Monday, March 15, 2021

Testing of old pinball coils with a Megohmmeter

Do not attempt to replicate what I demonstrate in the post below.

High risk of electric shock!

You have been warned! 

This story started a long time ago. Like late 2014. I was fixing a United Singapore bingo machine. Everything was going well. The machine was ON and plugged in. Then, I touched the trip bank assembly reset arm and got a shock. Nothing dramatic but it was quite a zing.

I immediately suspected the large 120V reset coil, something like the coil's winding was shorting to the brass sleeve.

Back then I only had a crappy multimeter that didn't go into the megohm range.

Heck! It didn't even go that deep into the kiloohm range so when I measured between the winding and the brass sleeve, it measured open circuit. So based on my dodgy measurement device with a very limited range, the coil tested OK. Seemed fishy and I suspected the multimeted wasnt sensitive enough.

Fortunately, I had a spare coil, swapped it out, and no more getting zapped by the trip bank reset arm.

A few weeks ago I remembered the incident with the Singapore coil and it got me thinking. It piqued my curiosity. I looked through my pile of bad parts and found the bad coil in question (shown above).

I ordered a Chinese Megohmmeter off ebay, I think it was the lowest priced one for sale. I tested the coil with the Megohmmeter... 0.034 Megohms

Be careful when using a Megohmmeter. You can literally zap yourself with the probes!

Then I tested it with my current multimeter... 0.23 Megohms! There's like a factor of 10 difference between both measurements. Anyway, the coil is bad. That's an established fact. Good coils should measure open circuit between on of the lugs and the brass sleeve.

Then to illustrate just how bad the coil is: I put 120V on one of the coil lugs and measured between the bracket and ground... 119V. No wonder I got zapped all those years ago! 

Never play with line voltage! I'm demonstrating this so you don't have too. 

When working on old games with coils with brass sleeves, that's something to consider. The risk of getting zapped! The coil winding might be shorting to the brass sleeve and then conduct to whatever metal part the coil stop is in contact with.

The enameled wire might be damaged either from heat or wear. From factory there's a kind of cardboard insulator at the core between the sleeve and the winding but if the coil was re-wound, or if the coil got too hot at some point, that insulator might not be there anymore or may be ineffective.

So the moral of the story is if you want to fix old pinball / arcade / bingo machines buy a good multimeter. With the especially old coils test the resistance between the winding and the sleeve.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

1962 Bally Spinner revisited

So a while back I cured a recurring problem on a Bally Spinner...

I slowed down a stepper unit from resetting too fast using junk Bally stepper parts.

It can be seen here in a previous post.

This whole thing was a proof of concept really. I was curious if it would work. It does, but it's not flawless.

Since then I got a chinese copy of an Omron delay timer. All the junk parts are out.

Now the Omron timer delays the timer unit reset coil from energising by about 1 second during the game's reset cycle. Plenty of time for the ball dump motor and cam to do it's thing.

The delay timer is just shoehorned on to the control board. Secured by a zip tie. The modification is completely reversible if desired. It won't even leave a trace.

It works amazing!

Eventually I will get around to making a video of the reset sequence with the delay unit...

Thursday, February 11, 2021

1936 Bally Challenger One Ball Payout Pinball repairs

 Since the previous post

The cabinet was glued up. Looks like it was "repaired" at some point by a previous owner but ever since I got the game, the front left corner was split.

I got Challenger going. Fixing up the game wasn't really exciting stuff to write about.

All in all, there was 3 half ass days of work. Just basic stuff: clean, burnish, lubricate, look for obvious broken stuff then power up and troubleshoot. It's an exceeding simple game. My example of Challenger was fairly untouched, that helped a lot.

The game uses reed connectors that all need to be burnished. I use commercial grade green scotch brite pads I cut up into small squares.

Connections between head and body.

Took off the shutter to clean all the switches

I took out the payout unit, took it apart as much as I dared to clean and lubricate the moving parts. I noticed there was a seized sliding bracket. I had to let that marinate in oil for 24 hours and then with some patience and gentle persuasion managed the free up the part.

Embiggen for details

The payout drum has brass traces that needed to be burnished. I used a fiberglass sanding pen to clean the traces.

To help me with the repairs. I got a second Challenger parts machine from my friend Caitlyn. I don't know the machine's history or how she got the machine in the first place but it was very useful.

My Challenger

Cait's Challenger

The electromechanical bits in Caitlyn's game were completely modified. Apart from the odds drum unit, nothing was compatible with my example but the playfield was in a bit better condition than my example. My challenger has a dent in the playfield and most of the flag springs were broken. I decided to swap the best parts to the parts machine playfield and use that with my cabinet and head.

Batteries / Voltage:

Looking at the battery box in my Challenger and confirmed with Caitlyn's Challenger there were 10 batteries. Presuming that the machine used No 6, 1.5V dry cells, that would add up to 15 volts. Until I can find some suitable transformer, I will use a variac with a bridge rectifier and capacitor to power the game.

Looking at the playfield, I noticed a patent that wasn't mentioned in any of the ad's: 2,029,177 Game Apparatus by Bon MacDougall.

From what I understand from the IPDB entries Bon MacDougall was first employed, or at least designed for PAMCO then with Bally. That might explain the similarities between the One Balls produced by Bally and PAMCO.

Again, perusing IPDB, I found that the same game design was used multiple times by Bally and PAMCO...

Bally Derby, that conveniently has schematics. Speaking of schematics... also found a picture of the schematic for a Bally Prospector of the same era. Not exactly the same as Challenger but close enough to have a good idea of how it works.

PAMCO: Here are a few examples of one balls using the same electromechanical design and playfield layout.

Red Sails


Parlay Senior, Notice it is almost identical to Bally Derby.

I think what differentiated Challenger from other similar One Ball games of the era is the multiplier.

How the feature works from the player's perspective, just like the red arrow says, first Nickel resets and starts the game. Manually raise the ball to the shooter lane. Then additional Nickels can be played to multiply the odds. Up to 3 additional Nickels for a 4X multiplier. Guaranteed step up for each Nickel played.

There are 6 odds steps: 2, 4, 6, 10, 16, 30

Payout odds are displayed for each numbered hole

The Odds Drum has a total of 24 odds combinations.

With a 4X multiplier, thats a maximum of 120 Nickels! Thats 6 bucks in 1936 money. Today that would be worth almost 113 dollars but consider that one play today would be worth about 1 dollar according to the US inflation calculator.

Electromechanically the multiplier is accomplished by way of a stepped plate that shifts 3 steps by way of a step up solenoid to push multiple payout slides. One slide pushes 2 Nickels at a time. There's a stack of 4 payout slides. At the start of a new game the multiplier is shifted to home position.

Game impressions:

The nautical artwork is absolutely beautiful. It's quality artwork that you would expect seeing as a framed print. The cabinet is tall and imposing. The diminutive head looks awkward on such a large cabinet.

It's as bland as you can imagine. Backbox lighting is minimal. The playfield layout, with all the flag springs makes it almost impossible to hit a hole that pays out. That's to be expected from a game that has all but one holes that pay out!

As for historical relevance, Challenger is an example of early games with changing odds. The "One Ball" concept is contrary to later One Balls. In other / later One ball games, only the lighted selections pay out, all the other holes lose. In Challenger, all the numbered holes pay. The Mystery Purse and the Grand Trophy hole pay an award of at least 10 nickels, all the way to 30 Nickels on a basic game. But the fact that's it's virtually impossible to hit a winner makes the game feel rigged and has little "play again appeal". I suspect the players who played these games when they were new caught on pretty fast. 

If you do manage to hit a winner. Coins drop into a spring loaded drawer.

The machine also has a EM sounder that knocks as coins are paid out. The sounder has an on/off switch for the operator.

Tilt Bob and Sounder

The game has a Nickel Validator (or would it be more appropriate to call it a conveyor or elevator... They call it an Escalator in the Flyer) To see if a player wasn't using wooden nickels or metal slugs. The coins drop into the payout tube at the end of the conveyor. Once full, excess Nickels drop into a cash box.

Friday, February 5, 2021

1936 Bally Challenger One Ball Payout pinball Introduction

1936 Bally Challenger One ball payout Introduction

As I write these words, it’s winter, I’m bored from my day job and there’s a night time curfew because of some virus that shall remain unnamed.

So What do I do? Take a week off work to fix up a project game of course!

The project: 1936 Bally Challenger One ball PAYOUT machine.

I bought Challenger back in October 2016 at the Church of the Silver Ball Swap meet.

You can even see the game loaded in the minivan in one of my early blog posts.

One ball machines were a type of gambling machine popular at the time.

Later One Ball games typically had horse racing themes and for that reason, were widely referred to as horse racing games.

When One ball games were outlawed by the 1951 Johnson act, Bingo machines took over the ecological niche of the “One Ball”.

On a personal level I’ve been wanting to take care of Challenger for awhile now. It has beautiful nautical themed artwork and it pays out in Nickels in a small spring loaded drawer.

Since I repaired First Race and Hustler Arrangeball, I’ve taken a liking for games that pay out coins or tokens. Over the 20+ years of collecting and repair of amusement devices, I’ve become a bit bored with vanilla flipper pinballs and arcades.

When playing a payout game: hearing those coins being paid out automatically, that metallic staccato is music to my ears.

My example of Challenger is in reasonably good condition. The cabinet requires a bit of a glue job and the electro-mechanical bits need a refurbishing. The game is non working.

There’s not much information about Challenger online. I’ve found only one good picture of a Challenger… on IPDB and I strongly suspect that it’s a picture of the actual machine I have.

On the IPDB entry for Challenger there’s two advertisements that refer to two US patents in small print:

1802521 and 2010966

Other than that, No schematics, no manual. No information.

It’s a battery operated game and I don’t even know how many batteries it requires. Don't worry! I have a plan.

This is experimental archeology. 

The more I learn about this era of games, the more I realize that there’s more information that has been lost, forgotten, than what information we collectors have gleaned collectively.

In my mind, 1936 is a watershed year for amusement with the release of Bumper: first game with electromechanical scoring and electrified bumpers. It’s one of my favourite Bally games. It has simple, yet beautiful artwork and it’s a must have for a serious historical pinball collector. I’m looking forward to bringing Challenger, another 1936 game, back to working order.

There’s a frumpy looking red arrow sticker on Challenger's apron. It reads:


After depositing first coin

Raise ball to shooting position

Before depositing additional coins

Interesting: Multiple coins! Multiplier?

Next post, more overview and repairs begin

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Bally Surf-Club (1954) Bingo: Cheating using a variable transformer (var...

I recently acquired a variable transformer. With a 120 Vac input, I can vary the output between 0 and a bit over 130 Vac.

This reminded me of something I read somewhere a while ago: Back in the day a variable transformer could be used to cheat on a Bally bingo machine.

The Idea was that the machine first had to be surreptitiously plugged in through the variable transformer.

Then through skill or luck a winning combination had to be achieved.

Then, as the machine started adding up credits the variable transformer’s output voltage would be dropped. Enough so that the machine kept operating but just barely. In that state the replay register would keep adding up credits but the replay counter step up coil would be too weak to accurately step up the wiper. If it was done correctly the machine could rack up credits indefinitely. It it was just close enough, the replay counter would once in a while step up successfully the wiper.

That was all theory… more like a myth or an urban legend.

With my new toy I decided to test that urban legend.

Turns out it works.

a 100 replay payout went up to 247 replays. Off camera when I tested the varian I went well over 300.

As one can notice watching the video, the bingo machine’s energized relays start buzzing loudly and the lamps become dim at around 85 Vac.

Also Back in the day there were the logistics of bringing a Variac into a bar and getting the payout from the attendant without the varian being noticed. Easier said than done.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Which one would you rather play?

1972 Bally Fireball or 1940 Gottlieb Score Card?

One is ubiquitous among the serious electro-mechanical collectors. The greatest EM ever produced bla, bla, bla.

The other is extremely marginal.


If you chose the latter, you're my kind of pinballer.