Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sea Island Bingo Repair adventure

Here's another one of my posts taken from the MAACA archives:

I'd like to share part of my repair journey on the Sea Island I'm fixing up. This will be a somewhat convoluted multiple part story about meeting people, picking up bingo machine parts and finding really weird problems and the wild coincidences that made the repair job neatly come together.

First, a bit of background about this particular Sea Island:

The short version is that I purchased the Sea Island from Hyann, a collector from MAACA after he replied to my “LF Bingo machine project” perennial post. I drove down to Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu during my summer vacation. I made a road trip out of it and had lots of fun.

Actually did two trips to Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, one with the machine only and the other with the bunch of spare parts. The second trip being on a Friday, I dropped by at a PW that was happening at tonysoprano's. That was lots of fun chatting with pinball people.

However, the story of how this machine came into my possession is a bit more complicated.

My example of Sea Island is a Frankenstein machine. The body and head serial numbers don't match.

The body is pretty beat up with beer rot, dodgy paint touch ups and has a collection of South Carolina tax stamps. The most recent being from 1975.

The head on the other hand is electro-mechanically like new (however the BG is totally roached). That was the first thing I noticed about it: how the head's inside looked so clean. It looked like it wasn't routed for very long.

Usually, magic screen games look pretty beat up since they were enjoyed by the players and were good money makers for the operators. Magic Screen games were produced from 1958 to 1963 (and Malibu Beach in 1980). After 1963, Bally never managed to release bingo machines that surpassed the magic screens in popularity. They were operated for many years, some till the very end in 1994 when the Régie pulled the plug on them along with all the privately operated one armed bandits and video poker machines.

The head and body were purchased a few years ago from Alouette by an enthusiastic collector that eventually came into contact with Robert with the hope of him fixing it. Robert didn't have time for it. Then Yannick picked it up with the hope of fixing it up for himself. Finally the game was offered to me since Yannick didn’t have the time anymore to fix it. I picked it up because I was looking for a new project to keep me busy.

I wasn’t particularly enthused by Sea Island, being a plain jane magic screen game, the second screen game released by Bally, but the timing was right and the game was cheap so I decided to have a go at it. Who knows, I might discover new problems to solve. I had previously fixed 8 bingo machines for myself and a few others for fellow collectors. I felt like I've been around the block a few times, it was starting to get boring. Little did I know I was to discover and bunch new problems in machine number 9.

But there's more: The machine came with half of a spare Sea Island head, the half with the magic screen mechanism. The other half I had picked up from Robert in september 2014. So finally I had a complete spare head for a Sea Island that, you will later read, will come in very handy. But you have to admit it's a pretty wild coincidence to pick up both halves of the same bingo machine head from two different collectors, and almost a year's time between both halves.

The unloading anecdote

When I got home with Hyann's Sea Island I proceeded to taking it out out the car. To offer some bit of background information, I live in one of the more colourful and turbulent neighbourhoods in Gatineau. It's the old part near the paper mill. Theres always stuff happening, police cars at boarding houses. Old wino's on old bicycles. Dubious ladies. You get the picture.

So I'm unloading this bingo machine from the smallish hatchback in my driveway. I see this older guy, with a mullet and a Canadian Tuxedo et al. walking down the street. Alarming is the fact he's walking down the street in a decided step holding a baseball bat. Now this may not be entirely weird, there are, in fact a few baseball fields real close to my place. However he doesn't seem to have a ball or a glove. The whole thing is a bit strange.

So as the baseball bat wielding mullet man gets closer to me he looks at the bingo machine body that I was just getting out of the car.
He says in french:
That's pretty old.
I reply: it's from 1958.
He then says:
That's one of those old machines with the bingo card on the glass.
That's right I say.

Baseball bat mullet man is now all smiles, gives me a thumbs up with his free hand and more or less says “Right on!” and continues on his way.

Oddly enough, it was the first time I met a non collector who knew what a bingo machine was. Too bad I didn’t get the chance to chat with him further.

End of part one

sea island front.jpg
Sea Island front view

ses island side view.jpg
Sea Island side view

tax stamp.jpg
Sea Island tax stamps

sea island door.jpg
Sea Island door

Sea Island head guts
The repairs: In this part, and this part only, I will chronicle the repairs I did to the Sea Island.

Info dump: When working on a Bally electromechanical game you must take into consideration two basic facts:

1) Bally had terrible fuse clips that are prone to poor contact, heating up, and breaking apart.
2) Bally had terrible jones plugs that are prone to poor contact, heating up and failing.

The first thing I had to do to this game was change the line cord and all the fuse clips. Then I cleaned and checked all the switches in the body: Shutter motor switch stacks, ball through switches, coin door switches. Cleaned all jones plugs with a small brass bristle brush.

Then I cleaned all the switches of the trip bank, taking apart each stack, first cleaning it with a brass brush, then cleaning off the old corrosion and carbon on the points with a flexstone and dentist's tools. Then I check for excessive pitting of the points and finally I check the switch gaps. Just the trip bank takes 2 to 3 hours of cleaning.

Then I was ready to put the juice to the machine.

Trying to troubleshoot bingo machine problems before cleaning the aforementioned components is an invitation to insanity. Furthermore, you absolutely need the schematics AND the manual for the machine. These can easily be found online.

If someone is wondering why I have the machine down on the floor in the workshop. It's simply because it's easier to work on the units, especially the ones at the top of the head. On it's legs, I would've needed a step ladder.

The first major issue with the game revealed itself when I first turned the machine on: The magic screen index coil was permanently energized, the magic screen would go all the way to the end and the red and yellow super section feature coils would trip. Hmm.

One or multiple short circuits? A wiring mistake maybe? I started thinking maybe that's why the head looked so new. A problem no one could figure out. This lemon of a head probably went from coin-op to coin-op, the problem never to be found. An unsolved mystery. Time to find out if I earned the title of Bingo Mechanic!

The writing on the... head

When I pulled off the backglass, I found a collection of names written on the magic screen panel and on the credit meter. I wonder who were Bob M., Lego, Ronny and Joe? Maybe they were techs who tried to fix this game? I like to think that's who they were.

Also there was the serial number written in magic marker on the left side of the head, preceded by the letter “X”. Did “X” stand for crossed? As in a crossed wire? Perhaps.

This first problem turned out to be terribly subtle. The short circuit was in the magic screen feature unit wiper assembly, also commonly known as a “spider”. The spider is a stack of fingers making contact with different rivets on a stepper unit's biscuit for different circuits such as odds, features, lamps and proportioning. Different groups of fingers must be insulated from adjacent finger groups by way of insulating spacers. The most common insulating material in EM games is micarta.

Micarta is made from organic fibres with a binding resin, similar to fibreglass. The problem with micarta is that if it burns up it leaves the carbonized organic material. Carbon is basically a conductor. If a insulating spacer should, for any reason, burn it becomes a conductor and you have a short circuit!

From the outside, the magic screen unit wiper assembly looked intact. However, when I proceeded to dissect the “spider” I discovered that the very last (bottom) insulating disc had two tiny burned spots at the core. There was the first short circuit. It was my first time encountering such a subtle problem.

The second major issue was two pronged: 

1) Red and Yellow super section feature trip coil would always trip when machine was powered on.
2) When the machine went through the search cycle, the machine would always score 166 credits. Even it there weren’t any balls on the playfield! The 166 credits was actually 75 credits from red score, 75 credits from green score and 16 credits from yellow score (at basic odds).

Again, I found the problem to be a faulty wiper assembly with no outward sign of failure. I narrowed it down to the yellow score unit wiper assembly. Yellow score, yellow super section feature and red super section feature all pass through the yellow score unit. Checking the wiper assembly on the work bench with a multimeter, it turned out to have a four way short circuit! That's enough to render the machine inoperable. I swapped the wiper assembly with one I had from the spare head and the problem was solved.

The third major issue was the game scoring nothing for a 3 in line and scoring a 3 in line when there was a 5 in line, through all 3 colours.
That one turned out to be simple: the core of the search wiper was broken and the soldering points for the slip rings to the wires for the search wiper fingers were cracked. Again I swapped the broken search wiper with the spare one I had.

After that, minor problems were solved by cleaning the various stepper units and changing the score extra step unit coil that was burnt. Nothing very interesting. The usual stuff.

The machine now works as it should.

End of part two
magic screen.jpg
Close-up of magic screen unit

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Names on the magic screen panel

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Names on the credit meter

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The mysterious X

aka spider.jpg
Stepper unit wiper assembly

micarta disc.jpg
Micarta insulating spacers: Can you see the carbon spots?

search wiper.jpg
Broken search wiper

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Spare Sea Island parts machine in a plastic tote bin


Sometimes, when I think about how these old machines travelled time and space to end up in my basement, I can't help feeling overwhelmed. I Imagined all the times they escaped the crusher and wonder why they didn’t end up at the metal recycler like most bingo games did.

However, we must not get too sentimental, overly warm and fuzzy about bingo machines. They are after all the great grand father, or equivalent of modern day video lottery terminals. Thy caused the same problems to players back then as their modern equivalent do now. The only difference being that the player had minimal control on where the balls would land with a bingo machine. These games made a fortune for the guys who owned them. Many players were made penniless (or nickel-less) by these machines. Bingo machines were responsible for the bad reputation given to pinball machines. Yet it's undeniable that these games were electromechanical marvels. The technological high water mark of the electromechanical amusement device industry. Electromechanical computers.

In their heyday these games were almost everywhere: Pool halls, taverns, bars, drug stores, snack bars, corner stores, gas bars etc. Yet, nowadays, these games have been virtually erased form our collective memory. Replaced by the more socially acceptable proper pinball machine. You practically never see a bingo machine in the background of a 50's and 60's period movie or TV show! Here are a few exceptions.

Memories from Rouyn-Noranda

Back in 2002, I was 19 years old, I was sitting in a Rouyn-Noranda bar at around lunchtime. My father and I were chatting with 2 guys that were partners in a coin-op business. We were relaxing a bit before making the seven hour trip back to Gatineau. We had just bought a large quantity of arcade machines and jukeboxes off them. In the back of their shop they had a beat up Super Wall Street. I wanted to buy it, but, unfortunately for me, they didn’t want to sell it. At the bar, I asked them why they didn’t want to sell it. Their answer was that these games were too complex. That I would never be able to fix it. “They're full of cams” they said.

Ten years later. I bought my first bingo machine. I was 29, I remember repairing that first Super Wall Street. I think I must've spent about 80 hours repairing it, but I did it. I remember I didn’t even know how to play it. I had to learn everything as I went. I think it was a good thing that I had to wait so long before getting my hands on a bingo machine. It gave me some time to mature, to learn to become more patient, more thorough.

These game were obsolete before I was born. Yet, I can't help being drawn to them. The first time I read about bingo machines, I was intrigued. Just the idea of the “Most complex EM amusement device” fascinated me. Their very existence was an open challenge for me to repair them.

The first time I saw a bingo machine in person, I was mesmerized. The first time I worked on a bingo machine, I was hooked. There's nothing like being in the zone when I'm working on one of these machines. It took many years before I got my hands on my first bingo machine but it was worth the wait. Most important is the fact I've met lots of people and made a few friends along the way through my bingo repair adventures. I hope to meet more people still and drive many more miles for this crazy passion.

Return to the writing on the head

I think it's justified that I add my name to the collection of names already there. Doing this, I also think of people who had this game before me. Gerry, Serge from Magog, Robert and Yannick. This game has been around! And like any good MacGuffin, it carried this story through.

my name.jpg
My mark

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