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The T3sk3y Defenestrator

The Minnesota Pinball Hall of Fame

Last Sunday I had the privilege of being part of the Grand Opening for the Minnesota Pinball Hall of Fame in Cokato. In actuality, it’s my friend Jason’s collection of over 50 of the best pinball machines from the past 30 or so years.

Matt McKee can’t decide what to play next

Believe it or not, at one point most of this collection was in his house – filling just about every free inch of basement, garage, entryway, etc. Over the past year, he built a 40×80 heated outbuilding on his property to house his collection.

To celebrate the grand opening, he invited the Pinball Madness gang and several other friends for a Sunday afternoon party that started with Go-Karting and ended with hours of great pinball and lots of food.


Jason and Heidi Sheard playing on Stern Row

How do you pick favorites? It’s impossible.. but if Jason ever wants to sell his Nine Ball – I’m first in line!

See the rest of my pictures here: Link

TSPP Restoration – Pt. 6 – The Grand Finale

After a hard month of work, I put the finishing touches on my restoration of my 2003-built Simpson’s Pinball Party. The final chapter actually started about three weeks ago when I moved the playfield back in to the cabinet. My lovely assistant (and wife) Heather helped me move it from the rotisserie to the cabinet. Over the rest of the evening, I reconnected all connectors and routed them back through their cable stays. By about 10 PM, I was ready to power it up.

Finished TSPP
The fully restored Simpson’s Pinball Party

As expected, things weren’t exactly perfect. They never are. I put a pretty good gouge in the cabinet as I lowered the playfield in. I also had a few switches that needed adjusting. Once these were resolved, I was able to play a few trial games. Again, I found a few things that needed work. The schoolbus kickout hole plugged the ball into the plastic guard and often wouldn’t make it out of the hole. Probably most seriously, the couch release plunger stuck open.

I fixed the couch plunger by tearing the mechanism apart. I realized the coil stop was broken off and the plunger would go in too deep. Since a new weldment with the coil stop is about $45, I decided to make my own. This involved a big washer and a rubber stop mounted to the weldment. It worked perfectly! The kickout hole issue was fixed by adjusting the clear plastic to give it a little more room.

The last issue resolved was the plunger. It was worn to the base metal and the compression spring was partially embedded in the knob. This made it pull very rough and it made the plunger stick out too far. Since it stuck out too far, the autoplunger only barely touched a waiting ball giving it a very wimpy launch. I solved this by buying a new shooter assembly from Pinball Life for $18.

The finished playfield
The finished playfield

All pictures from the restoration can be found here: TSPP restoration pictures

TSPP Restoration Pt. 5 – The Mini Playfield and Cabinet

The restoration is nearly done.. in the course of two hardcore nights, I rebuilt the entire mini-playfield and cleaned up the cabinet.

The mini-playfield was one really dense bit of engineering – there is so much crammed on to it! I started teardown at about 9:30 and finished at about 1:30 AM. It was somehow one of the dirtiest parts of the entire game – which says a lot. Everything got torn town to the bare playfield and cleaned – with a new couch, ramps, rubbers, bulbs, and garage door decal used.

As usual, it wasn’t without hiccups. Whatever the garage door decal is made out of should be used to stick the tiles back on to the space shuttle. It took me the better part of an hour to freeze, sand, and Goo-Gone that baby off. The coil stop on the couch weldment was broken off as well. This caused the plunger to overextend and jam in the open position. Since a new couch weldment is about $39 – I decided to make a coil stop with a big washer, a screw, and a rubber post top. Works like a charm!

The TSPP Mini-playfield

The rebuilt mini-playfield on TSPP

Next up was the cabinet. Truth to be told, I’ve never done a lot of cabinet cleaning before – but this one couldn’t be ignored. I think somebody stored coal inside this machine during the winter months and gouged the insides of the cabinet shoveling it out.

Ten rags and half a bottle of Windex later, the inside was squeaky clean. I had to patch the scrapes with Rock Hard (a quick dry plaster), then repaint with Painter’s Touch Semi-gloss black. It turned out great!

New siderails

New siderails and repainted insides

The side rails had to be replaced with the new style Stern siderails to cover up wear around the flipper buttons. These look great on the machine – and nobody would know unless they were a real student of Stern pinball machines.

My final task was to rebuild the flipper buttons. I put in brand new buttons and brand new switches inside. Between the time that Stern made this machine and now, they switched the switches to a different design. These are supposed to be more robust – but it required drilling new mounting holes.

All that’s left is to put the playfield back in and wire it up.. but I’ll save that tale for next time.

As usual, all the pictures are here: Link

TSPP Restoration Pt. 4 – Bart is back!

Finally.. after a week of tedium.. real progress is happening on my Simpsons Pinball Party. I was able to spend several hours late Saturday night and Sunday rebuilding the playfield. It’s my favorite part of the restoration – putting shiny new and cleaned parts back on. It’s also like the latter stages of a jigsaw puzzle – the ‘velocity’ of adding parts goes way up once the number of parts remaining start going down.

Daredevil Bart
Daredevil Bart back on his perch

After Sunday, I’ve almost finished the lower playfield. I completed the right side along the flipper and added Itchy and Scratchy back to their perches. I rebuilt and reassembled Daredevil Bart and put him back on. I also cleaned up Comic Book Guy and added him to his Treehouse Ramp perch. I put the garage ramp and the Treehouse Ramp on as well. All that is left on the lower level is the wireforms and the Moe’s ramp.

Comic Book Guy and the Ramps
Comic Book Guy guarding the Treehouse Ramp

I’m still a long way from done – I’ve got to rebuild the entire upper playfield and I have to recondition the cabinet. But, it’s nice to see real progress.

As ever, all restoration pics are here: Link

TSPP Restoration Update #3 – Pop Bumpers Suck.

The pop bumper is one of the iconic pinball playfield items. It looks kind of like a mushroom – except it ‘pops’ when you hit it causing the ball to be forcefully flung away. The typical number of pop bumpers on a playfield is three – though I’ve seen as few as none (Elektra, Pharaoh) and as many as five (The Addams Family, Slick Chick). I’m sure there are some with even more, but not in the modern era. I’ve owned two pop bumper-less machines – Elektra and Pharaoh, and though Pharaoh is a great machine, it is kind of naked without ’em.

So, why the big dissertation on pop bumpers? There is nothing – and I mean nothing – that I hate working on more than pop bumpers. They were plainly NOT designed for service. Need to take them apart? Prepare to get out the soldering iron to remove the light socket. It’s a major teardown just to replace something stupid like the plastic saucer.

The old Sterns (like Flight 2000) were on the right track. They made the pop bumper unit one solid module that fit through a hole in the playfield. It took only a few screws and the entire unit came out as one. Awesome.

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of rebuilding the pop bumpers (also known as jet bumpers or thumper bumpers) on my Simpsons Pinball Party. Like everything else, it was more work than anticipated. I had a broken yoke attaching the plunger to the saucer, the saucer rods were mushroomed and fused to the yokes (which made them impossible to take apart), and everything was very dirty. I also put new mylar around the pop bumpers which Stern neglected to do in the first place. It’s amazing how much wear the playfield gets around the pops without it. I fortunately caught it when it was only denting and it hadn’t worn paint or broken through yet.

After a few hours of work and some new parts.. viola.. clean and hopefully well working pop bumpers:

TSPP Pop Bumpers

Rebuilt Pop Bumpers on my Simpsons

Check out the rest of my restoration photos at: Link

Lots of work – little to show for it

I’m now one week into my Simpson’s Pinball Party restoration project – and though I’ve worked a little every day, I don’t have much visible to show for it.  I do have a really great pile of dirty used parts.  Still, I’ve made great progress.  The topside is completely cleaned, polished, waxed, and ready for reassembly.  Most of my work so far has been done on the bottom.  I’ve rebuilt every flipper mech, I’ve re-sleeved every coil, I’ve replaced the drop targets, and now I’m working on replacing all bulbs and cleaning all playfield inserts.

Damn, there are a lot of playfield inserts on this game!

I’ve also started cleaning parts – Goo Gone, Bleche-White, and sandpaper are my friends.  I removed a bunch of dissolved rubber from the flipper bats, and I’ve started re-graining ball guides.  That involves a lot of hand sanding.  It’s not fun – but it looks great.

Tomorrow, my woodgrained vinyl should arrive so that I can repair the siderails.  Once I do that, I can start reassembling the topside.  That is far more fun than working on the bottom.

Until then… I think I have some inserts to clean…

Welcome to Springfield

I’ve got a new addition to the pinball stable..

The Simpsons Pinball Party
The Simpsons Pinball Party

I picked up this machine a couple of weeks ago from PinPimp Jr. (that’s Jesse Bohnsack). I was originally looking at a cleaned up and restored machine that he had – but he ended up picking this one up in the meantime. Since I like a good project – I bought the fixer-upper.

This is my first modern Stern (I’ve got an old Stern Flight 2000 as well). It’s a wickedly complex game – with dozens of subgames, wizard modes on top of wizard modes, and lots of playfield toys. It is freshly off-route – and it’s caked with grime. Underneath all the soot, (I swear it was on route in a coal mine) – it’s in great shape and it’ll restore perfectly. It’s a fun change of pace to be able to order ANY part that I need new from the manufacturer – and they are reasonably priced.

I placed a jumbo order with Dave Mercer at For Amusement Only two weeks ago – and Dave hooked me up with a killer deal. I’ve now got all the parts in house and I’m ready to start restoration. It’ll need a complete playfield teardown and cleaning, new ramps, new plastics, new decals, and all five flippers need to be rebuilt. The cabinet is nice, but will need new siderails to cover wear around the flipper buttons. It’ll also need some patching and paint touchup on the inside.

I’ll be periodically posting my progress over the next few weeks as the rebuilding commences. I finally got to start on it late last week. It’s my first time using a playfield rotisserie (from Jason (mnpinball)) – and I can see that it’s going to be night and day better to work on.

Playfield on a rotisserie
The playfield mounted on the rotisserie

After a couple of nights of late night wrenching, I’ve got the topside stripped and most of the black grit wiped away. I also started work on rebuilding the flippers – I’ve never seen such worn mechanisms in my life. Once I’m done with that, I’ll start polishing the playfield surface.

You can see the complete photo gallery here: Link

Pinball was on FIRE..

.. over at the T3sk3y ranch last weekend. I hosted the first annual “Jingle Balls” pinball party for about 20 last weekend. The Minnesota “Pinball Madness” gang does a roaming party each month so we can enjoy each others collections. December was my turn. A good time was had by all.. even the wives that got dragged along by their pinball-loving husbands. Of course, some of the wives were just as bad!

The highlight of the evening was a Secret Santa drawing for a pinball-related gift. Top score on my Flight 2000 machine got first pick of the gift table. Honors went to Bryan Kelly with a respectable 1.5M score.


Dave and Jason qualifying for the gift drawing – if only Dave brought a gift!

Check out the rest of the pictures at the Pinball Madness site: Link

Flight 2000 Playfield Restoration

One of the project I’ve undertaken during the month of August (as if I didn’t have enough already) was the restoration and preservation of a nice Flight 2000 playfield that I obtained last year. The playfield on my machine, like most, is severly worn to the point where it’s down to the wood in many places. This machine is 26 years old and was rather popular – so there are very few pristine examples out there. Nearly all of them have a large wear spot in the bonus area in the lower center, and absolutely all of them have severely flaked backglasses. When a playfield without all of the wear appeared on eBay last year, I wasn’t going to let it slip out of my grasp. Ultimately, I obtained it at a fair price.

It’s not a perfect playfield – there was minor wear around the inserts, rings worn around every playfield post, and significant ball swirling everywhere. I really had two options.. clean it up and call it good – or go all out on it and do a complete restoration. Since the rest of the machine restoration has been very thorough – I decided to go all the way with it.

My original plan was to send it off to be touched up and clearcoated professionally, but the fairly high cost (approx. $250-$600+) put me off since the value of the machine is only around $600. I was ultimately encouraged by some of the Minnesota restorers to give the DIY approach a shot and try clearcoating it with Varithane.

I started with the mylar removal. The playfield had factory mylar rings around the pop bumpers – and they had to go prior to clearcoating. I had already tried the freeze spray method on my Funhouse with great success – so this seemed like the right approach. The 26-year-old factory mylar didn’t give up with out a fight – it did come off with the freeze spray, but not without lifting a couple of tiny flecks of paint. The goo didn’t budge either – and it took some vigorous scrubbing with a Magic Eraser and Goo Gone to remove.

The next step was mitigation of the ball swirls. These are caused over the years when the topcoat cracks or gets scratched and grit works its way in the scratch. Until recently, these were impossible to get rid of. Some genius tried a Magic Eraser from Mr. Clean a few years ago with miraculous results. I’ve since used this on a number of playfields to good effect. I gently scrubbed the playfield using 90% isopropyl alcohol and the Magic Eraser and was able to clean up most of the ball swirls. I probably could have been more aggressive with it, but I really didn’t want to break through the artwork.

The next step was to touch up the artwork. This playfield was in very good condition and didn’t require much touchup. The main issues were some rings where posts sat, the black rings around the inserts, and a couple of small flecks in various places. Flight 2000 is fortunately one of the easiest to touch up since it’s a lot of solid colors and not much fine detail. I decided to use Michael’s acrylic paints since there was a wide variety of colors available and they are relatively cheap.


Touching up the playfield with acrylic paints

One issue that I discovered quickly was that color matching is hard. I decided very quickly that I was better off trying to mix the right color than I was trying to find an exact match. I also discovered (after the first coat of Varithane) that the color changes when it is coated with Varithane. What looked like an exact match really wasn’t any more – it darkened significantly as if it were still wet. To solve that problem, I discovered that a wipe with Naptha over a dried area would wet it and show it’s ‘coated color’ and I could adjust accordingly. I ended up mixing paints several shades light to accomodate!

To prep for the Varithane, I gave everything a very light sanding with 600 grit sandpaper. I followed that with a final rinse/wash with Naptha to remove remaining wax and junk and finished with a wipe down with a tack cloth.

The coats of Varithane went on over the next two weeks. Each time, I’d repeat the sand / rinse / tack cloth routine – then spray another layer of Varithane spray. Ultimately I ended up with 7 coats – I had to go a little heavier to fill in some low spots on the inserts. I found Varithane rediculously easy to work with – you have to try to screw it up. It self-leveled really well – and even small puddles didn’t really show. I had no problem with ‘orange peeling’ or cracking or any other craziness.


The third coat of Varithane just after application

One thing I wish I would have done ahead of time was to level the inserts with cyanocrylate (Super Glue). The Varithane didn’t fill as well as I had hoped, and I never really got things totally level. I attempted hand painting layers of Varithane in the inserts after about 3 coats. Frankly, this was a painful waste of time. It did level the inserts – but it was a royal pain and I spent half the time fixing bubbles. If I would have only leveled them *first*.

After the final coat, I put it on the shelf for a month to dry and cure. This was a really long month – but it went by quick since I had a newborn in the house. Little William was born the day I put on the first coat of Varithane. When the month had passed, I started the polishing process by lightly block sanding with 600 grit, then 1600 grit. After the 1600 grit, I used my Treasure Cove polishing kit to buff it to a very high shine.


Partway through the polishing process and it’s already starting to shine!

One problem that I had with sanding was that the wood around the screwholes was ‘raised’ in a sharp point. This would sometimes catch the sandpaper and rip it – making a big sanding scratch on the new clearcoat. This was very annoying since I had to go resand that scratch every time. Ultimately I can still see a couple – but if I didn’t tell you where they are, you wouldn’t find them.

Another sad epilogue was that the playfield had a very slight warp to it. When I reattached the siderails to the new playfield, it caused the field to flex making a couple of inserts pop slightly. It didn’t break through the clearcoat, but it did show a small white line.

Final results? Pretty awesome, if you ask me. I learned a lot by the process and will do it better next time. It’s not perfect by professional standards, but it look many times better and it plays really fast and smooth. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I should have completed restoration pictures up soon – stay tuned!

Lessons learned?

  1. I’d probably try a different paint next time. Acrylic was just too thin for the inserts – it took heavy coats to cover.
  2. I’d pre-level the inserts with water thin SuperGlue
  3. I’d be a lot more careful sanding around post holesd
  4. Follow the Marvin3M guides at Diamond Plating a Playfield

Go go go, Crazy J!

One of the local pinball boys is upping the ante pretty significantly in Cokato, MN. Jason “Crazy J” Rufer broke ground today on a new 40×80 outbuilding – which he is calling the Minnesota Pinball Hall of Fame. Jason currently has over 40 pins and has pretty much run out of room indoors. Jason already has the most enviable collections around – and this should only help him add to it.

Go get ’em Jason – we’re looking forward to the Grand Opening!

Pinball Hall of Fame Groundbreaking

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