THE PINBALL EXPO '99 SEMINARS
by Russ Jensen
WHAT TO TAKE ON A PINBALL SERVICE CALL
Rob Berk introduced the speaker for the first seminar, Scott Sheridan from Ohio, to speak on the subject of what one should have in his pinball maintenance toolbox, that bringing on a round of applause. Scott then passed out a handout to the audience containing the list of items he was going to discuss. He then told a joke featuring Expo producers Rob Berk and Mike Pacak.
Scott began by introducing himself as "Doctor Scott", saying he has been known by that title for quite a few years, he then began to tell of his "history" concerning pinball. Scott told us that he bought his first pinball in 1974, saying that a disk jockey he knew taught him about the games. In 1979, Scott went on, he purchased 40 woodrail pingames and began working on them one at a time.
Then telling about his early "contacts" with pinball enthusiasts, Scott said that his first such contact was "yours truly", followed by Gordon Hasse and Steve Young. He then told us that his real love was fixing the games. When he got married, Scott said, he had to sell many of his games.
We were then told by Scott about attending the first Pinball Expo in 1985. After that, he went on, he formed a "business plan" for a pinball store in his home town which he eventually opened. Scott then told us that today he does approximately 100 to 150 home sales a year, adding that he often does home service calls as well. After telling us his store hours, Scott said that he was ready to go over his list of items for a service kit, commenting that he hoped it would result in a two way exchange of ideas. He then began going over the list in the handout.
The first item on Scott's list was "alligator clips" to use as a quick fix for a faulty fuse holder. This was followed by batteries for solid-state games and the associated battery holder. After mentioning solid-state circuit boards, Scott said you should include a supply of common bumper parts. After then mentioning chime box parts, he said that spare coin mechanisms should also be included
Scott next mentioned contact spray (which he emphasized should not be used to clean switch contacts - only for volume controls on newer games), then saying that spare solid-state display ;units should be included in ;;your kit. After then mentioning spare drop targets, Scott said you should include electronic items such as spare microchips. Flipper parts were then discussed in some detail.
After next mentioning fuses, fuse holders, and fuse clips, Scott talked about glass cleaners. He then discussed types of light bulbs you should carry, followed by locks. The next thing in Scott's box was miscellaneous hardware (nuts, bolts, screws, etc.), followed by parts for the Molex connectors used in solid-state games.
Following a discussion of "Optos" (optical sensing devices used in many solid-state games), Scott mentioned having spare balls for games, as well as spare electrical power cord plugs. He then talked about "plunger parts" (rods, springs, etc.), followed by rubber rings. Scott next suggested carrying a Sales Book and a calculator for your financial transactions, then talking about spare coil sleeves.
At that point Scott mentioned the various types of coils one should carry for games of each of the major manufacturers. He then discussed "spinners" used on games, as well as the various types of switches and switch parts one should carry. After then talking about "up-kickers", Scott ended his description of toolbox items with wax for playfields.
After completing the list Scott told us that he also operates a few pins on location, adding that he often puts For Sale signs on them. He then asked the audience if anyone had any suggestions for additions to the list he had just presented? When someone then mentioned game "plastics" (posts, etc.), Scott said that he also carries a box of miscellaneous hardware with him on service calls. When someone also suggested carrying circuit breakers, Scott remarked that you should know that they are equivalent to "slow-blo" fuses.
Getting back to his home service business for a moment, Scott told us that normally he charges $44 per hour, plus fifty cents per mile, commenting that some people charge their "per hour fee" while driving as well, but he thinks that is excessive. Scott then told about the warrantees he provides when he sells a game.
At that point pinball dealer Todd Tuckey in the audience suggested having what are called "Chicklets" in the toolbox - a small device used to splice two wires together. After that a type of hand cleaner was discussed for use as a playfield cleaner to be used prior to waxing the field.
Finally, someone asked Scott if he preferred working on electro-mechanical or solid-state machines? Scott answered that electro-mechanicals were still his favorites, adding that he sells more solid-state games however. That ended Scott's presentation and he was given a good round of applause.
FRANCE: PINBALL & TECHNOLOGY - AN ENDLESS LOVE STORY FROM NORMANDY
Rob Berk next introduced Frenchman Bernard Cohen who was to present the next seminar. Bernard was then given a round of applause. He then began by thanking Rob for letting him speak, adding that he was "excited to be here". After telling us that he was going to present a "slide show", Bernard remarked that what he was going to talk about he considered "an endless love story".
After showing the Internet address (URL) of his organization's website, Bernard began telling about the region in France, Normandy, where he lived. He started by remarking that it was located in the Northwest part of the country and was a two to three hour drive from Paris, adding that all pinballs imported into France come through a seaport in Normandy.
After next telling more about the area where he lived and its products, Bernard mentioned that many Canadians come to visit the area. He then told about the town in which he lived which he said had a population of about 35,000, mentioning that Renault automobiles were manufactured there.
"Who am I", Bernard then said, then telling us he was 48 years old and had three children ages 8, 13, and 16. He then told us that he is a Mechanical Engineer by profession and has worked in Quality Assurance at Toshiba for the past ten years.
At that point Bernard began telling about his interest in pinball. He told us that his parents owned a small café and that in 1972 he bought a 1963 Gottlieb SWING ALONG and set it up in their restaurant, adding that awhile later he bought a 1970 Bally FIRECRACKER which he still owns. He then told us that he was really not much of a pinball player.
In 1991, Bernard then told us, he came up with the concept for his "techomusse". His idea he said was to help children by using pinball components as a learning tool to teach them about technical developments from World War I up through today. He then told us that in that year he established a non-profit organization for that purpose.
.Bernard next commented that as part of his project they assembled a collection of pingames, as well as information on pinball history. Part of the purpose for his museum, he went on, is to help people without jobs by putting them to work in the organization. We were then again told about their Internet web page, including its Internet address (URL).
At that point Bernard presented a timeline for the project. In 1993, he told us, they hired their first employee, saying that by 1996 they had a staff of six people. By 1997, Bernard went on, their staff consisted of 20 people, adding that in 1998 they added five "computer people". He then began giving some examples of what they have done.
Bernard then told us that their current pinball collection consists of 120 pingames, mostly from the 1960's and 1970's, but the collection also includes a few early "bagatelles" and four Gottlieb woodrails. He then commented that they had several French made games in the collection, then showing some pictures of some of the collection.
We were next told by Bernard that in their museum they had displays showing how pingames work, which visitors could operate by pushing buttons. He went on to say that their displays were very attractive, which he said also included some "lightboxes" displaying pinball advertising flyers.
Bernard then told of some multimedia touchscreen displays they made for the museum, saying that the software for these was produced by their staff. He then told us that they had also created 52 computer "screen savers". After next telling how he was invited to attend the Expo by Rob Berk, Bernard told of a computer CD-ROM they were going to produce and sell at a modest cost, describing its contents. He then thanked the audience for listening to his story which drew a round of applause.
When Bernard then asked if anyone had any questions, someone asked about the cost of putting the museum together? Bernard answered that it was difficult to say exactly, but that it was "rather expensive". That ended the presentation.
THE MAKING OF NEBULA
Rob Berk next told us that the speakers for the next seminar were from Montreal, Canada, and they had built an entire pinball machine "from scratch", adding that the game would be on display in the Exhibit Hall. He then introduced brothers Charles and Marc Goyette, bringing on a round of applause.
One of the brothers began by saying that they will show how it is possible to build a pingame at home. He said they would use slides to show how they did it, including the material used. We were then told that they designed and made all printed circuit boards used in their game, and also that they were both Mechanical Engineers by profession.
After showing slides showing the process they used to produce the boards (etching, etc.), we were told that it took quite an investment to complete the project. After then telling us that they made all the mechanical parts for the game, including the switches, we were shown them creating the parts for the pop-bumpers, then showing the flippers and slingshot kickers which they also fabricated.
The brothers next told us that they even made their own rivets, and fabricated many of the mechanical items using brass, also using copper for some items such as the cabinet rails. We were then told that they also fabricated the wiring harnesses, and then shown them installing the various components on the playfield.
Turning to the use of computers to aid them in their task, they told us they used AUTOCAD software, and also PRINTSHOP to prepare the game's artwork, including backglass, playfield, and cabinet art. After that the brothers told us that they made the cabinet out of plywood, then telling us that they even fabricated the coin door.
After then remarking that the score display was not yet working completely, they showed us a photo of the game as it existed then. We were then told that it took them about three years, working evenings and weekends, to get to where they were at that time. The brothers next asked if anyone had any questions?
The first question the brothers were asked is why did they decide to design and build their game from scratch, and what was the cost? It was answered that they wanted to try their own ideas, and also that the cost of the project was hard to calculate, but the materials cost was around $2000. When next asked if they wound their own coils, they answered that they used "factory coils".
When someone next asked about their motivation for doing it, they answered that it was to be a "learning tool" for them, adding that also having the game to play definitely figured in. The brothers were then asked if they would make their plans and software available to others? It was answered that it would be hard to use them to make a different machine. When then asked if they created the software for the game they answered "yes".
The brothers were then asked how they decided on the theme for the game, and they answered it was a "general theme". When they were next asked how they created the backglass, we were told that they used a "transparent sheet" with the artwork on it which was back-lighted.
The brothers were then asked for a synopsis of the game rules, and they told about the game having up to four balls in play at one time. The last question asked was at the start of the project did they have any idea of how much work it would take? The boys answered "at the start, probably not". The seminar ended with the audience giving the brothers a good round of applause.
The next two seminars - I WAS THERE: REMINISCENCES OF A GOTTLIEB ENGINEER by John Osborn, and THE JOYS OF HOT WAX & OTHER KOO-WELL STUPH by Tim Arnold are to be covered by others so I will not report on them here.
THE FUTURE OF COMPETITIVE PINBALL
Rob Berk introduced Roger Chesnavich as the next seminar speaker, remarking that he was "really into pinball tournaments". After telling us that Roger was "a guy with new ideas", he was given a round of applause.
Roger began by remarking that he had been playing pinball since he was twelve years old, saying he liked to compete. He then said that he got the idea of having a pinball league after he met a gentleman named Dave Stewart. Roger then told of once playing in a small tournament in his home town of Pittsburgh, at the time only seven people competed in it, adding that six years later that tournament is still growing.
After commenting that the second annual national pinball tournament had a $1200 prize, Roger told us that Rob Berk had ask him to "talk about his ideas on what is important in tournaments, and what is being done". He next remarked that pinball should be compared to other sports. Roger then continued, saying that the largest prizes in current pinball tournaments are five or six thousand dollars, comparing that to other sports with prizes as high as $100,000.
Using the game of darts as an example, Roger said that the prizes in some tournaments are around $50,000, adding that other examples of high prize sports are bowling and billiards. He then told us that pinball tournaments have a lot of problems, and that he was there to address those problems, and offer possible solutions.
Other people's proposed solutions, Roger went on, include more advertising sponsors, getting operators to properly maintain the games that are used, and get game manufacturers to be more "league friendly". These things, he then remarked, require "other people doing something for us".
Roger then started telling of his personal proposed solutions. He began by saying that you have to "look inside the sport itself". Roger then remarked that if you try to run a tournament, when the day for it comes around it's hard to get people involved, adding that there are "always problems" and that solving them should help everybody involved.
One idea he has, Roger went on, is to form a "World Pinball Association". Why this should be done, he continued, is that if someone wants to form a pinball league they could have somewhere to go for information, adding that small associations could work with local arcades, etc., in setting up tournaments.
Roger then began discussing what he thought were some problems with pinball leagues. First, he said tournaments are "fun, but also awkward", adding that an association could help by providing information to people interested in forming a league in any place. Another problem, he went on, is that setting up leagues and tournaments necessitate "judgement calls", then citing the fact that new machines have "little nuances which have to be considered" requiring that the game's "rule sheets" be obtained ahead of time.
After then commenting that if you have the rule sheets to go by you don't have to make "rules" when a problem occurs, Roger told us that league start-up tasks have to be planned in advance. He then remarked that a "pinball player rating system" should be established, having separate standards for beginners and for "wizards".
Roger next broached one of the main problems in pinball tournaments, as well as pinball in general, the fact that all machines on location are not maintained equally by operators. He then commented that a world organization could set "fallback rules" to cover the maintenance situation.
At the point Roger tried to compare pinball tournaments with the Olympic Games. In the Olympics, he commented, they have separate trials at each level. He then said that a world pinball organization could also do something like that. Last year, Roger went on, the top teams in each league qualified for the "finals".
After telling us that he would be available to talk to other leagues about forming a world pinball organization, Roger commented that the only way such an organization could exist is for lots of people to contribute their ideas as to how it should work. He then ended by saying that leagues must "standardize" and also "pick things that work". Roger was then given a round of applause.
1990 - 1999 WILLIAMS/BALLY PINBALL REPAIR
At that point Rob Berk introduced the speakers for the next seminar, WPC Pinball Repair, Rob Hayes and Clay Harrel from Michigan. Clay began by telling us that they "are not dealers or business people", just hobbyists. He then commented that there are not too many electronic pinball repair experts as compared to electro-mechanical repair experts. After then telling us that he frequents the "rec.games.pinball" (r.g.p.) Internet newsgroup, Clay commented that this was his second Expo presentation, having presented a seminar at last year's show also.
Clay next told us that he was a "Systems Analyst" by profession, and Rob works for a hospital. He then thanked Marvin of "Marvin's Mechanical Museum" from his home town for giving him space on his website for their pinball repair information, drawing a large round of applause for Marvin
At that point Clay began telling of the various repair guides he has (or will have) online. In addition to the Williams WPC guide which covers Williams pins from 1990-1999 (FUNHOUSE to CACTUS CANYON), he said he would be coming out with one for Gottlieb "System 11" games in a few weeks to supplement the Gottlieb "System 80" guide which is currently on the website. Clay also told of the guides for Bally/Stern games made between 1977 and 1985, as well as his electro-mechanical repair and restoration guides.
After commenting that in the future he expects to work on a repair guide for Date East games, Clay told about other online guides he has up including "Gottlieb Roto-Target Restoration", and also information and photos of post-war "Pitch and Bat" baseball games. Rob then got up and started telling about their subject for this seminar "WPC pinball repair"
Rob began by saying that WPC games could be divided into six "phases of evolution". The earliest of these he then told us were games using alpha-numeric displays. Next came "dot matrix" displays, followed by the beginning of the use of the "Fliptronics" electronic flippers. Following that, Rob went on, there was the beginning of the use of the "DCS" sound card upgrade, followed by the addition of the "WPCS Security Chip". He then said that the sixth and current system was the "WPC95" system.
Getting down to basics, Rob told us that the first step in troubleshooting a malfunctioning game is to check the fuses, adding that most later games have European style fuses. Next he told of checking the game's "GI" (General Illumination) section, giving information about that. Rob then commented that leaving power on to your games has its "pros and cons", including the effect on the life of the game's displays.
At that point Rob began telling about what to do if a coil in a game doesn't work. After using the game's built-in diagnostics to locate any non-working coils, Rob said that you should check for breaks in "common wires", and suggested using a "clip lead" to check for power connector problems. After then telling how to test driver transistors, Rob described how to install a replacement transistor.
The next subject discussed was what he called "false resets" - when a game resets itself during play. Rob said that this can occur if the five volt power supply voltage drops too low. If that problem occurs in a game he suggested checking the bridge rectifier (which in later games were replaced by diodes), and also checking the electrolytic capacitors which he said "do wear out".
Flipper problems were the next things discussed, with Rob suggesting that the first thing to check is the End-Of-Stroke switches. After commenting that fuses should then be checked, he said that the game's built-in diagnostics are often useful when flipper problems occur. After then suggesting that the voltage at the flipper coil be checked, Rob described how to rebuild the flipper mechanism.
Dot-matrix display problems were then briefly discussed, and also problems concerning display lamps used on games. They then switched to the subject of a game's Switch Matrix which we were told was similar to the Lamp Matrix they had previously described, with the balls closing playfield switches which are detected by the matrix. "Direct Switches" were then mentioned which Rob said did not involve the matrix at all.
After discussing "Opto Boards" which use infra-red detection, "Eddy Sensors" which detect ball movements were next mentioned, a method for testing/adjusting them being described. The last type of problem which the guys discussed was "ball trough problems". The newer style of ball trough mechanisms they told us are "gravity fed" and only use one coil. We were then told that sometimes the problem can be solved by filing the trough flat, but if that doesn’t work one should simply replace it.
After telling us that other problems were described in detail in the documentation available on their website, Rob and Clay told us if we had any questions we should "catch them later". When they then thanked us for attending thier seminar the boys received a good round of applause.
The final seminar of the day, THE MAKING OF P2K, I am told will be covered by another article so I will not describe it here. So that ends my coverage of the fine seminars which were presented at Pinball Expo '99.