Monday, April 19, 2010

20 hours of driving over 1,100 miles

This isn't going to get out of hand, Remember that?

March 29th – Brookfield, Wi – Midwest Gaming Classic – Purchased a $10 display, got a free bottle of Frank’s Hot Sauce, Passed on a Xenon for $450 which I regretted 15 minutes later.

April 9th – St. Charles, Il - Chicago Coin-op Show Flea Market

April 10th – St. Charles, Il - Chicago Coin-op Show

April 12th – Brookfield, Il – Met Ken who had a project Pinbot machine Chad was interested in.

April 13th – Indianapolis, In – Picked up a Williams “Blackout” purchased from Josh. He needs some parts and I said I’d look up in Kalamazoo.

April 16th – Dyer, In – Picked up a “Banzai Run” cabinet from Matt who had done the work for Scott on RGP. We picked it up to deliver to Eric, who would then deliver it to Scott. We were meeting Eric at the “Pinball at the Zoo” show. Matt’s got a neat workshop and we discussed spray booths. I bought 3 black pinballs from him. One will go in my “Blackout” that I picked up way back … 3 days ago.

April 17th – Drove through to Kalamazoo and spent the night.  We then drove 15 minutes to Ron’s house to pick up an F-14 cabinet that is in much better shape than mine. Met his friend Todd.

April 17th – Kalamazoo, Continued – “Pinball at the Zoo” show. Many things for sale, some good deals, others… good just out of my price range. Played many games, searched for many parts. It was in a room the size of a high school gym but we were busy all day. There was a reptile show next door. There were lizards for sale.

Items purchased in Kalamazoo:

$100 - F-14 Cabinet, Topper, Legs, and Misc parts still attached.  It's in much better shape than mine and will now make it unnecessary to spend $250 on new cabinet decals.
$20 - Populated “Jungle Lord” playfield. It had a lot better plastics than mine. Between this one and mine I can make a complete game.
$5 – Various LED’s
$2 – Caramel Cream Soda
$12 – XXL Pinball at the Zoo t-shirt.
$3 – White stationary target for my F-14.
$2 – Played Iron Man, just to pump in a couple of bucks. I play it plenty down the street at GameWorks.

Stopped for dinner in Benton Harbor. There was a game room with a NASCAR in it. We pumped a couple of bucks into it before we left.

When the U-Haul trailer was returned and everyone was home and I was able to relax, it was 9 PM on Saturday night. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I remember saying that I wouldn’t let this get out of hand. Twenty hours of driving over 1,100 miles, meeting 8 new people, making 4 or 5 pick-ups or deliveries…. was all of that out of hand?

There were a lot of things that we were waiting to start “After Pinball at the Zoo”. I’m glad we’re there. It’s really time to stop running around and get back to work. I have 3 non-functional pinball machines, a half dozen new tools, dozens of new parts, and a messy workshop.  I haven’t touched any of them in a while and I can't wait to get back to it.

Coming soon, pop-bumper repair.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chat's with Chad

chad: your memory of electronics class is learning about diodes and shit... my memory is putting resistors and capacitors in the outlets before the teacher turned on the power
mike: Well
mike: I was a bad student.
mike: I rarely knew why.
mike: Just how.
mike: Here's a circuit to build.
mike: Ok, part A goes to part B.
mike: There were plenty of exploding capacitors.
mike: Also dodging of charged capacitors.
chad: oh, your blog about the bad light fix... you need to highlight the fact that the diode looked perfectly good visually... so most people would not suspect that the diode was bad.

Gift out of the blue

I got a message out of the blue from Joe who I bought the machine from.

Hi Mike,

How is the restore going? Any thing I can do?

I would like to send you something in the mail to commemorate your first pinball. Send me your address and you should have it in a week. Don't ask it's a surprise, no it doesn't go into or on the machine.


Wow, mysterious!  I sent him my address and a few days later, this cool thing arrived:

When I picked up the machine from Joe, he had a new laser cutter in his garage that he would be using for some top secret projects.  I'm sure this is just the tip of the iceburg.

It's cut into a piece of ... well, I'll let Joe tell you.  At first I wasn't sure if it was OK to post this as I know that sometimes there are licensing concerns, so I asked Joe first.

Hi Mike,

Glad you liked it. Yes, I did it on the laser. That is a piece of Absolute Black Marble. I have been cleared to make these so don't worry about posting it. Display it proud, you have the only one ever made.... for now.


Hah!  FIRST!!!
Thanks Joe, that was really nice!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Field Lamps!

I went to Pinball Life and purchased new replacement LEDs for my field lights.  They're colored and that color makes a big difference with some inserts.  The Reds are OK, the Oranges are better, and the Blue REALLY makes a difference.  I'll post some before and after pictures soon.  This article isn't about LEDs though.  It's about my blue 4K lamp that wouldn't light.

This wasn't a simple bulb replacement.  There was something more complicated that was wrong with this lamp.  I tried some tricks like giving the socket a little tweak, flicking it while it should be flashing, things like that, but none of those things worked.

I decided to test the voltage while the system was in lamp test mode.  This flashes all of the lamps so proper testing can be done.

I can't recommend this as the exact way to troubleshoot this problem.  It's just the way I approached the problem and it worked out.  With the bulbs flashing, I tested the voltage on a working lamp.  My multimeter is not fast enough to lock into a voltage with the bulbs flashing, but I thought that I might get enough information to eliminate wiring as the problem.

The good bulb readings rattled around and as predicted, never locked on a number.  The highest number I would see was 3 volts.  I tested the bad bulb and found that it got a reading, but never above 1.

I tested the one other component on the light socket and that was the diode.

EDIT: (From a chat session)
chad: oh, your blog about the bad light fix... you need to highlight the fact that the diode looked perfectly good visually... so most people would not suspect that the diode was bad.

Testing the known good bulb without removing the Diode from the circuit.

This is a good reading.  I did the same test on the other diode and got this no matter which polarity I tested.

Now, I've read that a diode in circuit can give odd readings, so I decided to clip one lead and test again.  At this point it should be noted that the bulb socket was buried and it was time to unscrew it from the playfield to get proper access.

I dug it out and clipped one lead:


All of these tests yielded the same result.  .0L

So it was time to solder a new diode in place.  Here is the new diode!

After all of this, what was the result?


I was very happy.  This was the first time I didn't need to consult a guide to figure out what the problem was.  It was only one light and the solution wasn't that complex, but it felt good to fix something based solely on my own, if misguided, troubleshooting.

Here's the thing, lets get serious here for a minute.  I have a couple of years of High School electronics under my belt.  But like most people's high school Spanish, I  can barely remember any of it.  It's coming back to me as I go and really, I'm loving it all.  It's not that hard to follow a schematic and to test every component of a circuit to see if it's in spec.

I guess that's the first point.  No one should be afraid to try this.  I'm doing some of these things and I would love to say it's because I know what I'm doing, but really it's just a few tool skills and following instructions.

This blog is a work log and it's supposed to be an adventure with a guy who is learning as he goes, I guess this digression is to let any readers I might have know that I'm aware of that.  I have no delusions of expertise.  I hope someone learns from what I'm doing here not because I'm an authority but because I wasn't afraid to try while others were watching to see what happened.

Now, donde esta mi cafe con leche?

Time slips by...

In an effort to participate in the pinball scene and also stay married and employed, I have had to balance these responsibilities.  Over the past week or so, I have been to the Chicago Coinop Show, off to visit a Pinbot in Brookfield, Il, and I'll be going off to Kalamazoo Michigan over the weekend for Pinball at the Zoo.

Oh, also I'm driving to Indianapolis tomorrow night to pick up another pinball machine, but that's another story.

I have received new and exciting tools:

Fancy soldering iron

My very own Oscilloscope.  Not perfect but it works!

I have received more supplies:

More parts and tools

A different cabinet that according to the pictures is WAY better than my current cabinet.

Which by the way is in Michigan.

I have a lot going on.  Hopefully Chad will finally find his project machine and I can finally settle down and start working on the F-14 again instead of chasing parts and pinball!

Coming soon, fixing a field lamp and rebuilding the pop bumper!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I had an errand to run that took me to Melrose Park.  I remembered that Stern is in Melrose Park so I searched their address on my phone, plugged it into my GPS, and it was only a couple of blocks out of my way.

I thought it would be fun to snap a picture of me in front of their sign.

I really expected it to be pretty bland.  You always want the building to be amazing, but honestly, a building shaped like a giant pinball machine really doesn't generate any cash and at the end of the day, cash is necessary.  But I kind of hoped it was a little less of a dirty looking warehouse.  But, if not painting the plywood entrance means they stay in business, I say let the wood rot!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rebuilding Targets

Rebuilding a target or two is interesting.  Rebuilding 20 targets is a little less interesting.  I'll just talk about the first one I did, then you can read it 20 times if you want to relive the whole experience with me.

Here is the before picture of a bank of targets:
You can see they are a little grungy.  Also, these targets have a bit of foam behind them to cushion the blow from the ball.  I was getting a lot of "Airborn Balls" when they would bounce off the uncushioned targets.  It's not just a matter of saving the switch, but preventing damage done by the ball flying around.

I removed each of the targets one at a time.  Before I did, I would take 3 or 4 pictures of the wiring on every bank I removed.  There are a lot of wires in place and honestly, I have a bad memory for these things and I need to refer back to the pictures.

I think you can see where I might get confused.  Which lead was the white/red wire soldered to?  Oh man, where did the green/purple wires go?

Here is the lineup of tools and supplies I got for this job:

Novus 1 and 2 for cleaning up the plastic pads.  A X-acto knife for removing old foam and cutting new foam, Acetone for cleaning old glue, a roll of 3/8" wide weather stripping bought at the hardware store for $3.99 (enough for more targets than you have), lastly, not shown are q-tips for getting the tight spots clean and a business card for cleaning contacts.


After removing the target, I cut the old pad and scraped away much of the glue with the x-acto knife.

I got much of the glue up with the knife, then used acetone and a q-tip to clean out the rest.  I then slipped a business card between the contacts on the switch, lightly squeezed it closed, then pulled the business card out.  I'm told you don't want to do much more than that.  The contacts can be damaged be cleaning any more aggressive than that.

I then cleaned the front with Novus 2 then finished the front and as much of the back as I could get with novus 1.  Using the old piece of foam as a size reference, I used the x-acto knife to cut off a new piece of foam.  The foam has an adhesive back to hold it in place.  Here are the after shots:

Really there is not much more to it than that.  I put them back where they belonged, made sure the solder joints were strong and clean, then tested the target with the system switch test before I moved on to the next one.  I found it take about 8 to 10 minutes per target once you get on a roll.

I just need to repeat the process 10 more times and I'll be done!


When I started my machine, the knocker would knock for or five times and then I would get a message telling me to adjust some switches.  In my case they were the pop bumper, the right sling, and the right flipper.  I had rebuilt the right flipper and I knew the switch was good, so I was a little worried about a more serious problem.

In the Pinrepair guide, they have a really detailed writeup about the switch matrix.  I wont try to reproduce that.  I'll just say what I did to fix my problems.

First, I did what the manual suggests, test the switches at the main board first to make certain it's a wiring problem and not a main board problem.  Using the matrix in the documentation, I identified the two pins I needed to jumper.

Here you can see a few things about the switch the system was saying to check.  It's on 1J10, pin 2 and 1J8 pin 2.  While in test mode, I should be able to connect those two switches and have the system tell me that the switch is closed.  Also, you can see they identified the color of the wires.  There should be a White/Violet and a Green/Red wire connected to the switch.

I jumpered those two here:

The result:

Phew, the board is OK.  I checked the other two switches on the board and they were fine too.  It was definitely a problem in the wiring somewhere.

After that, there isn't much to it.  The matrix lays out each point those wires touch.  I had to check the whole chain to see what I could find.  Having never done this before, I didn't choose the most efficient way to go about this, but it worked out OK in the end.

I connected one end of my continuity tester to the first lead in the chain for the white / violet chain.  The slam tilt.  I checked each point along the way, Slam tilt, Right Flipper E.O.S., Right Center Eject, Middle Ramp, etc... and found that I had continuity end to end.

It didn't take long on the Green / Red chain.  Here is what I found when I got to one of the ball trough microswitches:

I soldered the wire into place and it started registering in test mode!  One fixed and two to go!!

I checked continuity through all of the other chains and found the wiring to all be intact.  I went from point to point, but I could have just checked continuity between one end and the the other in the grid to see if the wiring was all in tact.  If it wasn't in tact, I would have to check them all one at a time anyway so I didn't see the harm.  Also, I was learning A LOT and I really wanted to check every point just to see how it was done!

One end of the chain, the right coin switch:

The wiring was OK, so I checked the switches themselves.  If I was interested in solving the problem as quickly as possible, I should have done that first.  This was an exploration too, so it was OK.  But take note of that, first check the switches.  (Also, I started with the flipper switch which I was certain was OK...)

Pinball machines us a lot of these leaf switches.  Sometimes they need to be tweaked a little.  First, get yourself something non-conductive to check the switches.  I have a couple of long wooden coffee stirrers that I grabbed when I bought a cup of coffee at a big coffee chain that rhymes with "Starbucks"...

I don't like poking around with the machine on, but sometimes you have to.  Here's something bad that can happen according to

"When in a hurry, many make an under playfield adjustment with the game turned on. Doing a switch adjustment with the power on could easily short a coil lead (+25/50 volts) to a switch lead. This will immediately blow the switch matrix, and can fry most anything up to and including the 6821 PIA at U38."

So, don't do that.  Be careful.  Don't poke around with a screwdriver.  I only use the stick to close or open a switch in test mode -- Never to make an adjustment.  Adjustments are made with the machine off and using a neat little tool I got from Pinball Life.  (Ultimate Leaf Adjuster Tool - Worth the $7.)

Making an adjustment to the slingshot bumper switch.  It's MUCH easier with the right tool.  When I bought this tool, I didn't need it for anything at the time.   I just figured it would probably be something I needed someday.  I've been working on this F-14 for 3 or 4 weeks now and I've used it 10927150915 times.

I tweaked both switches and now I don't get any warnings at start.  What is funny is that you can get these warnings when everything is working just fine.  These switches are in place to audit how often each of these flippers, pop bumpers, trough switches, etc actuate.  If a switch isn't activated more than (I think it said 50) times in some period of time, the game things something is wrong and warns the operator.

In this case, the system in place to warn me about problems actually was the thing with problems.


They neatly covered the holes left behind with a piece of plexiglass painted black.  I removed that, then mounted the beacon mechanism.  I replaced a bulb and figured the other two were fine.  It didn't matter anyway, I just wanted to see if any would light.

It turns out those lights are wired in series, so if one goes out, they all go out.  I replaced all three bulbs and played a game.  They worked great.  Here is a picture:

Those are plastic covers from 100 CD spindles.  I just have them there as place holders.  I may put some clear colored plastic inside them until I get the real things.  Once I get the belts, I'll post pictures of cleaning and rebuilding the pulleys.

Spring Break - Lots of work done

I took the week off because this was spring break for my kids.  Like many in this economy, we stayed home.  We're homebodies anyway and it was nice to pretend that I was a retired guy for a week.  I did a lot of things on the F-14 but waited until now to post.  Mostly because I would rather be out in the garage working on the pinball machine than in my basement office writing about it.

Here is a short list of what I did in no particular order.  I'll follow up with articles on most of these things:

- I put the rotating beacon mechanism in place.  I have no plastic covers yet.  I bought a red one off eBay and it's sitting at my desk at work.  Usually I have stuff shipped there, I didn't want to make the trip in for it though.

- I was getting switch errors on startup.  I traced those all out and got incrementally better at understanding pinball wiring.

- I rebuilt many targets.  There are 20.  I've got 10 left to do.

- I ordered some tools.  A weller soldering iron which I got to use and is really great.  TIP:  If you get the super saver shipping from Amazon and they say it will ship in 5- 10 days, chose that option anyway.  I ordered it and got it the next day.  I bought an old analog oscilloscope on eBay for $65.  I hope it works.

- I ordered spinner stickers, a new set of rubbers, a couple of chips and sockets, and a set of beacon belts from Marco.  They said it was all in stock, but when I checked a couple of days later, the chips and belts were back ordered.  Not that it would have stopped me from ordering, but I wouldn't have gotten my hopes up of getting it while on vacation.

- I ordered some coils and other things from Terry at Pinball Life and was hoping to pick it up on Monday.  I was dumb, his kids are on spring break too, he was out of town!  That was OK, I had plenty to do without the new parts.

All of this isn't counting the display problems that I fixed and wrote about already!

Without further ado, onto the details...