Funhouse Pinball Machine (Williams, 1990)

Location: Windsor, Colorado.
Symptom: Dead, with a slight humming sound.

When powered up, a slight humming sound would come from the speakers, indicating that at least part of the machine was getting power. No lights were coming on and the MPU was not booting.

Checking the fuses, I found fuse (F113) bad, which powers the 5V logic circuit.  I replaced the fuse and it blew again within a few seconds.  I unplugged the MPU board and the 5 volt supplies to the playfield.  With my multimeter, I determined a short existed on the power/driver board.  I suspected the bridge rectifier had failed. Checking the rectifier I was able to confirm a shorted diode between one of the AC inputs and the “+” output.

When I removed the old bridge rectifier, it was clear why it failed.  When assembled at the factory, the screw was cross-threaded and the rectifier never made good contact with the heaksink.

Heatsink for bridge rectifiers on the Power/Driver Board.  Left end of heatsink never had a good thermal connection with the rectifier.

Heatsink for bridge rectifiers on the Power/Driver Board. Left end of heatsink never had a good thermal connection with the rectifier.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a number if issues in pinball machines where the problem originated at the factory.  For example, I was recently working on a Bally Scorpion and found a staple in the wire harness on the backbox light board.

Anyway, after replacing the bridge rectifier, the machine powered up fine.

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Williams Pinball Machine (1993)

Location: Lone Tree, Colorado.
Symptoms: Kept losing track of balls.

I have worked on more ST:TNG pinball machines than any other model.  Which is kind of cool since it is one of my favorite games to play.

This machine needed cleaning and tuning up.  It also suffered from broken wires on one of the cannons, which is a problem I’ve seen with every ST:TNG I’ve worked on.  The rotation of the cannons causes the wires to flex.  Eventually after a thousand flexes, a wire will break. Somebody should supply replacement wiring harnesses — connectors on one end and bare wires on the other — to make replacement easier.

Usually what I do is identify which wire is broken and run a replacement beside the original harness.  So far, there has always been more than one wire broken.

The biggest problem with diagnosing these broken wires is that when the cannon is sitting in its normal home position, everything is fine.  Usually the wires open when the cannon rotates out to the playfield.  And the problem with the diagnostics is that you can’t test the solenoid, light and opto-sensor while the cannon is moving.

This machine had an interesting symptom where during game play, the ball would load in the the cannon, then it would swing out, but it wouldn’t shoot until it was back in the home position. This would fire the ball back down below the playfield on top of an existing ball.  There is a limit switch that is supposed to keep you from shooting the ball anywhere other than the open playfield. Apparently this limit switch is ignored if the solenoid wires break open when the cannon rotates out.

After I repaired the broken wire to the solenoid, I noticed the cannon was shooting during start-up. This symptom I had learned about on a previous repair.  One of the wires to the opto-sensor was broken.  The machine thinks there is a ball there and tries to get rid of it.

After fixing the cannon, the machine would still lose track of the balls under the playfield.  I discovered the ball diverters under the playfield were sticking.  I cleaned those, as well as the opto-sensors and it seems to have solved all of the problems.

Although the game is working fine, the right outlane switch is bad and will be replaced on a subsequent visit.

World Cup Soccer Pinball Machine, Williams, 1994

Location: Littleton, CO
Symptoms: GI lights not working, battery holder corrosion, tune-up

Only a few upper playfield general illumination (GI) lamps were working.  There was no voltage at the lamp sockets, so I looked in the backbox for the problem.

GI lighting connector burnt.

GI lighting connector burnt.

The GI lighting connector was burnt. This is a common problem with many pinball machines.  The root cause can be a number of things such as contact oxidation, a shorted lamp circuit, or even poor design forcing too much current through the connector pin.  Once the scenario starts, it is self destructive.  Any of these root causes will cause the connector to heat up, which in turn causes more oxidation on the metal surfaces, as well as reducing the spring tension on the female contact.  All of which cause it to get hotter until it fails.

Male header was also damaged.

Male header was also damaged.

pb-0125

Even the solder had melted on the end pin.

I replaced both the male and female connector with Molex Trifurcon which have a better current carrying capability than the originals.  The female pins contact the male pin on three sides instead of just one or two, giving it some redundancy.

This machine had been in storage for a number of years. The AA batteries that supply power to the RAM to hold the high scores, had leaked and damaged the battery contacts on the holder.  Fortunately, this era of WPC boards have the battery holder piggy-backed over the CPU board, so if the battery holders get damaged, the main CPU board doesn’t.

I removed the battery pack completely and also removed the RAM chip.  I replaced it with an anyPIN NVRAM module. The batteries are no longer needed.  Ever.

After tuning up and replacing a bunch of bulbs, the pinball machine was working great!

 

Creature from the Black Lagoon Pinball Machine (Bally/Midway, 1992)

Location: Centennial (Denver), Colorado.
Symptoms: Blows fuse on power up.

When powering up the machine, the F114 fuse (8 amp) would blow.  This fuse powers the lamp matrix as well as the CPU +12 volt circuit through a downstream fuse (F115), which is used for the switch matrix.  So when I first power up the machine, the CPU was booting but none of the lights were flashing and the switches on the coin door were unresponsive.

I disconnected all of the lamp matrix connectors from the Power Driver Board (J133 through J138) and powered up the machine, and the fuse blew again. Since all of the connectors were disconnected and fuse F115 wasn’t blowing, the problem had to be in the power supply itself.  There are only two possibilities, a shorted bridge rectifier or a shorted capacitor (rare).  I check the bridge rectifier and it was shorted between “AC” and “+”.  I had a spare bridge rectifier on hand and replaced it.

The machine powered up as normal this time.  A lot of the matrix lamps weren’t working.  I replaced a bulb near the flippers and it still didn’t work.  I thought maybe a row or column driver had failed.  So I ran the test for individual lamps and marked a copy of the matrix with an “X” if the lamp wasn’t working.  No clear pattern emerged to indicate a row or column problem.

So I started at the first bulb in the test and looked at each one.  It turned out that most were burned out.  Also, I found a broken wire for Row 1 of the matrix.  Reconnecting that got about 6 more lights working, including the first bulb I had replaced where replacing it didn’t help.  It’s a tedious process, but in the end the machine looked and played well. I probably replaced two-dozen bulbs.

White Water Pinball Machine (Williams, 1993)

Location: Centennial, CO
Symptoms: Flipper problems.

The owner previously knew the lower right flipper coil was bad, so I had a replacement on hand when I arrived.  After replacing the coil, I checked all of the fuses on the Fliptronics board and found one blown and another fuse as the wrong value.  All four fuses should be 3 amp slo-blo (MDL type).

I powered up the machine and found that the flipper was often sticking in the up position.  Before the coil went bad, this was one of the original complaints.  It wasn’t a mechanical sticking, but the hold coil was staying energized when it should have released.  I tracked the problem down to the flipper opto board.  The bottom edge of the board wasn’t was tightened down all of the way.  The board was just twisting enough that it would move slightly when the flipper button was pressed, then it didn’t detect the button being released until some vibration in the machine caused the board to move a little.  I tightened the mounting screws and that problem was solved.

The upper right flipper was kicking but not holding.  It looked like all of the wires were connected to the coil and the terminals were wrapped in electrical tape.  So I looked at the Fliptronics board and checked the voltages coming back from the flippers.  When the game is powered up, in play mode, and flippers is NOT energized, 70 volts should be present on every terminal of J902 that has a wire connected to it (it varies from game to game based on the number of flippers).  This is a good way to check coils and connections.  In this case, there was no voltage present on pin 4. That verified that there was an open connection in the coil or the wiring.

So I went back to the coil for a closer look. I unwrapped the tape and found that the terminal strip on the end of the coil bobbin, where the connections are made, was broken.  It was the reason why it had been taped. The fine gauge wire used in the winding of the hold circuit had broken inside the coil.  Some coils can be repaired if the broken wire is on the outside layers of the coil, but in this case it wasn’t.

I generally don’t stock flipper coils, so I would have needed to order it. The owner elected to buy a new coil at the Pinball Showdown, which is happening this weekend in Denver.

Not all flipper coils are created equal for the Williams pinball machines.  Each pinball machine was designed to use specific coils based on what the coil needed to accomplish in each game layout.

  • FL-11753 Yellow – Used with short flippers and close shots
  • FL-11722 Green – Used for close shots near drop targets
  • FL-11630 Red – The standard, most commonly used coil
  • FL-15411 Orange – Used for long playfield shots
  • FL-11629 Blue – Used for long shots and high ramps

In the case of White Water, the blue coil is specified as the lower right and the red coil is specified for the upper right.

Funhouse Pinball Machine, Williams (1990)

Location:  Greeley, Colorado.
Symptoms:  Many.  Bulbs out, trap door not working, a pop bumper not working, both sling-shots not working, flipper sticking, etc.  Needed general servicing.

The biggest mystery with this machine was that every GI (General Illumination) bulb was burned out, except for 3.  I suspect that at some point in the past, there was a GI short to a solenoid supply which blew most of the bulbs.

As I was replacing some of the controlled lamps, I discovered some that were burning very brightly.  This raised a red flag that one of the rows or columns in the lamp matrix was stuck on.  The easy way to check this is to go into the test menu and run the single lamp test.  If more than one light comes on at a time, then the row or column driver is shorted or bad.   It turned out to be Column 8 and the TIP107 transistor.  All of the Column 8 lamps would light when any of the other columns were on.  After replacing the transistor, the controlled lamps all worked except one.

The one lamp that didn’t work was the “Open Trapdoor W/Flashing” light.  It was lighting when any other column or row was lit. In other words, the only time it acted normal was when any thing in its own column or row was lit. At first I thought it was a shorted diode.  The diode tested OK with the meter.  But the meter doesn’t test the diode at greater than 3 volts.  So I snipped it and the light should have gone dark, but it didn’t.  It turns out, someone had soldered the wires onto the socket incorrectly and bypassed the diode.  Once I corrected the wiring, it worked fine.

As for the sticking flipper, it was a bad link that was catching on the end of the solenoid.  I replaced the links, plungers and rubbers on both lower flippers.  The upper flipper looked good enough to leave alone.

The other solenoid problems were all related to broken wires.

The trap door wasn’t working because the end of the spring broke on the solenoid that latches it up.  I found the spring in the bottom of the machine and made a new hook with my pliers, and reattached it.

The game had an L4 version Game ROM (U6) installed.  The most recent official version is L9, plus there is an L9.05H, which is a home version with some additional features.  The difference between and L4 and L9H requires a move to a larger ROM (1 Mb to 2 Mb), plus one of the sound ROMs (U18) had to get upgraded to L3.

The L9H ROM images I downloaded from ipdb.org didn’t really match the documentation.  The U6 ROM image was a 4 Mb image, and U18 was a 2 Mb image.  In this Funhouse machine, both of these parts were 1 Mb so I couldn’t erase and re-program.  I was out of 2 Mb EPROMs.  So I ordered some blank 2 Mb parts from Marco and received 4 Mb parts instead. Ugh!  I looked at the schematic for the sound board and saw that it would support a 4 Mb ROM.  So, I programmed both images into 4 Mb EPROMs.  This works fine for U6, but for U18 it doesn’t work without loading the code into the upper half of the EPROM to make it look like a 2 Mb part.  Although the sound board hardware supports the 4 Mb ROMs, the firmware in the other sound ROMs doesn’t.

A note on CPU jumpers for larger ROMs:  I think by default, the early WPC games had the W2 jumper installed.  W2 supports the 28 pin ROM families and will still work with a 1 Mb 32-pin ROM because the associated pin on the 1 Mb ROM is not used.  But anything larger (2 Mb or greater) will need the W2 jumper removed and the W1 jumper installed.  The W1 jumper supports all of the 32-pin ROM families.  So when using a 1 Mb ROM, the jumper can be in either position.

The same is true for the sound board with regards to U18.  Jumper W4 supports the 28-pin families and jumper W3 supports the 32-pin families, with the 1 Mb ROMs not caring which position the jumper is in.  But keep in mind that at least for Funhouse, the sound system firmware doesn’t support anything larger than a 2 Mb ROM in U18.

After correcting dozens of small problems, the pinball machine is looking and working great!

Star Trek: The Next Generation (Williams pinball machine, 1993)

Location: Littleton, Colorado.
Symptom: Left cannon/gun shooter wouldn’t find its home position.

This one had me stumped for a while.  If I executed the diagnostic test for the gun shooter, it found the home position normally, without fail.  Yet when powering up/booting the game, it just cycled back and forth.   I checked and adjusted everything associated with the home microswitch.  I finally concluded there had to be a bug in the firmware.

It turns out I was partially correct.  There is an optical sensor located at the front of the gun to sense when the ball is in position and ready to be fired.  If this sensor fails, the revision LX-3 firmware ignores the home switch, will not home the gun, and it gives an incorrect error message. This post helped steer me in the right direction.

I burned (programmed) a new game ROM with more recent LX-7 code.  In the revision history, there is mention of “Enhanced the broken gun launcher opto compensation.” I don’t know if it fixes the problem of the incorrect error message or not, because I went ahead and fixed the opto sensor problem.

To troubleshoot the opto sensor problem, I first checked the voltage across the IR transmitter located on the left side of the cannon. It was about 1.3 volts, and this normal. Next I checked the voltage across the phototransistor located on the right side of the cannon.  It was reading zero volts, with or without blocking the light beam.  A properly working sensors would have approximately 12 volts across it with the light beam blocked, and between 0 and 1 volt with the beam unblocked.

Next, I checked the continuity through the wires down to the first connector under the playfield.  It turned about both wires were bad.  I noticed that the shooter solenoid wires to the gun had previously been replaced as well. It is a common problem that flexing wires thousands of times will break them.  I suspect they are broken where they go through the playfield.

I ran two new wires from the phototransistor down to the connector and left the old wires in place. That fixed all of the problems.

ST:TNG is one of my favorite pinball machines in terms of theme execution.  The audio clips are great and integrate well into game play.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula Pinball Machine (Williams 1993)

Location: Broomfield, Colorado.
Symptom: Error message indicating several switch rows shorted to ground.

The owner had checked the playfield and the coin door wiring, looking for any obvious shorts.  None were found.  I suspected there was a problem on the MPU board, where all of the columns and rows of the switch matrix connect.

Lower portion of the Williams MPU board (click for larger), U20 is just left of center. Note battery holder above it.

I disconnected all of the switch connectors from the MPU. With the pinball machine in the Switch Edges test routine, I took a couple of jumper leads and a diode and connected a Row 1 with Column 1.  Instead of seeing a single switch closure, the entire Row 1 lit up as being closed.  I repeated with a few of the other rows and got the same result.  This pointed to the column driver chip U20 (ULN2804).

To be sure, I checked the column outputs with my oscilloscope. Instead of seeing a signal pulsing from 12 volts to ground, I saw a signal pulsing from about 2 volts to ground.  I checked that there was 12 volts on the pullup resistors to make sure the PCB wasn’t damaged from leaky RAM batteries.  The 12 volts on the pullup resistor was fine.  I then checked the input to U20 to make sure the upstream chip was functioning correctly.

I replaced U20 with a socket because this is a common problem with these Williams MPU boards.  I then placed a new ULN2804 into the socket.  The board was retested in the machine and everything was fine.

Moulin Rouge, Williams Pinball Machine (1965)

Location: Aspen, Colorado.
Symptoms: A variety of things not working.

The Williams Moulin Rouge is an electro-mechanical (EM) pinball machine from the mid-1960’s.  The owner has owned this game for over 30 years.  However, the game hasn’t been used in over 8 years.

When I first opened the machine, I saw some disconnected wires dangling from the playfield.  These were associated with the left flipper.  I re-soldered these wires to their respective places.

In the backbox, there were a couple of steppers that were sticky and needed to be cleaned.  The ball count stepper and the match stepper.  Even if a pinball machine has been set for free-play, the match stepper is important to have working.  The match stepper is used continuously throughout a game and is triggered by various switches in the playfield.  In this case, it controls various playfield features that alternately illuminate.

The machine wouldn’t power up due to a broken in-line switch that had been placed on the line cord.  I replaced the line cord, which had been previously spliced and installed a better quality switch.  Originally these games didn’t have power switches.  To turn the game off, you kick the bottom of the machine, which trips a “kick-off” switch.  To turn the game on, you press the left flipper button.  Kicking the bottom of the machine is awkward, so I prefer an in-line cord switch.

Once the machine was powered up, it was in continuous reset mode.  This is not unexpected with an EM game that hasn’t been used for a while.  A game will get stuck in reset mode when something isn’t detected as being reset.  In this case, the score reels were not being reset.  They were sticky and not turning freely.  Also, there was a dirty contact that was preventing the “100” digit to not get the reset pulses.  Once the score reels were fixed up, the game would reset.

The next thing I noticed was that the outhole wouldn’t register a ball after the first ball. Therefore it wouldn’t give an end of ball score, wouldn’t advance the ball count stepper, and therefore wouldn’t eject the ball to the shooter lane.  After checking the schematic to see what else was in that circuit and manually tripping the outhole relay, I noticed the scoring motor wasn’t indexing to its home position after either a trigger of the outhole relay or the eject relay. It turned out to be a couple of dirty contacts on the score motor bank that were supposed to keep the score motor running until it was indexed.

Next up, there were many lamps not working.  This wasn’t because the bulbs were burned out, but because the sockets and the lamp bases had corrosion on them.

Next up, the right slingshot wasn’t working correctly.  As the slingshot arm would kick the ball, it would get hung up on the playfield plastic over it.  The plastic was warped. I placed washers under the plastic to raise it up high enough so it wouldn’t interfere with the slingshot.

I replaced all of the rubber pieces on the playfield.

The left flipper needed a new bushing and was missing its torsional return spring.  The right bushing was okay, but both will be replaced on a future visit.

All in all, this was pretty typical work for a pinball machine of this vintage and the years of non-use.  People always ask me for estimates on this kind of work.  It’s very difficult because you have to start fixing things to see what else doesn’t work.  But it’s almost always in the 3-6 hour range.

Star Pool, Williams Pinball Machine (1974)

Location: Broomfield, Colorado

Symptom: Not powering up, not working.

This pinball machine is located in a youth center in a church basement.  No one seemed to know much about it, other than it was probably donated. So it was unknown when it last worked.

Given the age of the machine, before powering it up, I checked the mechanical operation of all of the steppers and visually checked the contacts on the relays and score motor cams.  Several of the steppers were gummed up, but the rest were in good condition.  I rebuilt the steppers and fixed the left slingshot linkage which was binding.

We had to drill out the lock in the back box because no one had a key and we couldn’t find one in the machine.

Once all of the mechanical parts were working freely, I powered it up.  The machine would get stuck in continuous reset mode.  The reset cycle description in the manual was nearly incomprehensible.  So I was on my own.

I checked all of the obvious things, like the score reels resetting to zero, the ball count stepper unit, player count stepper unit, etc.  Everything was being reset and all reset switches were working.  The only weird thing was the credit stepper was stepping up to the maximum allowed credits during reset, when it should be subtracting 1 credit.

It occurred to me to check the coin switches, which I hadn’t checked earlier.  They were a mess.  I think someone thought they could get freeplay mode by bending all of the contacts together on both coin inputs.  Once I got the switch wires and contacts untangled, the machine would reset properly.

I bent the switch contacts on the credit unit to give free plays.

After that, there was still some minor tuning needed and got 98% of it working well.  I discovered a broken switch contact on the Spinner Advance Stepper (EOS). It was broken right at the insulator which prevented me from soldering another contact on.  I am currently researching a replacement switch or contact.

I will update when this is done.