I've read a few restoration threads here, but I think this one might have been a bit more involved than most.
People who are aware of this nightmare of a project have been after me to write about it here for a while now, but I've been putting it off, as I'd likely end up writing something about the length of a novel here.
About three years ago, I received an email message from my brother Scottiedot with an attached photo of a pinball machine that was available at a local estate sale.
“Any idea what this is? I can't tell on my phone”
I spent about 40 minutes at IPDB, and came to the conclusion that it was a 1964 Gottlieb Big Top – a 2 player add-a-ball game. Sounded cool, so I suggested that he pick it up if it were cheap.
He agreed to buy it, sight unseen, for $50. For him, the fun pretty much ended there.
After he picked it up, he discovered a few problems:
Backglass – About 1/3 of the paint was missing and what remained was badly faded.
Playfield – While all of the artwork was still there, all of the color was gone. Paint would flake off if you touched it. Playfield plastics were heat damaged and discolored. All 11 playfield inserts had turned brown. Pop bumpers were missing caps. The apron was rusty.
Backbox – In addition to problems with the glass, the plastic rails that hold the score reels in place had all disintegrated, leaving the reels just hanging by their wires. The plywood to which the score reels were mounted had badly warped, and the piece of MDF between the plywood and the backglass that surrounded the lights in the backbox had completely turned to dust.
Every metal bracket inside the backbox was rusted, as were most of the steel parts on the 8 score reels.
The light sockets on the playfield and backbox were so badly corroded that the bulbs couldn't be removed.
Cabinet – The coin door and coin entry plate were completely rusted. All of the chrome was gone on the lockdown bar end caps. The legs were missing. The drop down portion of the cabinet broke off and the bottom fell out. A previous owner had covered the entire cabinet in green pool table felt.
The inside of the cabinet reeked of urine. Scott called me to tell me about it and said, “A possum was living in it.”
How did he know? “It's still there.”
Yep. Apparently, an opossum had been using the cabinet as a home. It died there, right on top of the AG relay banks. It appeared that the animal had been living in there for quite some time.
Inside, the entire score motor board was saturated with urine. The AG relay banks were blue and crystallized. The score motor, all four relay banks, the transformer, and the tilt relay latching mechanism were rusted, as were all of the parts for the playfield latch/release. Somebody had wired up a standard wall light switch to start a game.
Not surprisingly, my brother declared that doing anything with this machine was beyond either his level of interest or experience. He asked me if I wanted the game.
Sometime later, while visiting, I took a look at it to decide if I could do anything with it.
Had the game been a Bally Circus or a Chicago Coin Dolphin, I'd have helped him haul it to the landfill and bid it good riddance. But it was a Gottlieb Big Top – one of only 10 two-player AAB games that Gottlieb made. It was their first two-player AAB, and the only one they ever made that was designed from the ground up as an AAB, rather than being a conversion of a replay machine.
It also had relatively low production of 750 and most importantly, it had a rep as a good playing game (currently #18 in the Top 300 EM machines at the IPDB.)
An interesting game and a hard one to find. I thought it might be worth trying to salvage the machine. Restoring this game would allow me to learn some new skills, and I'd have the satisfaction of knowing that if I could restore this train wreck of a game, I could likely restore anything.
There was just one other problem:
I live in Utah and the game was in Texas, and I wasn't yet sure that it shouldn't go to the landfill and I was reluctant to spend $400 or so to ship it to my house if all I was going to do was throw it away.
I did a huge favor for a friend of mine – I provided the labor to restore a Bally Kiss machine for him. In exchange for that, he paid to ship the game we were now calling “Possum” to my house. It sat there for nearly 6 months before I could bring myself to even touch it. I'd just stare at it every now and again, mostly trying to figure out what to do about the playfield.
I had a strong urge to throw it away, but both my brother and my friend now had money invested in the game, even if I didn't. Out of respect for their investments, I thought I should attempt a restoration.
I got it done, but it was a pretty ugly, time consuming, and relatively expensive project. The restoration of Possum took 20 months.
Much more to come.