Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sticky Situations: Update 4/14/18

I have no idea how a pinball machine from Europe ended up in Cascade, Iowa, and I will probably never know. The previous owner was a gentleman in his 80's, and his son-in-law was the person who handled the deal through eBay and email.

I was told the machine was in the owner's basement. I brought along a dolly and some straps, but the pin was waiting for me in the seller’s snow-covered driveway. Also waiting in the driveway were six family members - sons and grandsons, I presume. Inside the house, others were peeking through windows. It was uncomfortable having all those people staring at me, so I didn’t spend much time looking at the Criterium. 

I tried asking Grandpa some questions about the Criterium, but he snarled, "What you see is what you get!" What I got was a sense that he was angry at me for buying his pinball machine. I had already agreed to buy the machine for $50, so I handed him the money. With some help from the teenagers, I began loading it into the car. Grandma opened the door to the house to yell, "Make him move that heavy piece! That's the dangerous part!" The young guys helped me, anyway. Grandma sneered at them. Grandpa left to get the mail.

I thanked everyone for their hospitality, and walked towards my car. Before I climbed in, Grandpa returned and looked me in the eye, "If you get it running, send a video to him." He pointed at his son-in-law with his thumb, and then curtly walked away. I replied to his back, "I will." 

Buyer's remorse sunk in at the first rest stop. The backglass was in great shape, but to say that the playfield’s top mylar layer had delaminated was an understatement. In some places the plastic had warped over roll-over switches and entire light bulbs! As it sat, the playfield was useless. I did not take any pictures of the machine at that time, I was too bummed. 

Here is an example of how badly the plastic had lifted off the playing surface. You can see that it had covered that lightbulb in the middle of the picture. How is a pinball going to roll on that?

I have read about people using a freeze spray to get old mylar off playfields, so I kept the Criterium’s bottom cabinet in the garage, and on a cold, January night I was able to take advantage of the low temperature and break/ tear/ rip the warped plastic off the playfield. It was so brittle. I lost about 15% of the artwork, but I can live with that. Kids, they call these "player's machines."

I was able to get the Criterium to come alive, and that is a testament to the people who designed and built these machines. My work is not done, though. About 65% of the playfield is covered with a layer of sticky adhesive. Like these machines, the adhesive is really tough. In some spots the pinball will actually come to a stop because the surface is so gummy.

I found this advice online:
"After you get the Mylar off, pat down the residue glue with white baking flour. Really press it into the glue, and let it sit a few minutes. Next, wet the flour with 91% or higher isopropyl alcohol, and allow it to sit until most of the alcohol has evaporated. Starting at the edge rub all the glue into little crumbs with your thumb."
Who discovered that you can remove glue with baking flour and alcohol? It amazes me what people come up with. I can tell you that this idea works, but it is really slow going. 
I sprinkle the flour over a patch of adhesive that is the size of a quarter. After a minute, I pour some alcohol from a spoon over the flour, and I wait 5 - 7 minutes. I then scrape off the mess with a plastic razor blade.  I have to do this three or four more times to get the paint completely free of the glue. 
This isn't hard work, but it does get tedious. I quit after an hour or so. I then "wax" the spot with Novus 2, and I play the machine for awhile. The ball moves through the newly cleaned area much better, and it is cool to see how that changes gameplay. That helps me stay excited about this project.

Once the glue is gone, I still have paint to touch up, game glitches to fix, and about 20 light bulbs that won't come on. It's a good thing that my time is free.
I hope to be able to call the son-in-law sometime in June and tell him there's a video of Grandpa's pinball machine on my blog. That would be pretty cool.

PS: Charlotte, a $50 machine is never a $50 machine. So far, I've spent $173.36 $194.39 on a sticky mess.


The Criterium '75 sat unaddressed all fall and winter. Since I sold the Palooka last month, I decided to use the extra room in the basement for the Criterium. It was time get to really get to work.

I've spent about two hours each night using the flour/ rubbing alcohol method, and after two weeks I can celebrate that I have removed almost all traces of the adhesive.

It was so tedious. Sometimes two inches of glue took an hour to remove. The process also removed more of the original artwork than I had hoped. But look at that shine after waxing!

The ball used to bump around haltingly, but now it rolls freely down the playfield. I think this might be a fun machine to play.

After a winter in the garage, all the switches need to be cleaned again, and I need to resolder many of the light sockets, but that's just standard EM work. Removing all the glue from the playfield is unique to this project.

More updates to come.

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