Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Chasing Bugs

Here's one of my old posts from the MAACA forum.

I started dabbling in pinball machines back when I was 17. But I got really serious about what I would call deep repairs in EM pinball machines 4 years ago. Eventually I might feel like writing down the whole back story of me falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of EM debugging but a good chunk of it can be picked out from my Sea Island repair adventure. I will also add that it involved a basket case of a Bally EM slot machine.

For a few months now, pretty much every second weekend, I spend in Montréal doing some pinball repair work for the North Star. It allows me to get out of the house, break the regular routine and acclimatize myself to the Métropole. Most Importantly it allows me to hang out with friends that are as much into pinball as I am, and it gives me the chance to work on nice and rare games that get operated at the North Star. It allows me to see what kind of problems pop up in 50 year old Bally’s (and even 38 year old Inteflips) when they get many, many plays per week. It allows me to be faced to a number of new and challenging problems I probably wouldn’t get in my own game room.

For a long time now, it’s been a dream of mine of seeing EM games being operated on location and myself repairing them. These bimonthly trips to Montréal allow me to get as close to that dream as possible without quitting my day job.

Every time I’m there for the Saturday morning lineup check I always bring my regular tool case and a second pelican case that contains useful supporting equipment to tackle the bigger problems.

This second big case barely fits in my buddy (and accomplished Montreal Pinball repairman) Rob’s Volvo (aka pinball repair staff car). I know It’s been a minor pain lugging it around up and down St-Laurent st. From Montreal Starburst, to Longueil, to Montreal North, to Ville Lasalle to the Plateau… your get the picture. But I think Rob and other partners in crime finally understood why I carry all this stuff during my last two repair trips.

pelican case.jpg
the big case

Last weekend It was when I repaired a bunch if burnt wires in the Wiggler, I had my old dependable soldering console with me. I’ve had this old thing for at least 13 years, I’m used to it and I wouldn’t have been able to repair so many wires in such a short period of time if I didn’t have it.

burnt wires 2.jpg
Quoth the raven...

burnt wires 1.jpg
...burnt wires

This weekend it was on Capersville. The game had developed a problem a few weeks back. When a ball was in the 4 deep captive ball elevator, the machine got all confused with the ball count. When the ball would drain, the ball count would not step up.

Multiball EM’s are challenging to repair. The circuitry related to keeping track of the balls in play can seem pretty complicated. Being able to read and interpret schematics is essential. Furthermore, depending on the problem, the balls need to stay in place where the problem occurs (captive ball saucers and ball trough) so lifting the playfield and poking around the relays to figure out the problem isn’t an option because the balls fall out.

So I’m at the North Star and I need Capersville’s schematics. The only problem is that they don’t have the schematics for it. Since it’s 2016 and I have a smartphone, I download the schematics from IPDB.

I have a look at the diagram on my tiny phone screen. I start tackling this problem by making an educated guess by forcing the player reset relay to actuated position (closed (or energized)). I drain the free ball and the ball count unit steps up. Hmm? So now I know the culprit, player reset relay did not energize when it was supposed to so I have to work my way up to find out why.

I look at the schematics. I ask for a pen and paper and start scribbling cryptic notes.

cryptic notes.jpg
I Should've been a doctor

For payer reset to be energized ball return relay has to be energized. How do I verify if ball return energizes when it’s supposed to: I use my old Triplet analog multimeter (Everyone there Saturday morning were “amused” by my big old meter). It’s a big bulky black block of bakelite with a big dial with a fine needle. Using alligator clips I put the meter to the ball return really coil and let the ball drain. If the coil energizes, the needle should jump… Nothing happens. Again I work my way up.

capersville section.jpg
Section of schematics, downloaded from IPDB
capersville section.jpg (41.68 KiB) Viewed 1209 times

For the ball return relay to energize, Outhole relay has to close, captive ball interlock relay has to be in actuated position and #1 through has to be closed.

OK… start with the outhole relay. I use again the old Triplet meter, check, the needle jumps. Outhole relay is not the problem.

Then I have a look at the through switches, they look fine. I clean them for safe measure then I go to the captive ball relay.

I find the switch with the Green-Yellow and Yellow-Black wire (38-1 and 43-1 in the schematics). The switch looks closed? Is it really closed? I put my other modern crappy tire meter on it, I check continuity through the switch…Nothing. There’s the problem. I clean and re-gap the switch. Close everything up. Give the game a try and BINGO! the game works like it should. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy starts playing in my head (I think I even whistled a few bars from it)

The afternoon at the North Star’s workshop was fairly uneventful, but very productive. Did some more work the get the Wiggler ready for rotation. We assembled a few other games to get them ready also. Robert and I had the passation of the Richelieu. The drive back home was fast and uneventful.

When I repair games, my mantra is “The problem is alway inside the box, I just have to find it”. The box isn’t that big either. My main tool is patience, all the other tools I carry with me.

Late Saturday afternoon, riding around with Rob in the North Star Van (yes, van with a capital “V”) we were chatting on how we could write about this weekend (there’s always a ton of interesting stuff we could write about each weekend repair adventure but we just don’t have the time or the energy to do it) and how neat it was that the Capersville was repaired with the help of both my smartphone and my old multimeter, two technologies 50 years apart and yet, for this particular problem I absolutely needed both to get the job done. So here is an honest go at telling this pinball repair tale.

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