November 23, 2004

In this second part of our Pinball Expo 2004 report we will report from all of the seminars and on Thursday and Friday.

The seminars are an integral part of Expo and, along with the Stern factory tour, one of the elements that most differentiate the show from the many others.  If you're at the Ramada for the whole show, you cannot avoid the seminars.  That's because the exhibition hall is closed while they're taking place, so you either attend them or make your own entertainment.  If you've come to play pinball they might appear an unwelcome delay but there's a lot of valuable information and entertainment to be derived from the sessions.

The factory tour overran as previously described so people were still arriving as the seminars began.  Consequently we missed much of the first seminar.

Behind The Scenes At Multiproducts

Multiproducts make many of the motors and gearboxes that go into pinball games.

With distributors in North America, the company has been producing AC and DC motors for more than forty years.

Mark Patzke spoke about the company's history and what products it makes now.

Perhaps of more interest was the service offered by Multiproducts to repair many of the motors and gearboxes that fail in a pinball game.  Send details of the part to Multiproducts and they will see if it can be repaired.

When asked about foreign competition, especially from the far east, Mark said it was not a significant factor because these companies wouldn't be interested in the small quantities (500, 1000 or 2,500) required by a pinball company.

The Original Bally Table King

Gary Gayton was associated with Bally for thirteen years working his way up through the company to become the designer of games such as Evel Knievel, Lost World and Star Trek.

He began his seminar by telling the audience how he first got into pinball in general and Bally in particular.

His father started at Bally in Chicago in 1944 as a mechanical engineer. In 1969, at the age of 16, he got a part-time summer job at Bally as a pinball game tester.  It was there that he met Jim Patla and Greg Kmiec and saw them making games, so he stayed at Bally after the summer, becoming a designer himself.  His first game design was Evel Knievel.

At that time, Bally was concentrating it's efforts on bingo games and slot machines as pinball was not selling well.  Over the next four or five years though, pinball's fortunes improved and so did the number of games produced.

Comparing production then and now, Bally used to produce 200-300 games a day whereas Stern now make 55 a day.

Describing the methods he used to design games, Gary said that he didn't keep regular hours at the factory.  He used to design one part of a game and then come back a week or two later to work on another part.  He would get ideas from everywhere and would keep a notebook to jot down ideas.  Designing games made him feel a part of the playing audience and he still has several of his own games at home.

Gary admitted his constant amazement at the continued following for pinball over the years.

He concluded by talking about working with several pinball artists such as Dave Christensen, Paul Farris, Margaret Hudson and Kevin O'Connor, revealing how they could get away with so many hidden images and references but told how Captain Fantastic was considerably toned down from the original version.

Atari: The Amazing Journey

Dan Kramer had been interested in pinball for years so when Atari started their pinball operation in California he applied immediately.

There were no jobs available at first but he left his name and three days later he got a call from the company.  He began work in the video games section but used to go down to the pinball division  on the floor below and look at prototype games that seemed never to be destined for production.

It was there that he got to meet the pinball designers and engineers.

An opening appeared in the pinball division and Dan applied but before he could transfer from the video game section, Atari stopped pinball production.

Curiously they kept designing and building prototypes, none of which were ever produced.

Dan said the Atari pinball games pioneered new ideas in many different areas and the artwork was fantastic.

He left Atari in 1984 but retains his interest in these games and decided to do an article about them and this seminar talk.

Dan then showed a series of pictures of Atari pinball games and spoke briefly about each one such as this whitewood Neutron Star he owns.

Between 1976 and 1979 Atari produced two models a year and introduced some interesting technological innovations such as the rotary solenoid used on the flippers.

One of the designers at Atari was Steve Ritchie who was present in the audience and spoke briefly about how he had to prove himself before he was allowed to design games, so he drew up the plans for Airborne Avenger at home.

Steve also produced the last widebody game to make it to production at Atari - Superman. It sold well but the preceding games' poor performance marked the end of manufacturing at the company.

Home Pinball Tournaments

Rob hayes has held many pinball tournaments at his home and learned much along the way.

In this seminar he explained how the rules, rewards and organisation had changed over the years and used this experience to suggest the best way to run a your own home tournament. There were many points made so here is a taster of the main points.

Most importantly, the tournament has to be easy to manage and easy to follow. Contestants must read and understand the rules and agree to abide by them while the games used have to be perfect, or as close as possible to minimise delays and conflicts.

In any event, the judge's ruling must be final in all circumstances.

Rob has tried many different tournament formats and prizes.  He suggested using a handicap method to make sure the same person doesn't win every time and to encourage more people to compete.

Trying to get couples involved also diversifies the playing group and maximises income for better prizes.

Initially Rob gave away a pinball machine to the tournament winners but the supply of suitably cheap games dried up, so prizes became cash sums instead.

Creating The Sculptures For Playfield Toys

Dave Link has been behind many of the pinball toys and sculpting we come to expect in a modern game.  They are integral to the look and enjoyment we get from playing but we many not have appreciated their significance until now.

In this seminar he showed some of these and explained the processes by which they were made.

Producing the sculptures begins with initial discussions with the game's designer to see their sketches and find out the dimensions of the final product.

Dave then creates a foamcore mock-up and talks about manufacturing methods; whether it should be vacuum formed, pressed or another technique used.

Dave showed some of the products he had designed for games such as Scared Stiff, Godzilla, Attack From Mars and X-Files and explained the teamwork involved in getting the final goods approved by the designer and also the license holder.

He worked with Steve Ritchie on the last two games - Terminator 3 and Elvis - providing heads for the former and the full body for the latter in his studio set inside a 100 year old church.

Dave is most proud technically of the dragon in Medieval Madness and artistically of the Godzilla model which dominates the game of the same name.

Not all of his work is on pinball and neither does he do all the work himself.  Dave has worked for five years for IGT and three years at WMS working on gaming machines.  He has two full-time employees but still sub-contracts some of his work to other artists who often also work at his studio.

Collecting 1930s Vintage Pingames

Yes, pinball was around in the 1930s and Mike Eady used this seminar to educate the audience about the era and the games it spawned while making suggestions of the more collectable games from this and other eras.

He started by saying most people would only think about push `em up games when talking about the pre-war period but would be missing out.

Probably the most famous games from the `30s are Jigsaw (1932), Ballyhoo (1932) and World Series (1934) but game production was prolific with around 100 manufacturers producing 250 games in the years 1930-35.

With than number of games and companies, some copying of idea was inevitable. The Royal Novelty Company was one such, producing an almost exact copy of Bally's Ballyhoo under the title Whizzard.

Because of the similarities in the method of construction, furniture makers started producing games.  Some of these had the most elaborate cabinet work using mahogany for the casing and teak for the playfield.  These are becoming collectable for their sheer beauty.

Games that marked turning points or introduced features that are now commonplace are especially suitable for collecting.  Mike highlighted the first multiball flipper game - Balls-A-Poppin, the first double bonus - Red Ball and the first captive ball - Spitfire.

Picking up on the earlier seminar he suggested Atari games are collectable, along with cocktail pins, two and four-player versions of the same game and in the crossover period, EM and solid-state versions of the same game too.

Looking at the collections themselves, Mike proposed theming some or all of your collection in these ways rather than using the game themes as the common thread.

My Life At Gottlieb

John Osborne worked at Gottlieb from 1972 to 1984.  He described himself as an engineer but today he would be called a designer.

He got into the industry by applying to Williams, Bally and Gottlieb but really wanted to work at Gottlieb which offered offered him a position.

John remembers the different smell emanating from the company - the fresh playfield wood, the soldering and the cotton wire.

His first job was modifying games for the requirements of foreign countries and also to check the cables.  He described the cabling department as the hardest area of the company in which to work because employees had to spend the whole day standing up. 

Later he worked on a new style of service manual but the introduction of solid state games led to that project being shelved.

He used to play the games at the factory during his lunch break.  The company made two engineering samples of each game to test before it went into production.  These samples were used to check the practicality of the layout, the score for different features and the replay levels.  Each sample had to be played two hundred times and they were adjusted to give out one free game for every three played on average. 

Because the theft of ideas was widespread, the doors to the engineering department were locked to restrict access.  One room was set up for endurance testing because the department also made numerous different parts for the games.   Game parts were designed to give five years of service and deliberately not over-specified to last longer.

The Gottlieb factory had a regular two week annual shutdown but when sales were slow that could be extended to three or four weeks.  The plant was always non-union.  The unions tried to establish themselves but were always rejected by the employees.

John recalled how one day someone came in and told them the company had been sold to Columbia Pictures.  It was subsequently sold to Coca-Cola when they took over Columbia.  After the takeover, the various management and leaders of the company were replaced and the atmosphere changed and sales fell but staff were assured the would be OK if they continued to produce innovative products.

When Bally produced Xenon with its tube carrying the ball above the playfield, Gottlieb's designers were told to copy it but went a stage further producing two and three-level games such as Black Hole and Haunted House.

The company tried other ideas such as a bingo game but that was dropped before reaching production and slowly sales declined.

Gottlieb was renamed Mylstar in 1983 and subsequently much of the workforce was laid-off and machinery sold.  Within a year John had been made redundant and the company sold-off.

Electromechanical Technical Seminar

John Whyatt is a game collector, seller and repairer from Great Yarmouth in the UK and former Editor of the Pinball Owners Association magazine Pinball Player.

At this Expo seminar he spoke about repairing and restoring '60s and '70s electromechanical games, where the common problems lie and his preferred methods of dealing with them.

His five point plan for restoring a game was:

  1. Visual inspection
  2. Playfield overhaul
  3. Backbox overhaul
  4. Motor board overhaul
  5. Cabinet maintenance

John advised an initial visual inspection of any game by removing the playfield glass and backglass, noting the condition of the latter on both sides and with the aid of a light source.

Moving inside the game, you should check the wiring in the backbox and under the playfield to ensure all the parts are present and fully connected.  Overheated solenoids are often easily identified by their brown or blackened paper sleeves.  Also be on the lookout for rodent damage to the wiring loom.

On the playfield, the game should be stripped down as far a practical.  John recommends a systematic approach, noting the screw lengths for each of the parts as they are removed.  Cleaning is best achieved with Novus 2 for regular dirt and Novus 3 for more scratched areas.  He does not recommend waxing the playfield as it will produce much higher ball speeds than the designer intended and will also result in more damage to the playfield parts.

John suggests using mylar rings around pop bumpers to protect the high-wear areas of the playfield and says Steve Young's Pinball Resource sells suitable sizes of mylar rings for the job.

With the early electromechanical games came low voltage switches.  While earlier games used switch contacts to directly connect the high voltages to the solenoids, the newer games only switched logic-level voltages.  This means the use of gold plating on switch contacts to ensure reliable operation, a plating that can be destroyed by abrasive cleaning, so you should only use a wiping method to remove dirt such as a drop of alcohol on a dry business card which is then placed between the contacts and removed while pressing the contacts together.

Screw holes that have become expanded and unreliable can be repaired by dropping part of a matchstick in before replacing the screw.  John also recommends upgrading the wire from the flipper coils to the end-of-stroke switches by replacing it with a thicker gauge of wire.

Electrical standards at the time these games were made was much more relaxed than those of today and you may often find high voltage cabling exposed, especially around the area of the power switch.  These cables should be encased in heat-shrink sleeving to avoid electrocution.

Finally, John recommended a book by Henk De Jager called Pinball Machine Maintenance" as a must-read for anyone doing anything more than occasional minor repairs.  It is also available from Pinball Resource.

Troubleshooting 101 & 102

Opening proceedings on the second day was Ron Coon Jr who spoke about pinball repairs and troubleshooting, starting with the basic tools and spares you should always have available.

Good sources of these include Mouser, Digi-key, Jameco and Radio Shack.

For manuals and schematics he suggested Mayfair Amusements, Pinball Resource and the Internet Pinball Database.

Initial checks on a non-working game should start with the various voltages required.  On a dot-matrix WPC game they would be +5V (used to power the logic devices), ±12V, 18V (lamps), +50V (coils) and the +190V & -90V used for the dot matrix display.

If they are OK, other checks include making sure all socketed ICs are properly pushed home, removing and reseating connecting cables and checking their polarity.  Williams System 3-7 games are especially prone to interconnect problems.

Visual checks often reveal problems or the areas where they may be hiding especially if you can see any burned or charred components or evidence of heat damage such as browned labels on ICs.  If someone has already worked on the game or board, double check their work to make sure it was done correctly and make sure there are no missing parts.

Looking under the playfield, common problems here are clipped wires causing a short or breakage, overheated coils, missing diodes or even missing boards.

Increasingly, owners are adding their own modifications to games and these can have undesired side-effects which may not be obvious at first.

Ron then explained the theory of operation of the switch matrix and the lamp matrix and the kind of problems you might find with them.

He closed with a question and answer session from the audience.

How Not To Get Shafted On The Internet

Daina Pettit runs the excellent Mr Pinball website, most famous for its classified advertisements.  As anyone who has tried advertising there or just about any of the online listings will know, you soon get to meet all kinds of people from strange countries eager to relieve you of your goods and cash.

In this seminar, Daina familiarised the audience with the most common scams in the hope that they wouldn't fall foul of them.

The most common fraud at the moment involves the use of counterfeit cashier's cheques or bank drafts.  What usually happens is, someone offers to buy your advertised goods and offers to pay with a cashier's cheque.  They say they are owed a large sum of money and the person who owes them will send a cheque to you directly.  The cheque will be for a much higher value that you are selling your goods for, but you should send the goods and the balance when the cheque clears.

This scam relies on the way banks deal with foreign cashier's cheques.  You receive the cheque and pay it into your account.  The bank will tell you a few days later that the cheque has cleared their system and the money is available.  At that point you are supposed to send the goods and the balance of the money.  However, some days after that when the cheque reaches the issuing bank, it is revealed as either stolen or counterfeit and rejected.  Your bank then tells you and recovers the money from your account, leaving you without the goods or the money and you now owe the balance to the bank.

Another common internet scam is the so-called 419, named after the section of the Nigerian penal code it contravenes.  This one involves someone claiming to have a large sum of money (usually in the millions of dollars) they need to transfer out of their country to stop it being seized for one reason or another.  They want to use your bank account and are willing to pay a decent percentage (10%-25% is typical) for the privilege.

What then follows is a series of demands for money to cover facilitation fees, bribes and expenses to enable the transfer to take place.  In truth, there is no large sum of money to transfer and it's just a means to extract more and more money from the victim.

While the 419 is as old as the hills, a newer problem is with phony escrow services.

An escrow service is a place you can transfer money into, while waiting for goods or services you purchased to be delivered.  When you are happy that you got what you paid for, you tell the escrow service to release the money to the seller.  In the meantime, the seller can see you have paid the money into escrow, even if they cannot get it until the buyer is happy.

Phony escrow services are usually set up online and copy the style of an existing legitimate service, often stealing the graphics and pages from the real site.  A fake seller then offers expensive items for sale at very attractive prices and asks that the buyer uses a specified escrow service.  That service is a fake one set up by them so as soon as the money is transferred they take it and you never see the goods or hear from them again.

Another common fraud involves stolen ebay accounts, where a legitimate but dormant account is hijacked and used to advertise goods which never materialise.  The seller appears to be legitimate and have a good feedback record because they've stolen someone else's ebay identity.

There are lots of scams out there including fake lottery wins (lotteries you didn't enter but require a facilitation fee to send you your "win"), phony soliciting for charities and cheque washing (literally using chemicals to wash off the ink, so the cheque's value can be altered).

Buyers were also warned about foreign sellers offering very attractive prices but demanding payment by Western Union money transfer, as these require minimal identification checks in many countries and is tantamount to sending cash.  Often, the goods never arrive and the money is long gone.

In all cases of internet scams, Daina's advice was:

  • Ignore them and you are safe,
  • Don't educate them to their mistakes,
  • If you lead them on, do not cash their cheques,
  • Never meet with the scammer,
  • Report to the authorities if you are scammed.

How To Sell & Market Your Games

If there's one person who knows about setting up a business to sell games it's TNT Amusements' Todd Tuckey.

Todd spoke about how he formed the company and passed on a wealth of information for anyone wanting to do the same. 

Much of it was relevant to almost any business and involved a lot of common sense.

First of all, you should choose a catchy name for your business.  TNT Amusements is both memorable and lends itself to some obvious imagery which can be used in promotions.

  • Choose a central location in a safe neighbourhood.  You avoid drive-by time wasters and make genuine customers feel secure when they visit.
  • Lay out your showroom like your dream arcade.
  • Plan for expansion without having to move your whole operation.
  • Don't sell dart board or shuffle board games.  There's no demand for these in the home.
  • Post your showroom hours clearly.
  • Create a party room.  It's a good source of income and future customers.
  • Put promotional signs on your truck or van.

When it comes to buying games to sell, Todd suggested using auctions, bulk buying from operators and perhaps most importantly, previous customers. If a new customer wants a specific game and you don't have it, call the customer you sold it to before and ask if they want to sell.  To do this, you need to keep good records of your customers and the games they bought but this can be useful in other ways too.

Todd stressed how pinball alone is not enough to keep a business alive.  You have to sell video games too, especially 1980s games such as Pac-Man and Galaga.

Looking at promotion, you cannot beat word-of-mouth as a free way to advertise your business but you need to supplement it with signs of your building and truck, internet adverts and website, a purchased mailing list of likely customers and Yellow Pages, but keep this last one to a minimum because it's a lot less effective than it used to be due to the internet.

Newspaper ads are a cheap way to sell games but you should always start the advertisement with the words "Pinball Machines" for maximum impact.  Holding a show at an event or at a mall is another way to promote your business.  Bring lots of different games but put them on pay-to-play, not free play.

Todd said one of his best purchases was a comprehensive phone system to route callers to the appropriate department and provide informational voice messages.

Because he was speaking at such an event, Todd advised having a stall at pinball shows even though pinball collectors are not the main customer base for his business.  Most games are sold to occasional buyers instead.

But game sales are only part of TNT's business.  They also repair and restore games both in the showroom and at customers' homes.  The recommendation here were:

  • Divide work into three stages,
    - Cabinet & head
    - Playfield
    - Electronics
  • Keep a checklist and stick to it,
  • Put stickers on your games to identify them and make sure they're yours,
  • Combine two games to make one good one,
  • Sell only the best machines at a fair price,
  • Get GPS for service calls.

Going back to the idea of a party room, Todd stressed the importance of using your games and premises for functions but you should not allow any alcohol and should have a party coordinator to handle food, invitations and special requirements.

In a similar vein, games could be used for corporate party hire but you have to be willing to work late to maintain them during the event and collect them afterwards.

Illinois Pin Ball Co Update

IPB's owner Gene Cunningham was the next speaker and he spoke first about recent and future product releases.

He said people expected him to make more and more new products and he was trying to make the things people needed most.  So far, he had made 700-800 sets of cabinet side art for The Addams Family and was working on the soccer ball for World Cup Soccer but had problems.

With some examples on the table in front of him, Gene said that despite getting the hardness correct (45) he couldn't find a company that could guarantee to produce white rubber without black flecks.

The problems getting white rubber for World Cup Soccer balls.
(832K MP3)

Looking at licensing, he cited Fathom as one area he sub-licensed people to make different parts. 

Daren Jacobs has produced backglasses and Greg Walker was just completing his playfields while IPB had made plastic sets for the game.

Recent new products included side art for Creature From The Black Lagoon and the clear plastic playfield window for that game. 

He also has new glow-in-the-dark plastic sets for Scared Stiff.


Gene then talked about his new book about Dave Christensen - Mad Dog and His Art saying it was something that needed to be done.

The book was on sale at the show where Gene would autograph it.  The price was $30 and he said it costs him $21 per copy to have it printed himself.

Gene talks about his book. (384K MP3)

When asked why he doesn't make more products available, Gene talked about the costs involved in bringing each item to the market. To make playfields costs about $30,000, cabinet side art is $10,000 and plastic sets cost $10,000.

While everyone has their favourites, production is strictly demand-led.  He said he's put $1.5 million into the company so far and claims not to take any money out.

But the biggest buzz of his talk was about the story we revealed a week earlier, the plans to reproduce 111 Big Bang Bar games.

Gene had acquired one of the remaining Big Bang Bar games and unveiled it at his seminar.

He bought it for $20,000 and it will be used as reference to re-make the game specific parts for his re-run.

The companies that made the parts in the first place have all been visited by Gene and agreed to make them again.

The game was placed at the Illinois Pin Ball stand in the main exhibition hall and made available to play for a $5 donation to charity.

Potential buyers of the new games could register their interest at the stand and would receive notification when deposits were being requested to secure a game.  The trigger-level at which the process would begin was when the company received registrations for half the games (55).  By the end of the show, there were 121 registrations.

The numbering system for the new games explained. (600K MP3)

There would be some changes to the original game, the plastics will be laser cut and the playfield will be made from 9-ply wood instead of the 7-ply used originally. Also, the cabinet artwork will be printed on decals instead of silk screened.

Silk screen vs decals for Big Bang Bar. (324K MP3)

While the first eleven playfields would be hand assembled in the IPB facility, he may contract out the remaining hundred to another company to speed up the process.

When asked about the availability of electronic board sets for the game, he insisted the company has plenty.  Enough, in fact, for his next project - remaking Kingpin, the other Capcom game in the prototype stage when Capcom closed their pinball business.  He would look to make the same number of Kingpins as Big Bang Bars and use the same prototype/production split.

If he has that many board sets, why only make 111 Big Bang Bars?  He could theoretically make more but he insisted the games were only for collectors.  He did, however, say that when the batch is completed, he would take a poll amongst owners to see if more should be made.

Products under consideration for the future include Whitewater side art (the boulders are on order along with Funhouse eyes) and side art for Scared Stiff and Elvira. The long-promised Eight Ball Deluxe playfields are currently on hold.  The insert plastics are made but the playfield needs to be entered into AutoCAD which is time consuming and expensive.  At the moment, the Big Bang Bar project is taking priority.

Will IPB produce playfields for older games? (228K MP3)

The History of Pinball Fandom

Dave Marston in his seminar looked the history and chronology of how pinball fans, pinball-related publications and pinball promotions have evolved since 1931.

He highlighted the important events and characters in pinball and how they would later become more significant.

Dave divided the history of fandom into five specific eras;

  • 1931-1968: The dark ages
  • 1969-1985: The dimly visible age
  • 1986-1990: The conventional community era
  • 1991-????: The modern community age
  • ????+ : The future era

In the first of these, there was very little pinball coverage in mainstream culture but much of what there little there was tended to be negative and related to gambling.

Dave argued it took someone from outside pinball to popularise it, something not possible from within the industry. So pinball turned a corner with The Who's Tommy which brought pinball back into the public's mind in a largely positive way.

1985 saw the first Pinball Expo show starting with 100 visitors pre-registered as a one-time show.  The success and interest in the game led to the second show in 1986 and the start of a conventional community centred on pinball.

The next stage took off in 1991 mainly due to the rise of the internet and electronic communications.  1990 saw the split of the newsgroup from arcade due to the increase in pinball-related messages.

Now we have more new books coming out, fanzines continue to do well, video productions are available and more are underway, new-in-box purchases are growing, serious tournaments are back with big prize purses, regional shows and player meetings are increasing, internet-based collaboration has produced some very worthwhile products and "civic journalism" is thriving.

Dave forsees some point in the future where some historic event will lift pinball awareness to another level of maturity and capability.

He looked at pinball tournaments from the International Pinball Association in 1972-3, through the PAPAs of 1991-95, the (International Flipper Pinball Association) IFPA in 1990-94 to PAPA of 2004, the many European tournaments and the numerous local leagues.

Pinball publications have similarly come and gone with some still going strongly; Pingame Journal, Pinball Collectors Quarterly, Pinball Trader, The Flipside, Pinhead Classified and Multiball.  Other, more general magazines have done likewise; Coin Slot, Gameroom, Coin-op Classics, Coin Drop International etc.

New media publishing led to the rise of sites such as Pinball News and before that, Silverball News & Views, Tilt in Italy and Barcade.

Dave concluded by saying that he didn't know what would cause the start of the next era of pinball fandom but he was looking forward to it.

Collecting Wood Rail Pinball Machines

Richard Lawnhurst is an avid collector of pinball games from the 1930s.

In this seminar he described how he got into this era of games and how his collection grew to such a size he now houses it in a three-storey corner store - Howards - in his Ohio home town.

His first game had a shot backglass but he soon got more, preferring wood rail games because they were easier to sell.  To find games he wrote to advertisers to try to get leads.

Now he has 170-180 restored games at the store and 50-60 at home where he says he has a very understanding wife.  He regularly rotates the games between home and the store for variety and always has the games set to free play. These include some of the very first machines to incorporate backglass animation.

Richard said he was attracted by the themes of the games, many could be linked into a series which made an excellent base for collecting.

The games kept in storage are tightly temperature controlled and to maximise space, the heads are stored separately from the cabinets in large rack units.

Playfield Restoration

Anyone who's ever thought about having their playfield clearcoated will have heard of Bill Davis.

Bill is the king of the clearcoat and has a six month waiting list for his restorative and protective services.

In this seminar he gave some hints and tips to restoring your playfield and keeping it in peak condition.

After being an automotive painter and coater for 28 years, Bill tried pinball coating and found it was quite a different matter to coat a wooden surface instead of metal.

He took us through the different stages he uses to protect a playfield.

First, with an NOS playfield, he wipes it down with an automotive degreaser and two cloths.  He feels for any raised insets and makes a note of them for later.  Then he takes a sander with 500 grade and sands it gently to create an abrasive surface.  If any shiny areas remain, re-sand them.  Blow the playfield clean and wipe it down with more degreaser and fully clean it.

He then uses a special cloth impregnated with a tree sap-like stick material which removes any dust left on the surface before applying the first coats of clearcoat.  He advises applying two coats for modern playfields and three for games from the 1970s.

Drying time is all-important here and Bill says to leave the clearcoat for a week to harden before moving on to the next stage.

This is a repeat of the first stage but use 800 grade sanding material.  Repeat two more times using 1500 grade and finally 3000 grade.

A week after the final coat is applied he uses an automotive cutting compound and buffs the surface several times with different products to get the perfect finish.

But clearcoating is only part of the work Bill performs.  He also repairs playfields and restores the artwork.

He presented a slideshow of his work restoring a Gold Strike game, masking and repainting lots of different areas using Dupont base coat automotive paint before clearcoating it.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the artwork repairing took place on top of the first layer of clearcoat.  This was so that any mistakes can be sanded out and re-done.

When asked about colour matching, Bill said that after spending so many years in the automotive spraying business he just knows how to get it right by spraying a test area and adjusting the mix until it is correct.

He also spoke about clearcoating a playfield overlay.  Here he advises sanding the original playfield right down, applying two clearcoat layers, leaving for two weeks and another sanding before applying the overlay.  On top of that, a clear plastic primer is applied and then two more coats of clear.

Pinball Down Under

Michael Shalhoub is the author of two Pinball Compendium books with the third volume under way.

In this brief seminar he spoke about the previous two books as well as his new one which covers the years 1982-2004.

He is also closely involved, with his business partner Alan Tate in building the pinball museum on Australia's Gold Coast.

He said his dream is to see more and more people come and appreciate the work of his favourite designers by seeing the machines they created and discovering the range of their work.

To close, he held a quiz and gave away mini-koala toys and boomerang key rings, although the latter were harder to get rid of.

Pinball Around The World

In the first of two seminars about pinball in Europe, Norway's Arne Asphjell described the current state of pinball in his home country and how he became involved in the game.

In a familiar story, Arne told us about how few pinball games were on location in Norway but also how the home collector market has grown in response.

Arne works for Amcar magazine and was assigned to write a story about jukeboxes.  He so enjoyed them that he ended up buying one for his home.  That in turn led to him buying a pinball to match - in this case, a Joker Poker.

In 1992 he went to Chicago to interview staff at Williams for an article but still the pinball fever had not taken hold of him.

But in the summer of 2001 he was offered seven pinball games by an operator, fixed them up and then caught the collecting bug.

He was offered the game because in 2001, Norwegian operators formed an alliance (NLD) to move towards payout games and get out of pinball.  They shipped 200 modern pinball games back to the US, asking only $600 each.

The following summer Arne started buying more games after getting lots of information from pinball websites and other internet resources.

Arne has also started a research project to find out how many of each pinball machine were imported into Norway.  So far, the most popular appears to be Terminator 2 with 76, The Getaway is close behind on 75, followed by The Addams Family (72), Fish Tales (46) and Black Rose (32).

President and co-founder of the German Pinball Association, Martin Wiest continued the European story by telling the audience how he got into pinball. 

His first coin-op interest was at the age of six, but it wasn't until he was fifteen that he acquired his first game and a year later his first pinball.

To fund his hobby, he worked at an operator fixing games and was paid in games too.

When German reunification occurred 1990 pinball's fortunes got a real boost.  The seventeen million inhabitants of East Germany had never experienced coin-op games, so suddenly a whole new market was opened up.

German importer Nova was a major buyer of Williams games but they swapped around between companies starting with WMS, switching to Gottlieb, to Petaco back to WMS and then, when WMS closed down, to Stern until 2002 when the Nova closed too.

Rival importer Bally Wulff initially started out with their namesake Bally, actually making several Bally games in German, switched to Data East, followed them as Sega, changed to Capcom and now sell Austrian company TAB's virtual pinball.

But Bally Wulff weren't the only German manufacturer.  NSM produced pinball games using Gottlieb playfields and backglasses with its own cabinets and boards.  Arcon made two Bally conversions as did Geiger, who also made parts for Williams, Bally and Gottlieb games.

Martin then looked at the history of pinball in Germany.  In the '60s, he said, the most popular machines were jukeboxes, soccer tables, pinball and cash payout gaming machines.  In the '70s, jukeboxes were less popular but pinball and the gaming machines continued doing well.  In 1981, risk was introduced into payout games and they boomed generating lots of cash for operators to buy other games such as pinball.  Between 1985 and 1987 pinball grew again with games like Comet, Space Shuttle and High Speed.

In the '90s, cash payout games were still performing strongly.  Pinball had an initial boom with games like The Addams Family and Twilight Zone selling over 100 containers of games, but declined steadily after that and by the mid '90s when Fungames and token payout slots took off, pinball was in serious trouble in Germany.

High taxes equivalent to $100 a month was killing off pinball in the late '90s.  Pinball 2000 came along and did well but it was still not enough.  Now, arcades are almost exclusively cash payout games.

Today, pinball is still in decline but there are still some bars where it is a good earner and it is in demand for parties and corporate events.

Your Pinball Classics of the 1990s

At the last Expo, Don Caldwell and Mark Bakula spoke about their intention to write a book about people's favourite pinball games of the '90s and wanted input from pinball fans around the world to select the most popular games.

Those results are now in and preparations are being made for the writing of the book.

In this seminar they spoke about the reasons for the book and how they set up the website with Mitch Wilson-Brown.

Don and Mark had long thought about writing a pinball book but the subjects of pinball art and history had already been very well covered by other authors, so they thought about a suitable subject that hadn't yet been touched.

People love to hear insider information about the pinball business and also to have their own opinions confirmed, so they decided to let pinball fans choose the content of the book and settled on the '90s as the era with the most interest.

They considered sending out surveys but thought the website approach was easier and more flexible.

Once they got the results, they could work out the favourite games in various categories and start interviewing the designers, software coders, sound designers, artists, industrial designers and company executives about them.

While conducting the interviews they thought they should also video them and make a DVD of the results to accompany the book.

Mark and Don then ran a quiz asking audience members to choose the more popular of two games in the survey, giving prizes to the winners.

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation

Clay Harrell is well known as the face behind the excellent pinball repair guides hosted at Marvin3M's website.

He is equally well known as Shaggy in the TOPS (This Old Pinball) tapes and it was on this subject that he spoke at his Expo seminar.

The TOPS series of tapes are a heady mix of solid pinball repair information and buffoonery.

They started out as a joke tape about Tim Arnold at the 2000 Pinball Expo but then the series started and there are now six full-length videos sold for $8 to raise money for the Pinball Hall Of Fame.

Clay revealed just what he (and Norm) had really been doing on their summer vacation.  And the answer was - making another TOPS tape, this time on solid state Bally games from 1977-1985.  He said this era of games fell into their laps and steered then in that direction but they had some other ideas too, so asked the audience to vote on their preference for the following tape. The choice was for woodrail games and '70s electromechanicals.

The lights were dimmed and a video of the first twenty minutes of the next tape was shown.  Being about Bally games from '77-'85, one of the classic games from that time was Kiss, so the video started with a trip to a Kiss concert, going backstage to talk to the guitar technician.

Clay said that by taking the Kiss angle, they hoped to sell the video to people other than pinheads and perhaps some Kiss fans would buy it too.


That concludes our report on the seminars of Pinball Expo 2004. 

As we said at the start, the seminars are integral to the success of Pinball Expo.  It's important that they are presented efficiently and effectively.  With the increasing use of different media in the presentations, having a decent sound system, video projection and PC playback is vital for both the people standing up on stage and those in the audience.

There are limitations imposed by the facilities in the room, but to improve the seminars the organisers should be looking at supplying a better PA system including inputs for DVD, VHS and PC sound sources, improved lighting control so the audience can see the speaker and the projector screen simultaneously and preferably a PC for the speakers' presentations.

Finally a thank you to Richard Wade for taking notes while I was busy using my PC to play out some of the speakers' powerpoint presentations and slide shows.


In the next section we'll report from the two fireside chats featuring George Gomez and Brian Eddy with the members of the Medieval Madness team.


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