Restoring a Childhood Favorite (part 1)

Back when I was 6 years old, my Mom used to take me out of school on the 2nd Tuesdays of each month. We’d head off for the local Chuck E Cheese’s because on those 2nd Tuesdays, all pizza buyers got free video games for the afternoon. For a 6 year old boy, this was like walking into heaven! I’d run around for hours playing all sorts of games: Pac Man, Centipede, Bezerk…but my favorite game there wasn’t a video game at all, but a pinball machine built by Williams in 1984: Space Shuttle.

This game rocked my world. I remember playing it over and over and over again. The lights, the sounds, the ball flying around the machine at blazing speeds; there was just nothing like it! It has never escaped my memory as being one of the coolest games ever made.

Sadly, pinball machines have lost their pastiche over the years and are disappearing. Back then there were many pinball manufacturers (Williams, Data East, Gottlieb, Stern, Bally, Sega, etc…); today there is only 1 (Stern).

As a result, I’ve been looking to restore an original Space Shuttle pinball for years. I finally found one worth fixing on Craig’s List a few weeks ago. This is the story of that restoration. Along the way, I’ll give several helpful bits of information I’ve collected  (like what color exactly the cabinet is) for those of you reading this because you’re restoring a SS yourself.

GETTING THE GAME
My buddy Erik and I traveled 30 minutes to pick the machine up in a borrowed cargo van. Through this experience I found out that pinball machines aren’t all that heavy, unless of course you have to travel up 2 flights of stairs! Ouch.

To move the game, the backglass comes out by using a keylock at the top of the back box. Behind it are all the CPU boards and some carriage bolts holding the back box vertical. I unscrewed these to get the back box to lay flat on the pinball machine and into the truck we went.

“Liftoff…”

After bringing it into the garage I was very pleased that our trip was successful and the machine powered right up. Everything except the display worked great. That isn’t to say the machine was in good condition though: the playfield was in awful shape with pieces of packaging tape used as mylar in certain spots, several plastic pieces were cracked, mechanical pieces were broken (the plunger for instance), the cabinet had never been cleaned and had collected 28 years of dust. Still, it was SUPER cool to be playing this game in my garage with some friends!

Here you can see years of wear over the “USA” area. A magic marker and packaging tape was used to hide the damage, but it looks awful.

TO RESTORE OR REPLACE?
Basically, I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to either a) fix the original playfield, or b) remove ALL the top and bottom components and install a new playfield.

More packaging tape being used to “protect” the playfield. It is now bubbling up and steering the ball as a result. Click to see close-up.

After evaluating the surface thoroughly, I realized that either way, I would have to remove all the components on the top and bottom in order to work on the damaged areas. As I started to take off the top components, I could see that  the damage was much more extensive than I had thought. It was going to take me months of fixing the wood, resurfacing, repainting, and clearcoating the playfield to bring this particular surface back to life. I decided to scour the web and look for either “new old stock” or a reproduction playfield. I ended up buying one of the last reproduction units available from “Classic Playfield Reproductions” (http://www.classicplayfields.com/): highly recommended.

Just to give you an idea of how many components are on the BOTTOM of the playfield!!

WORKIN’ IT
I began the process of removing all the top components. This actually wasn’t all that hard, just extremely time consuming. I did NOT want to be stuck with pieces everywhere, so I very carefully placed each piece from each section in separate baggies. I also took copious notes on where each piece went, along with snapping a ridiculous amount of photos with my iPad. In short: this SAVED my butt. If you are restoring a pinball machine, please listen to this advice: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.

With the top bare, I began the arduous task of labeling each of every single wire, solenoid, switch, and screw on the bottom (my wife was very generous in letting me the dining room table as an operating table for a week or two). Unlike the top of the playfield, this was not easy. The top is all pretty stuff; the bottom is where the guts are.

Along the way, I also cleaned every single plastic piece by buffing with “Novus 2” (a pinball industry tip), dishwashed the playfield pieces, used steel wool on each and every metal piece, vacuumed the interior of the game, and repainted areas that were badly scratched or damaged. I also replaced a few things:

  1. all the “rubber bands” and rubber bumpers. You can see the difference in the pic to the right.
  2. the pop bumper components (the metal sleeves, the switches, springs, and bases) and soaked the tops (which cannot be found anywhere online) in bleach to get them back to their original color.
  3. All of the light bulbs (two types: 44s, which I replaced with 47s due to a lower operating temperature and therefore, less power consumption, and 89s).
  4. Finally, as with all the SS pinballs this age, I had to replace the space shuttle toy on the playfield. It was horribly yellowed and cracked. The new one looks much better and is significantly stronger.

In the next part, I’ll show what went into removing all the bottom components, as well as showing the differences between the new and old playfields…

Steven

It’s ALIVE!! (post 4 of 4)

(a continuation from the previous blog post on Rebuilding An Arcade Game)

It works!

With the cab repainted, everything completely cleaned, and the control panel rebuilt, there were only a few things left to do! First, the marquee lighting wasn’t working, so I replaced the fluorescent bulb. That didn’t work so next I swapped out the old FS-2 starter with a new one. That did it.

Then I ordered a very nice 19″ LCD monitor to replace my screen burned CRT. The LCD is incredibly light compared to the CRT, and didn’t take much to hang (I just cut 2 pieces of wood to stretch across the cabinet).

I plugged in the screen to the game’s PCB to make sure things worked. To my delight, it did! It was so incredible seeing Pacman come up on the screen. I knew that no matter what happened from here on out, at least the game would power up!

Beautiful original glass

I wanted the cabinet to really shine so I went online and found the best looking original Centipede marquis and glass screen bezel I could find. They looked better than I could have hoped for (though admitting, cost more than I had hoped too).

Now came the part that took me the longest: wiring. Though I bought a wiring harness online, I needed to strip many of the 40+ wires at both ends. Then, I needed to make sure that all the wires were attached tightly to the inside of the cabinet. If the wires were loose inside, they could cause all sorts of problems.

Wiring up the control panel was very rewarding. Unfortunately, the trackball didn’t work when I wired it up. I couldn’t understand. I rebuilt the entire thing! What was wrong?! I couldn’t find ANYTHING on the internet saying what could be wrong.

Don't use the green...

get the red.

I want to be the first one (at least that I’ve seen) to post why an original Atari trackball WILL NOT work with the iCade 60-in-1 PCB: it’s the green PCBs in the trackball. For some reason, they just flat won’t work with the iCade. SO, I had to buy a new Happ red PCB (I realize this is tech-talk, but for anyone else out there who might be rebuilding one of these, I want to relate how to get it done). Once this came in the mail and I wired it up, everything worked great. Get the new red PCBs for the Atari trackball if you’re rebuilding — you can buy it here.

In the process of all this wiring, I’ve learned how to use a soldering iron pretty well! That was cool for me, as I hadn’t had much experience with one before.

Power for monitor

The last piece of wiring that I wanted to do was get the power supply for the monitor to plug into the power supply so I’d only have to have 1 power cord coming out the back of the cabinet. A little scary for me considering that I was working with a full 120v. Yikes! After a quick stop at Home Depot, I had all the tools I needed to wire it up. After I double-checked the voltage rating with my new multimeter (another new tool I’ve acquired in the process of rebuilding this game), I plugged in the monitor and……success!

All finished. I closed the back up and switched it on. Everything works flawless & the cabinet looks great! I’m really proud of myself as I’m not one that is usually all that good with this sort of thing. I’ve also ALWAYS wanted to 1) learn how these old games actually worked, and 2) actually own an arcade game! On the downside, my initial $20 investment inflated rather quickly, but I’m glad I did it. What a great 2 weeks for me. I can’t wait to invite the guy who originally sold me the game to come over and play! He’s gonna kick himself. 😉

All in all, I spent around 45 hours on the game. Not bad. Below I’m including a bunch of images of the finished game in my garage. If you’re ever in the area, drop me a line and let’s play it out. I’m getting quite good at Burgertime, Centipede, and Donkey Kong (1, 2, & 3)! Thanks for reading! I’ve really enjoyed sharing the process with you.

With love,
Steven

Before..

After


Before...

After

Before...

After

Before... (old CRT)

After (new LCD)

30 Years of Dust (post 2 of 4)

(a continuation from the previous blog post on Rebuilding An Arcade Game)

First things first, I needed to take EVERYTHING out of the cabinet so that we could clean and refurbish. The marquee, the TV, the glass and plastic bezels, the control panel, the coin box, the original power supply, the switching power supply, etc…

I don't think the original owner knows about "Spring Cleaning"

As you can see from the picture on the right, 30 years of dust can really tarnish things. This is the original Centipede power transformer (albeit with a few modifications to bring it up to current spec to work with a switching power supply). Everything looked like this so a thorough cleaning was necessary (not just to make it look good, but dirt and dust can impede electrical flow as well).

Almost everything is held in with simple carriage bolts.

I took out everything of the cabinet with 1 exception: the CRT TV. I don’t know much about tube televisions, but I do know that they have capacitors that can store lethal amounts of electricity. I’d heard a few stories about people getting pummeled with enough voltage to bring some serious pain. I also know that CRTs can be quite heavy and if dropped will actually IMPLODE causing shards of glass to spit out up 6′ away. Yeah, I was a little intimidated.

I went online and found a great site on rebuilding old arcade games (www.arcaderepairtips.com). There, they showed me how to properly “discharge” a CRT TV. Wasn’t very hard, but quite scary for me. I actually had my wife Amanda stand close by wearing rubber gloves, ready to shove me away from the current if I got electrocuted. 😉

Screen Burn on an old PacMan. Click to see closer.

The TV came out and was in fact, quite heavy. Good news is I didn’t drop it. Bad news is that once it was out, I could see that it had quite a bit of “screen burn.” Too much to be salvaged (unless I wanted to read “1200 points for extra life” across every game).

So I went online and started researching arcade monitors. Turns out that they stopped making new CRTs years ago. They are now quite expensive because they’re either used or New Old Stock (NOS). I also was concerned about the electricity thing, and the weight. Whatever goes in there has to be properly mounted again as the screen actually goes vertical on those old games. It was mounted horizontally on my “reconfigured” Centipede/Wonderboy cab. This concerned me.

I also noticed that all the new arcade games (from like 2000-on) used new LCD technology that looked way better. LCD monitors are brighter, lighter, crisper, and use WAY less electricity (read power consumption and heat). Oh yeah and they’re cheaper too. The only downside is that it doesn’t have quite that same “crappy” CRT look that we just accepted in the 80s (which I actually kind of wanted because it’s all about nostalgia for me. I want everything to be as authentic as possible).

After...(with new LCD)

Before... (old CRT)

After much deliberation, I decided to go with the LCD (and now that I’m almost finished with rebuilding, I am SO glad I did). I knew that it would end up looking much better and have way less problems if I went this route. CRTs have so many complications and just the sheer weight to ship one was pretty ridiculous. By the way, I did find out that although you and I may have used CRTs in our homes back in the day (and use LCDs today), the ones in arcade games are a little different both in mounting and also quality (after all, an arcade game is on for like 14 hours every, single day).

Before...

After...

Back to the actual cabinet: it was actually in quite good shape, but definitely needed a little TLC. Amanda and I cleaned the sides up from any skid marks and dirt over the years. We did this with ammonia, soap, and water. We also wanted to get the black “black” again.

As you can see in the pic on the right, the bottom of the cabinet had taken quite a few shoe kicks, probably from stealing quarters here and there. We wanted that looking new so with slapped a fresh coat of paint on it. We did this to all the areas that were black.

Before...

After...

The entire cabinet is also surrounded by plastic t-molding on the edges. This had also taken a beating so I ripped it all off. I ordered some new t-molding from arcadeshop.com and installed that once we started putting everything back together.

After...

Before...

With the cabinet starting to shine up, we looked to where we should focus our efforts next. There was still so much to do! The control panel…