Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pinball Wizards

This blog represents a departure from my usual nature photographs and accompanying wisdom and banter.  I was so struck by the accomplishments of my grown sons in their recent pinball machine restoration that I had to write about it and a few of the lessons.  After all, life is all about the lessons.

“BbbbBbing  kkkkcccchhiing bing-a-bing-a-bbbbbbbbing bing bing BING bing click click click”  Those are some of the sounds that now emanate from my basement, often late in the evening.  My two grown sons have restored a pinball machine from the 1970’s.
Purchased from an elderly man whose hobby was restoring the machines and who  didn’t around to this one, the PINBALL WIZARD game arrived at our home before Christmas.  It was in such bad shape that it had a rat’s nest inside.  Nobody will tell me if the nest was removed before the machine entered the house; sometimes it is better not to know. 
The wires and connections were corroded, the screws were rusty, the paint was dull and worn, light bulbs were burned out, none of the electrical parts worked, the rubber flippers were partially disintegrated, the glass was covered in filth, and it was unsteady on its legs.
Through the holidays, when they both had extra time off and could focus on the restoration, they persevered in cleaning and restoring.  They spent hours and hours ensuring every single connection was clean, removing all the pieces to thoroughly de-grime and highly polish the painted wood playing surface.  The internet was a great resource for instructions and support as well as replacement parts for the flippers, the tiny light bulbs, the score numbers, the bumpers and more. 
In order to clean the crud and rust off of the old screws, preserving them instead of buying new ones, they bought a tumbler.  It is filled with a non-abrasive material - walnut hulls - and by tumbling swiftly (like a blade-less blender) for days on end, the hulls slowly polished the screws and a few other connectors.  The rusty screws came out with their heads polished and - more importantly - their threads clean.
Each weekend when they were together (one lives out of town), sons 1 and 2 would huddle in the basement, working on small wires and connections, occasionally shouting “sweet”, “Mom, we got the flipper to work”,   “Look at that!"  "IT WORKS!"  It was delightful listening to their happy shouts and exclamations.  Better yet, I was invited to play a few games - later I realized that was only because I provided entertainment and material for considerable ribbing. 
Now it is a finished, working product and they are poised to sell it - through their antiques shop, Vintage Brothers.   Here are a few lessons I learned in the process.

Pinball Wizarding Lessons

  • Working on a project together is a great way to spend time with your sibling.
  • Elder siblings are always bossy, whether they know more than the younger or not.
  • A pinball machine attracts friends and is great entertainment.
  • Once you have a map, understanding the wiring is greatly simplified.
  • When you have a project to focus on, there is no down time.
  • An overwhelming project, when broken down into manageable steps, is fun and quite doable.
  • A free ball is a glorious gift.
  • Perseverance pays off.
  • You can make a lot of noise yet not get a lot of points when playing pinball.
  • Practice definitely helps improve your score.
  • The whole game can be determined by how well you place the ball with your first shot.
  • Sometimes the ball is just going to go right between the flippers and you can't do anything about it.
  • Occasionally, even an aging parent can luck out and win a few more points than a more agile 20-something son.
  • The most unlikely discards can be re-purposed to help solve a problem:  tiny screws get very clean after whirring in a pot of walnut hulls for 3 days. 
  • When you own the machine you don't have to pay, saving a lot of quarters.
  • When you are doing something you enjoy, the time goes by quickly (and you forget you are making a lot of noise in the basement underneath your Mom's bedroom in the middle of the night).
  • A Mom who is supportive and proud of her industrious sons can be very tolerant and might even miss them and the pinball machine when they move out.
See the Vintage Brothers Facebook page for more information about the Bally Wizard.  


  1. What did the lads pay for the machine, and how much is it now worth on the resale market?

  2. Please direct questions about the Bally Wizard to Vintage Brothers. Use the link in the blog and contact them through Facebook.

  3. Thanks mom! I really enjoied reading your perspective on our project. It was alot of fun fixing the wiz, but more fun to play. We are interested in selling the machine and are looking foreward to our next project... another blog?


    vtgbros at gmail dot com