co-host Mike Pacak had a large selection of
flyers for sale/trade, and brochures were also available from
Donal Murphy and others.
Another popular item available from at least two exhibit
participants was pinball backglasses. Many collectors, such as
my friend Sam Harvey (who incidentally took the fine photographs
appearing with this article), now have a "side collection" of
backglasses. Premier had many glasses for sale as did a company
called merit industries. This later outfit practically caused a
"glass rush" when, in the middle of the show, they suddenly
reduced their price for backglasses to $10 each. Many nice
glasses were purchased at the show for reasonable prices, and
they were indeed a very popular item.
As a sidelight to the backglass story I should mention that
on Sunday afternoon the exhibit hall was visited by none other
than Dave Christensen, the former Bally artist who created most
of the fabulous artwork on the Bally games in the seventies,
including wizard and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. Dave had with him some
original art, in backglass form, which was autographed and sold
for $50 each. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave and talking
with him for several minutes. He was a very friendly and
interesting personality. Dave was certainly a surprise guest at
pinball Expo '85 and really helped to round out the happenings in
the exhibit hall.
THE FUTURE OF PINBALL EXPO
Well, that concludes my coverage of the fabulous Pinball
Expo '85 and all of its marvelous guests speakers, except as I
said earlier, for a future article I plan to do on the "Designers
Seminar". While talking to show producer Rob Berk a few weeks
ago I found out that over 150 people pre-registered for the show
and about that many more came in through the door on Sunday when
the show was opened up to the "general public". It was certainly
a fantastic and well attended event.
Rob also told me that plans are being made for pinball Expo
'86, which is being planned for the same location on November
23. For more information you should call Rob at (216) 369-1192.
Video tapes are also available from him of Expo '85, but only in
VHS format I'm sorry to say.
So here was Pinball Expo '85, hopefully the first of many
more to come. Let's support Expo '86 so this can be possible.
This was only the "first hurrah!"