Written by jpeatty, published June 10th, 2013. 6 comment(s).
I had a strange childhood. I was born in 1983, so I'm a pretty young pinball fan. While my friends were strutting around with their walkmans listening to cassette tapes, I was digging through stacks of 8-tracks and LPs in my parents storage room. My first solid state repair experience was done on hi-fi systems and 8-track players. I didn't even own a CD player until the year 2000, and it was 6 years old and bought at an auction!
I'm a fish out of water, my childhood took place in the wrong decade. I fell in love with pinball before I ever saw my first machine. Remember those crates of LPs I mentioned? Yeah, I discovered The Who in there. They're still my favorite band to this day. I listened to Pinball Wizard over and over, before I even understood what the song was talking about. We didn't have any arcades in my small town, and by the time I was old enough to appreciate them, even the nearest arcades didn't have pinball machines. So unlike a lot of the stories I've read here on Pinside, I didn't grow up playing pinball, I grew up dreaming about it.
When I graduated high school I had a good chunch of money saved up and I knew what I was going to do with it. I found a deluxe Star Wars machine and was all prepped to buy it. My dad shattered my dream and refused to let me buy it. One day I will find it again. Jump ahead another 11 years and here I am. I finally bought my first pinball machine in April 2013. I was in a salvage store and spotted an old jukebox (another piece of history that I'm fascinated with) and was asking to store owner about it. We got to talking, and he told me he had a pinball machine in the back that wasn't working and he wanted to get rid of it. My heart stopped. He took me back through his warehouse and pulled a dusty tarp off of a William's Laser Ball. I didn't care what theme it was, it was a pinball machine!! He told me he needed $200 out of it, so I rushed home and talked to my wife about it. She said I should get it for myself as an anniversary present from her!! OK!! I rushed back with a trailer and cash and loaded that bad boy up!
My beautiful red headed space lady shooting lasers from her fingers!! I brought her home and set her neatly under my stairs. Now...one minor detail...it didn't work...at all...didn't even boot. I just got a loud hum from the speaker. Oh well, can't be that difficult to repair right!? Oh, so naive. I pulled the fuses, tested them, replaced the broken ones and flipped the switch! BAM!! Now I have a loud hum AND LIGHTS!! This is the point where I decided to start doing some reading. I went to law school, not engineering school, schematics looked like doodles to me, but at least I have good research skills.
Rather than butcher my first and only pinball machine with a hot pointy soldering iron I had no idea how to weild, I decided to find someone that knew what they were doing. I looked around the internet and met Bob Sokol at twobits.com. I boxed up my cpu and driver board to send to him. At the post office, I got into a conversation with the postmaster about what I was shipping. He then told me he had three pinball machines he needed to clear out of his work shop. WHAT?!?! He only wanted a hundred dollars each, so I told him I'd come by that afternoon and have a look. At his shop I found a Sega/Dataeast Baywatch, a William's EM Pat Hand, and a William's Space Shuttle. Jackpot! He was telling me a story about how he'd offered a guy the two solid states for free if he could fix the EM for him. Now, I just told you, I have no clue how to repair a pinball machine at this point, but I did know how to turn one on and reset it. So while he was rummaging around for some tokens, I pushed some buttons, flipped some switches, and generally poked around. When he came back, I was playing pinball! Needless to say, he thought I knew what I was doing and even looked impressed. He gave me the other two machines and his pinball machine jack for free, and he even delivered them!
I failed to mention that my wife was out of town for a couple of weeks when this went down. She was supportive of the first machine, but not too happy to discover two more in our living room when she came home....BUT THEY WERE FREE!!
OK, flash forward a few more days...Bob Sokol has done a beautiful repair job on my boards! I rush home to pop them back into Laser Ball and....nothing, nada, zilch. Same loud hum with lights. Uh oh. I may have miscalculated.
I spend the next few days deep in the throes of despair, and then I receive a phone call from my dad. Remember the guy that lock blocked me on the Star Wars machine? Well, he was doing a job at a guys house who had a pinball machine. He knew I was interested in them since I now owned three and asked the guy if he wanted to sell it. It wasn't working and he needed the space, so long story short, I got a William's Time Warp for $100. Now I have four broken pinball machines sitting in my living room...I know, it's a big room!
Back to work on Laser Ball. I know I have a good CPU/driver combo, so I call my buddy Joe in to help me figure it out. He's never seen the inside of a pinbal machine, but he knows his way around a circuit board. We spend an entire Saturday tracing things down, and finally realize that it's the power supply, but we have no ideas on how to fix it. Then a light bulb goes off in my head...I have another system 6 power supply sitting in my Time Warp! I jerk it out and pop it into Laser Ball, and voila! She fires right into attract mode, minus a couple dozen lights. We're playing pinball! Really, at that moment I was the happiest man on earth, never mind that only two of the three flippers were working. We spent the rest of the evening getting her in a playable state.
Flash forward another couple of weeks and here we are! I've been reading pinside.com forums for awhile now and decided it's time to join this great community. I've spent the last few weeks pouring over repair guides and manuals for my remaining three systems. I've traced down problems ordered parts, taken crash courses in soldering, and now I'm waiting on parts so I can get Baywatch and Time Warp running. Last week, I didn't know what a bridge rectifier was, next week, I'll be replacing one.
So, that's my story. That's how a kid who was born into the wrong decade found his way back to the golden age of arcade entertainment. I look forward to meeting you all and getting to know you!