Bally Hoo ? Again in '69 ?

It was cold yet sunny this morning in Montreal, and after a day away from work yesterday, I was looking forward to a new day on the road doing pinball repairs - i.e. my work on my terms. All the necessary tools and parts had been prepped the night before and neatly stationed at the entrance of my workshop ready to go. Add to that the fact that I was feeling OK for mid February, and we were good to go. "OK" may be a little optimistic, suffice to say that I was functional and attentive, which is what it takes as a minimum to do proper pinball repairs.

The first repair was in an old industrial building dating from the turn of the century, (no, not the 20th to the 21st) which has now been tastefully converted to business lofts. I was escorted by the Saturday maintenence guy to a beautiful loft space which housed a German re-import of a pinball machine bearing the name of the first pinball built by the Bally Manufacturing Corporation which back in the 30`s operated under the Lion Manufacturing Company, a fitting name for an innovative and bold manufacturer created and run by a tough little Irish guy called Ray Maloney. Ballyhoo was the first pinball machine produced by Bally and was a huge success for them in the early 1930`s. The machine I was shedualed to fix this morning was a different story altogether. Consider 37 years difference in the middle of the 20th century and you have a huge difference in your sights. And while bearing the same name with very little physical or playability resemblance, they will remain worlds apart. Via just 37 years, two devasting world wars accompanied by technological advancements to freak out your grandfather and his brothers, these two pinball machines have very little in common except the name they both share.


The owner of this 1969 Bally Hoo model re-imported from Germany is a well educated cultured man by the name of Jerome. A man who impressed me with his dialogue, e-mails and verbal mannerisms. A refreshing change from the run of the mill pinball owners on my client list. So many people have pinball machines in their homes these days, might as well pick and choose the ones worth knowing and doing repairs & maintenance for, in fact that is my new rule going forward, only take on the clients who can speak in full sentences and have attention spans longer than a squirrels.

The repair consisted of repairing a motor run on condition caused by a broken lead on the outhole coil and then adjusting, waxing, tightening loose screws and bolts on this otherwise well maintained machine for its age, which incidentally is 46 years. And in those 46 years, once again technology has taken huge leaps and bounds propelling us humans into yet another new age where many, many wars have taken place ending so many of our lives that it is unimaginable for one human being to grasp and spirtually conceive the grandeur of these losses and consequences. Acknowledging the latter has deeply changed our world and how we understand things that don`t seem to want to change. Technology changes, but wars continue to be waged, that hasn`t subsided for some reason. The circus goes on, no matter what drunken, savage and greedy perverted ringmaster is calling the shots for the manipulated unsusupecting masses. Just part of evolution you say and all in the order of things, right ? And the beat goes on.


When I finished the repair I tested the game and made sure the ball counter indicator lights could be seen and that the thumpers were thumping and that the ball saver was not buzzing annoyingly. I was satisfied with the repair and was led back downstairs to the front lobby. I haven`t met Jerome yet, but I know that he will certainly enjoy his pinball now that it was playing correctly to say the least. However confusing the theme and design is, it remains pinball in all walks of the life which we experience and which we often perceive differently..

I spent the rest of the afternoon at a good friend`s home fixing several problems on his varied pinball and arcade machine line up. We talked, had lunch and repaired problems that have been lagging and plaguing his enjoyment and peace of mind for what seems to be an eternity. I will be doing more for those who are lagging in repair services from yours truly this coming week, apart from trying to maintain an even keel I will do my part in getting things to work again, even in the slightest most seemingly meaningless situations.


Bally 1940 TRIUPMH TABLE ?

I understand alot of things when it comes to pinball. It is people that surprise me, some are sweet, some are stupid and some have let themselves become so boring with little consequence about them and/or their actions. It`s OK, really it is all OK because what will come forth will come forth, and will likely be dealt with via evolutionary means. I just don`t want to be in the way when the time comes for an adjustment. That is why I try to hang around people who accept their weaknesses and understand randomness, beautiful terrifying randomness. 

Heartburn, damn heartburn. I hope somebody got this pinball table and saved it, save the table from its' fate. I certainly couldn`t bear to use it as what it was proposed to me as.

This nice French lady called me at work asking for monsieur Robert. WTF. Mon-sie-ur, ok, let`s dance baby.

"Oui madame, je peux vous aider ?"

"Ah oui, SVP aider moi."

Shit, this one is for the books.

She sounded spaced out but very nice, and I have a weakness for weaklings. In fact I strongly encourage sweet innocence whenever I detect it, because it is fleeting and not sustainable as such in this graceless age. But then again, fuck the times, beginnings are usually nice at first.

She started off by saying that she had a pinball machine she wanted to fix. OK, that is what I do and she knew it from having talked to a ferocious operator of coin operated equipment in Montreal born from the years of over spilling cash boxes and decadent smokey cabaret locations. The "saucy stuff" of coin operated times in Montreal before Jean Drapeau and Pax Plante put the hammer down in 1957. Even the law didn`t stop the cowboys and the runaway cash filled train they were riding. It took decades to lasso the revenues and their custodians. In fact the frontier town boys fought back "the law" to the max, and coin op inevitably evolved. They (the cowboys) had alot to defend no doubt, but that is another story.

So Madame Rose told me how she wanted to resurrect this 1940`s pinball machine from it`s present state. It had been reduced to the status of a lowly coffee table. Much like the essence of the coin operated "amusement" industry of late. Her request was innocent enough regarding this pre-flipper gambling pinball machine from the most cowboyish manufacturer of the 20th century, - the mighty Bally Manufacturing Corporation.

I was reluctant to take the job. But I kept listening and responding with hope that she would tell me the whole story behind the pin. We discussed finding (or even making) new legs for the machine to replace the stubbies which this pinball cabinet now sported and which was sadly elevated three inches off the carpet in her living room. I then asked her where the head for the body was stashed. She paused for a moment and said that she thinks her husband had put it away somewhere in the basement years ago when he cut the legs off.

"What happened then ?" I asked.

"He had stopped playing it, decided to make a coffee table that lit up out of it and died."

Then I learned that Rose wanted to get it back together, fixed and playing in order to give it to her recently married thirty year old son, - but, as luck would have it, her daughter in law doesn`t want "cette chose" in da house.

After telling me this, Madame Rose admitted in all confidence that she was very disappointed in her son for not standing up to his bride and accepting this beautiful machine which his father played and enjoyed. I told her that times have changed again and pretty soon there will be no continuity if fathers and sons don`t relay what has been loved. Total silence, absolute total fucking silence.

She then asked me if I would buy it from her just to save what she thought was a beautiful piece of furniture. She offered it to me for 50 dollars. I thought about it for a minute and said no. I am out of time and so is this machine. The train will keep rolling even when the engines have been turned off, it just wasn`t my turn to buy this particular ticket in the here and now from Madame Rose.

Here is hoping someone out there will want to bring it back to its majestic allure and move it further away from the ground.


(pictures to follow)














Sometimes I feel like I am 27, but lately I been feeling closer to 67. So when I am lucky enough to feel my real age, (51) I make the fierce resolution to live that properly. At least that is my intention when I occasionally feel like a steady, secure and content 51. Doesn’t happen often lately, but when it does, it is the greatest overall feeling. In fact, it is about feeling at your best where, when and how you find yourself being well in the moment. Being content and secure are two very good indicators of feeling “right“ in one‘s skin.

As we age, most of us feel new physical pains we never felt before, and feel less and less sure about being able to do certain things we use to do so easily. We are also prone to feel less secure about our future that seems to be changing faster than we are, and seemingly right under our feet.

And now that we are living longer and longer in the first world, I believe that it is essential for us to remain useful and flow with the changes whether we like them or not while trying to not be a burden on others. Acceptance is key. The natural order of things however makes sure that living too long doesn’t work well. Evolution demands an out with the old in with the new process as the necessary order of things, quickly, efficiently and without prejudice or judgement. Trying to outplay this can be hazardous, and this is what is happening here. And as we hang on to our lives and again try to challenge natural fact by persisting in staying alive for as long as we can and adjusting our behaviour and habits in hanging on to our largely insignificant lives for as long as we can. By doing this we are encountering new challenges that we have not dealt with before. The question that kept coming to mind on Wednesday night was, why do we hang on to our lives so hard ? We say it is for others who count on us, but that is usually an excuse for not wanting to go and make room for the future, - others being the reason is a good answer nonetheless, because it gives staying alive after reproduction a purpose which seems worthy and selfless, yet somewhat unnecessary now, especially as males.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that we really only have a few years to live and feel alive. In other more modern words, only a few years to be full of spunk, about 20 to 30, the rest is superfluous and lacking a certain purpose in the face of evolution. Which is in fact all about spurring on growth and renewal. In the end, this is the whole purpose of this great play which keeps unfolding and repeating itself to some unknown end, if any. Once we have reproduced, the natural order of things has little use for us, again especially for males, except to move on and hunt again. Yet as we get older, staying alive becomes gradually laced with all sorts of unpleasant stuff like physical pain, dulled senses, menopause, andropause and finally death in whichever way the body finally gives out. So now, how will we deal with the effects of our aging population? We have never in our whole history lived and/or seen this before. The social consciousness is inevitably changing as our  population gets older and lives longer and longer as the younger ones react and cope with this in ways we can not totally anticipate. So the social consciousness will by the force of things get more insecure, crankier, and slower to run, and this does not collectively make for a hopeful & happy climate in general. Again, this is a new situation we have never seen before in the whole of our history, - 10 thousand generations have passed and this situation has never happened before, yet we go about thinking that all will be fine. It won’t, we are not smart enough to outplay the natural order of things, even if we think we can, the consequences will be rampant soon, in a decade or so. We may be too short-sighted, greedy, inattentive, scared, unquestioning and hasty in reacting intelligently to this, all signs of being pretty dumb collectively.

Tonight I left the shop around 7 PM feeling pretty good physically on this beautiful summer night in the season of life. I had a repair to do, so I was justified in my going to a bar on a weeknight, I felt that it was useful to have people playing pinball again on this night, and so providing the younger people the chance to be playful. But why not blend some fun in it for myself as well while I was at it. I had my eyes and mind wide open so as to take in this cultural city and its young vital creatures which grace its streets. I didn’t have any family obligations or responsibilities to tend to that night, which would had otherwise kept my mind preoccupied and limited. In fact, obligations in general end up making one feel less able to do what is truly desired instictively and help to hinder us in remaining open and carefree when we sometimes need to be in order to get back to daily business. We sometimes need a break in order to be able to feel maybe a little younger and lighter. Most of us still seek this as valuable.

I stopped at the Pharamaprix in St.Henri near the shop in order to take my blood pressure before heading to town (a precautionary measure) and saw two guys fighting over a can of beer. It almost came to blows. One guy was in his sixties and hanging on hard to the can, and the other was in his twenties fiercely yelling at the older guy that it was his and to let go of it. I watched from a distance and waited in case it came to blows, thankfully it didn’t, and the younger guy got hold on the can and told the old man that he was a crazy fuck. They each walked away from the conflict and stared long and harsh in each other’s direction as they cautiously moved apart.

I then drove up Atwater above Sherbrooke and past the beautiful houses and mansions along Doctor Penfield when suddenly I heard the metallic roar of a Ferrari which passed me swiftly on my right. Then on my left a rapid “swoosh” emanating from a powerful BMW which went passed me just as quickly. I realized that maybe I was driving a little slow, but I wasn’t, these two older males were trying to get ahead of each other for some reason. The road was bumpy like most Montreal streets, and I then heard a noise up ahead, the sound of scraping metal. The Ferrari was faster yes, but lower to the pot ridden streets that all of us drivers are forced to share regardless of what we own as vechicles.

Once at Suwu I prepared to see why the GTB 1957 “Ace High” wood rail was not resetting. What I am finding as these machines get older and are getting played more often again is that new things are begin to break that I have never seen before. The manager Alex, a young, slick extremely good looking guy in his twenties came by to greet me and looked on fascinated by the propped up playfeild as I continued looking for the reason they couldn’t play this fun machine. I looked to the relay bank under the playfield and located the reset relay. Sure enough, when I moved a wire on that relay, I got the machine to go through it’s reset sequence. No it wasn’t a dirty contact, it was a case of something I am seeing more and more with pins that are over 50. The solder simply cracks off the contact lead from continual vibration and usage. It broke clean off, and kept the shape of where it was melded onto the lug for the past half century. I called Nathan, one of the owners, and told him that although the machine had worked perfectly for the past 6 months or so on free play, these are new symptoms we will be starting to see in the near future and that it would be best to redo the hundreds of solders that some dead factory worker did in 1957. He didn’t understand what I was saying, but agreed nonetheless and asked me to give the invoice to Alex for payment. Short sighted thinking I thought, but what the heck, many of our political leaders are doing this these days. I said OK, but mentioned that Alex hadn’t offered me a beer yet and would he instruct him that this is the customary practise if he wanted a cut rate on the repair. So as I was closing up the machine and while playing a few test games, I was served an imported redheaded beer as is customary, and anything else I asked for during the remainder of the evening.

I took my place at the end of the bar so I could see the whole establishment and its patrons after putting my tool box back in the car and feeding the meter until 9PM. Alex took a break to ask me about how long I have been fixing pins. Well, he asked and I was in the mood to talk. Thirty years plus came the answer, and his eyebrows lifted slightly. He hadn’t pegged me as 51 yet and asked how old I was. I answered that I would forgive him for asking if he would forgive me for not answering. He broke out laughing and went off to tend to a table. He got busy, and I was approached by a waitress with a young and beautiful demeanour, mostly because my glass was empty. She started a conversation about the repair I did and I made her laugh. She was beautiful and full of life and vitality in conversation. As the evening went on, Alex and a couple more hipsters who had seen me fix the machine wanted to know more about the work I did. A French girl named Perrine with a strong European accent told me about her home town in France and how these machines were making a comeback, mostly in Paris cafés. I bought her a drink and let her talk, cause the French are naturally very boisterous and talkative, she was no exception. I watched her vivid and descriptive recounts of her father playing pinball across the pond. She had a summer dress on and I was hard pressed to not admire her honey thighs, her beautiful demeanour and body English. Life is sweet I thought as I took another sip. There was no other place I wanted to be at that moment. Some of her friends gradually gathered around as she continued talking about what she found fascinating in the “billiard electrique” culture and the old example of this game sitting at the entrance of this bar and how on some nights she becomes mesmerize by the action it provides.

I stayed at the bar until about midnight when fatigue finally took over and I left these young people to carry on with their evening. I felt like a 70 year old plus great grandfather on tour or something like that. It was time to leave. I am sure that someone like Mick Jagger feels young on the road, and that is why he is still touring, it can not possibly be for the money. In an interview I saw, he said that being on the road with the boys was like a break from the responsibilities of daily life. I understood this that night.

But I digress, in fact I had no role to play except being myself in the city, which I guess is my favourite role in a way too. I would never want to come off as some old hipster while in the midst of the youth that filled my night Wednesday, so I left as we all will have to someday, I guess that I am just practicing my exits for now.

Older people get crouchy when tired in general, and are usually in some sort of physical pain which generally makes them unpleasant and not fun to have around. I knew that I was getting to that state and did not want to hinder the evening that was just starting for these vital creatures.

So be playful and encourage discourse with those who are younger than you and for as long as you can, that is what I have come to understand as vital for now.


Working, Playing and Letting Go

The Montreal Pinball Repair Blog Chronicles

 After work today I headed off to Mountain Sights road, off Jean-Talon just east of Decaire. There, adjacent to the Montreal SPCA lay my next service call, near car washes, cell phone providers, body shops and clothing liquidation depots. I have been to some odd places in my time to fix pinballs and so I am pretty comfortable with all sorts of off the wall situations, but this one still managed to take a chunk out of the service call cake.

Past tacky paintings of various domestic looking animals on the walls, I lugged my repair gear up two flights of stairs to a ratty looking waiting room full of sad looking folks with their sick pets. The receptionist had the most beautiful eyes however, and when I told her that I was called here to repair a pinball machine, they sparkled with positive acknowledgement. She led me through a side door which then funneled us past cages of animals, examination tables, and finally to an operating room where in a corner was a Segasa “MONACO”. I lay my tools down on the long stainless steel table which was just the right height to do the call. Pretty handy, and damn convenient I thought , but still weird. What was a noisy EM pinball machine doing in an operating room ?

Two hours later, the machine played and looked better than it probably had in a while as overall operation was restored to an enjoyable level. I then went off to get the receptionist who in turn fetched the vet to play a few games and then pay me. The only thing he asked was, did I have any animals at home and could we maybe exchange services next time. I replied that I had an old cat. He smiled, said that I could bring him in when he needed shots.

So now I had a vet, never really needed one, but if I do, that’s covered as well.  After lawyers, barbers, dentists, drug dealers, accountants, derelicts, doctors, car mechanics, hustlers, antique dealers and architects ready to barter services, I am still missing one important profession. Luckily for me everybody seems to like playing pinball, so it is only a matter of time before I get my fill. There is a small percentage of people who can’t bring themselves to appreciate this game,  those few oddballs who are too unimaginative to acknowledge that this life gig is short, brutal and sweet, and sometimes all at once. But who cares about those people, I have no interest in them, nor them in me. So just as the vet loaded up a needle to administer the big sleep to someones pet on that same stainless steel table from which I had now removed my tool box and supplies - I hurried out. And as I left, and made it safely down those stairs, I heard pinball chimes ring out through the night air, and I thought to myself that all I finally needed now was a service call in a funeral home.

I truly enjoy the fact that all sorts of people like playing pinball, - rich, dumb, poor, clever, annoying, smart, kind, mean and stupid - it is worldwide in a way. But due to less public exposure, and other things silly made popular in its’ place, pinball is slowly being forgotten. I still find it amazing how people have let themselves grow away from this life reflective game of chance and skill.

A loss of interest and a general frustration easily sets in with the average private pinball machine owner when it becomes difficult to find a reliable, accessible and competent repairman. This is perfectly understandable. Good pinball technicians are hard to sniff out and track down, let alone hang on to, since they are usually “cow-boyish” at best. When a good tech can`t be found, the hacks and the criminals usually fill in the void and show up to fix your pinball machine. At this point, the urge grows amongst most home pinball owners to sell off the bulky machine in order to terminate the frustration factor, - it is unfortunate to say the least, since these things are suppose to be fun. But on the flip-side, this situation can be good for collectors and people who have it as a hobby to bring these machines back to their original state and shine. These are the best caretakers in my opinion, since they will take the time (often at 10 cents an hour) to bring these machines back to their prime. The real danger lies in the fact that these malfunctioning machines also fall prey to the grasp of the greed heads and the hackers. When these machines get posted on Kijiji or Craigslist, that is usually when the screw-heads who understand nothing at all about being alive except getting their “fuck you” money out of others take over and and ruin the fun for everyone else . These parasites who think that making a whole lot of money in one shot is the goal of their sorry existence really just impoverishes  the hobby as a whole.

I strongly believe that making money is simply a consequence, or bonus if you prefer,  to what productive people do naturally - i.e. work and keep busy. I refuse to let money be the pivotal goal that defines a transaction between two people, when I have my say. And having money doesn’t make me believe for one single freakin’ second that one human being is worth more than any other, no matter how much the vile idea of “net worth” is pushed onto us by one-dimensional thinkers who dwell mostly in financial institutions. Making money is fun, but most dumb dumbs and greed heads will take it to obscene levels as their meaning in life. Their choices help to take away from the importance involved in building healthy business relationships without burning bridges. Their ugly and impatient greed also contributes in creating  prosperity gaps which inevitably leave bad feelings behind to fester as a consequence of their short-sighted thinking.Some people know what time it is, others simply don’t.

So I say, play pinball,  live the moment and let the other guy have his turn. And if it is a one player game,  just let the ball drain when the time comes, and move over to let some one else start their game.

1 of 11,400 Space Invaders
Retained in an East End Loft

The Montreal Pinball Repair Blog Chronicles

Saturday afternoon while running around with my fiancée and six year old son doing errands, Sally Ann & Tau (the name of the stores, - I am not a hippie) I get two messages on my business line, about 5 minutes apart from the same guy inquiring about a pinball repair he wants done. My policy is to try and call everyone back as soon as I can, when they sound serious, so I did. He wanted to know how much I charged to fix an intermittent problem he was having with his Space Invaders pinball machine. At first I got the feeling that this guy was putting me on. His voice was bland and lifeless. I felt like he was just prodding me for information about what his machine was worth rather than really wanting to fix it. I cut him off when it got boring, and after he asked how much I would give him for it broken. I told him that I wasn`t interested in buying pinball machines that could be fixed and enjoyed, especially when they already had homes, and that I would call him back after 6PM to book his repair.

"Fine.", he said.

Back on the island, I checked the Montreal Kijiji ads and there was a Space Invaders pinball machine advertised as working for $1500, and the phone number matched my caller`s. I got on the horn and asked him when he wanted to get this done. It was past 6PM on Saturday and we agreed to fix it that night. OK then, this guy is serious about his time frame. I asked where he was located and he told me in Rosemont, on Masson east of d`Iberville. Shit ! I immediately explained my rate structure and stressed the fact that I accept cash only for the first service call. He said fine again, - a little too easy for my taste. His neighbourhood did not inspire confidence as an economically stable part of the city, but what the hell I thought, I grew up in Rosemont, and I am more or less responsible.

So I got my Bally solid state repair gear together, told my fiancée that we`d be seeing our movie rental a little later than expected, and hit the road.

Got to the address in question and Paul buzzed me up to a fine looking loft overlooking this rowdy neighbourhood. Pool table in the main living space, Gibson Les Paul under the mint looking Space Invaders pin and his i-phone ringing at least three times during the repair with people wanting to buy this thing, - as far as Québec city. I asked him why the hell he was selling it, the thing was in good aesthetic condition and was going to work properly when I got through with it. He told me that he was in the market for a house and his girlfriend said that they should get rid of "this thing" before moving. I paused from the repair, shot him a look over my reading glasses and asked him what "he" really wanted to do. He shrugged and said, "Fix it and sell it I guess." OK then.

I also asked him how long he`s had it, and where it came from. He told me that about ten years ago an older guy he knew, a coin machine operator had given him the pick of any pinball in the warehouse when he was shutting down the business in the late 1990`s. Paul liked the widebody pin and ofcourse the lovely alien creature on the backglass had stuck in his mind as a kid. I told him that he had probably picked the right one. He also told me that it always worked well, but now after not being played for a couple of years it was messing up. He had powered it up a couple of days ago, wiped it down to sell it and the damn thing wouldn`t play for more than a few games. And then later, as soon as he would hit the flippers, the counters would go blank and the game would start up again in attract mode after a few seconds. Usually, I would take some of the client`s time to look at the problem more closely, but this was Saturday night and I had other "fish to fry" as they say. So I cleaned and inspected both J3 connectors located on the power supply and on the solenoid driver board. I also redid a few cold solders I saw, or thought I saw. Slight improvement, but no, - after half a game, blank- same problem. Once I checked the diodes on the flipper coils, I swapped the solenoid driver board with my spare, and no more problem. Definitely a shop job on the PCB later on, probably a bad ground or a capacitor. Who cares, Paul and I got to the important stuff and began talking.

So after he played a few uninterrupted games while I packed my tools, Paul`s male character started to emerge. No longer was this young dude calm and docile, he was jumping and swearing at his working pinball. Seeing this, I immediately suggested that he pull the Kijiji ad off the site and enjoy his game for a while longer. In any case, it will probably do better than his RRSP if he wanted to sell it in a few years. He agreed with an excited look on his face, and when I called him back a week later to see if everything was still working, he told me that his girlfriend had gotten into the game big time and that they were going to bring it with them into their new home. He then asked if I would be available to disassemble it & set it up again to make sure everything worked properly when the time came for them to move.

"Call me," I said, "I should still be around."

Bells & Whistles

Been pretty busy lately, as expected. What becomes difficult when one is busy is finding the time to look at the details that make up the bigger picture. If you enjoy details, pictures and stories as much as I do, then you are usually willing to sacrifice a bit more sleep to pursue the ever changing truth.
1977 Jungle QueenDuring the past six months I have run across more than my share of late 70`s electro-mechanical Gottliebs for some reason, and that`s when I first noticed this particular detail. This summer I was asked to do an on site estimate of a 1977 JUNGLE QUEEN that had been stored in a shed for the better part of the past decade, without a playfield glass to protect it ! The crazier thing was that the client wanted me to fix it on location, and for it to be perfect when I was done. After trying to explain that this would be a costly and time consuming process in the worst kind of way for the both of us, I advised him to bring the machine to the shop for an over-haul. I also reassured him that the mouse crap and cat hair would no longer haunt his dreams & hopes for a "perfect pinball" if he followed my advice. He insisted on a home service call and was willing to pay the going rate. I told him that even if I did the repair on location it would not be without several return calls while the machine comes back to life and finds "its beat", sort of speak. Even though he said he was willing to pay, I refused the job out of good conscience, no point being half-assed about what this machine really needed. Never mind the lively discussion that ensued, he agreed to have it shopped at a later date.
What I noticed while doing the estimate was a cheap looking circuit board next to a near perfect chime unit. This flimsy looking circuit board mounted with Robertson screws was definitely not standard Gottlieb issue, and neither was a 3 inch open faced unprotected speaker screwed into a cross rail near the cashbox. (No, Gottlieb wouldn‘t do that either) At the time I paid little attention to this realizing that it was just some kind of home made sound board created to keep up with the newer solid state pinballs that were now gradually losing their seemingly timeless bells, buzzers, gongs and chimes to those then new and exciting electronic beeps & blurps.
This fall I get a call from a woman who seems to be in a bit of a panic to repair a pinball that she had just sold by means of a Kijiji ad for $300. Once it was picked up and set up by the buyer, it stopped working. The buyer was pissed because he was told that it was in working order. No surprise there. So before taking the job I asked her the standard questions - name and make of the machine and were the counters the type that light up or move & turn physically. She had owned the machine for the past twenty years but could not answer the questions with any certainty, just that the machine made strange electronic sounds when they played it. So not having last summer`s experience with the mouse crap at the forefront of my mind, I logically assumed that this was an early solid state pinball. I showed up at the buyers house expecting a power supply problem or some connector screw up, but no, I came face to back box with an EM Gottlieb 1977 VULCAN that made weird noises when I turned it on. Once I got it started by unjamming and properly lubricating the gummed up credit unit (in those latter GTB EM models the credit unit plays a bigger role in the games` start up sequence than their previous EMs) I was again assaulted with more goofy sounds instead of that satisfying electro-mechanical clatter alone which Gottliebs have when they go through their score reset sequence. I then propped up the playfield, and once again, there was that same homemade looking PCB screwed onto the side of the cabinet with no chimes in sight. The new owner asked me if there was a way to turn that thing down and get him a set of chimes. Jumping Jesus I thought, same cheap assed crazed operator trying to compete with progress once again. Probably the same yahoo who operated that Jungle Queen laden with mouse shit I saw last summer, but I was dead wrong. The truth changes as more information comes to light, and like one smart man once wrote well over 100 years ago now, « Truth has never yet clung to the arm of an inflexible man. » So, understanding this in my gut, I fixed the machine and moved on. Knowing that time would help to edify this detail eventually.
Last month, I get a call from a new client, fairly young guy who is really into EMs. Asks me if I fixed older pinball machines because he was thinking of buying a Gottlieb "SURF CHAMP" off a retired guy for $200, but it was acting goofy. Luckily, I had a client to see in his area and told him I would come by to look at his purchase and give him an accurate estimate. The machine was filthy and had been tampered with significantly over the years. Upon closer inspection, - no chimes just that circuit board screwed to the side of the cabinet making an awful humming sound. It was time to get to the bottom of this detail. I told my client that it would be preferable to bring his machine in for an over-haul and a complete clean up, he agreed 100% and hauled it over.
Later in the shop I began the preliminary gutting and cleaning of the whole machine. To remove the motor panel and bench it for proper inspection, I unscrewed this PCB "thing" from the side of the cabinet. After taking a good look at it by disconnecting it from its 6VAC power source, (yes you read correctly, gets its’ supply voltage from the same tap as the minature lamps then rectifies it to DC), and its 24VAC sound input triggers coming from three different relays and the three chimes, things began to come clean.

The circuit itself appears to have been made locally in Montreal for Laniel Canada who at the time was distributing and operating pinball machines. (FYI- Laniel Canada is now exclusively a vending machine distributor, located at 7101 Trans-Canada, in Ville St Laurent) The name of the company was embedded on the solder side of the circuit - Synchroson. The model of the board seems to be 1600. This was no doubt a kit sold through Laniel Canada`s parts department as a sound upgrade for older EMs once the solid state pinballs began dropping their chimes for sound boards at the very tail ass end of the 1970`s. It was a way to keep the EMs on the road longer without sounding out of date.
Once repaired, the goofy and now outdated sounds this circuit made mixed with the regular rhythmical EM clatter and beat had gradually brought me back to a pivotal period in pinball history. The bells were gone, and the whistles began to blow, which pointed the way to a new era in amusement. As I played, and was subjected to the six different tones that came out of that cheap speaker, I found myself playing another one of these strange sounding Gottliebs (I can`t remember which one) in the back of a greasy spoon restaurant on St.Laurent boulevard late one evening. Just between Ste.Catherine street and what was then called Dorchester Boulevard, where the smell of steamed hot dogs and hairy Greek men melded with the cheap perfume of the prostitutes as you walked out onto the main.

Larry and his Bingos

Service Date : 09/06/24
Wild PocketsI hadn`t seen Larry since 2001, and before that, in 1992 when I sold him his Bally bingo machine. So that sums up to one visit every 8 years for a machine that is now over 50 years old and still working beautifully. During my latest visit of this 8 year cycle pertaining to his 1953 BEACH BEAUTY, he shared a bunch of great stories. Before sitting down upstairs at the kitchen table with watermelon slices and my cell phone doubling as a sound recorder, I went to repair a ball lift/count problem on his machine and gave it the once over. It stands proudly on varnished solid oak legs in a corner of his basement workshop amidst real tools and "girly" calendars from years past. I couldn`t help but observe that most of the women on those calendars were much more beautiful to me than what I now see on the web or elsewhere. I wondered why for a moment, and then I noticed that these buxom women were all smiling without exception. So with that and other things in mind, I fixed and tested his bingo until everything was good again for probably another 8 years. Of course I put chances on my side by waxing the playfield, changing a few lamps and playing a couple of dozen credits to make sure.
Beach ClubWhat Larry really wanted back in 1992 was a Bally "BEACH CLUB", (also a 1953) but all I had in stock out of the 13 bingos I had picked up from Turmel amusements was a BEACH BEAUTY, pretty similar I thought as a novice, but to this day I am still trying to find Larry his BEACH CLUB, and rightly so. He told me that there was a certain 4 in line combination on Beach Club (9-10-2-1) that he enjoyed "hitting" when he played it back in the 50`s at a restaurant called Chez Henri situated literally on the corner of Beaubien and Chabot. (Yes, and that`s why they were called corner cafés and corner groceries as well) I figured that if Larry could remember a four-in-line combination from that long ago, it must have been a pretty strong feeling being able to hit that combo. You had to be 16 to play in line bingo machines, but Larry was 12 or 13 when he cashed in his first credits. Other places Larry told me about where near Rachel and Clark, when the Plateau was a place where people brought up their families and not just their self-importance. Even though Larry seems quite pleased with his Beach Beauty, the memory for him of a Beach Club stays strong to this day. Just like that feeling you get when landing a numbered hole that connects and makes that desirable 5 in line win that gets you the big pay off. I think that a Beach Club may represent just that sort of feeling for Larry.
I learned a long time ago that in line bingo machine players are a special breed. They are sharp, calculating, and you won`t easily convince them of something that they already have an opinion about. I also noticed that many of them are hunters and/or fisherman for some reason, probably related to the high that gaming provides vis à vis the catch/kill thing. They are from a generation of men that seems a lot tougher than the ones that followed.
After the repair, Larry spoke with me in the presence of his wife and seemed quite surprised at the memories that the many bingos he played over the years helped to conjure up. They both relived decades of their life together by telling me about all the locations in Montreal where he played. From St.Anne`s & Ile Perrot to Wellington street in Verdun, Larry said that bingos were everywhere. Montreal, from all angles was a huge bingo town. So much so that in 1954 a crusading young lawyer recently elected mayor of Montreal (Jean Drapeau) pushed to have a bylaw on the books by 1956 rendering all pinball machines illegal in our city. When Chicago and New York finally redefined pinball as a game mixing skill and chance and thus lifting their respective bans in 1976, Montreal followed suit in 1977. I think that it is safe to say that in line bingos contributed more to these restrictive bylaws than pinball machines themselves. In any case, it must have been a difficult bylaw to enforce in our city, since Larry told me (amongst other reliable sources) that pinball and bingo machines were still being operated in back rooms of restaurants and several other businesses across our city during those prohibitive years. If the mighty Bally Manufacturing Corporation practically stopped making pinball machines during the 50`s in order to get their production lines to produce 96 plus different models of bingo machines over two and a half decades, there must have been a financially viable incentive. (i.e. distributors screaming for this particular product and "tons" of people playing the machines).
Regardless, my intention for this blog was to try and describe how great it was to listen to Larry and how he looked at his wife when he asked her questions about where they lived and what year it was when this or that happened. Through these stories they recalled their first apartment together after getting married in 1962, and a particular vacation they took in Florida where a bingo machine in a gas station contributed to getting them back home to Montreal. Larry recalled that they had stopped to gas up before crossing state lines on a rainy night in Ste. Augustine Florida. Larry dropped one sole nickel in the bingo machine, shot the five balls and hit a five in line. For those of you who have played bingos you know that this does not happen often, to say the least, maybe once or twice in a lifetime if at all. The winnings served to fill the gas tank for the long trip back up to Montreal. They both laughed at recalling the memory of that summer night in northern Florida.
Surf ClubAnother story had to do with a Bally SURF CLUB machine which would end up following Larry around for a few years. He and his brothers were playing this particular 1954 machine in Ste.Anne de Bellevue one bright morning in the early 60`s, when they were suddenly told to stop and get away from the machine because the police were coming to raid every pinball spot they could find. The youngest of Larry’s brothers asked the panic stricken operator how much he wanted for this old machine and ended up buying the thing off him for $110. The three brothers picked it up and took it away as fast as they could before the cops had a chance to come down the line. They schlepped the 350 pound bingo up four flights of stairs of what Larry`s tricky landlord at the time called "the third floor" (to avoid installing an elevator). Larry assured me that they lived on the fourth floor and that all they had in their first bedroom together was a mattress on the floor and a Bally Surf Club bingo in the corner. Recounting this story sitting at the kitchen table in their peaceful and beautiful Pierrefonds home made them both smile. A simple and clear memory from the early `60`s in Montreal when everything was possible for anyone with intention.
When Larry`s wife got tired of having to watch the Surf Club machine move with them as they grew their family, Larry decided to give it away to a friend (pretty smart I thought, that way you knew where it was if need be). But then Larry told me where it went. He gave it to a good friend who lived, out of all places in Paris, Paris Ontario that is. Even after his friend Gordon Macdonald passed away, Larry was unable to get it back from his widow. He called her a couple of months after Gord passed on to see if he could get the machine back, but she basically told him to .... for some reason.
Finally, the phrase that Larry uttered to me near the end of our nostalgic conversation that stuck so clearly in my mind was, "I just could never resist them", and I think that once you`ve made a hit on a 1950`s Bally bingo machine, (or a United bingo for that matter) you never really get rid of that bug. I know this from fixing and testing these electro-mechanical wonders before putting them up for sale. And even in the early 1990`s, 40 years after their creation and deep in my basement workshop, I understood the appeal in the feel and sounds of these brilliantly engineered rhythmical computers. There are few experiences that I enjoy as much as holding a roll of 40 nickels in my hand, warming them up while I consider the particular backglass, and letting them drop feed into the slot until the odds & features are just right for me to finally decide to shoot up the first of those five granted balls. The moment after they have found their numbered seats, the balance of the warmer nickels usually serve to buy up to three extra balls. Each one those just ends up luring you into higher possible wins that only help to make you believe that you can score that other bigger elusive hit. The beauty is that if you do make that hit (or not), you only need to get up for another beer or another roll of cold nickels to continue the romance. It is simply an experience where sound, feeling and expectation are blended in such a beautiful moment that I think I have to stop writing about it for the danger of damaging the magic of the experience.