PINGAMES AT THE 1986 FUN FAIR
By Russ Jensen
Well, here it is, Fun Fair time again! Yes, another Loose Change Fun Fair, and again at the Pasadena Exhibit Center in Pasadena, CA where it has been held since 1980. This is California's answer to Chicagoland, maybe not quite as large, but still with many interesting coin machines and other nostalgic collectables.
So here I am again reporting on the pingames that were to be seen at the show. This year there were sixteen (or seventeen if you count duplicates), a few more than last year I might add. There were also quite a few pinball collectors and enthusiasts present, and I managed to meet and talk with most of them, one of the personal pleasures I get from attending these shows.
Incidentally, I will definitely be attending Pinball Expo '86 in Chicago this year and am really looking forward to another great show like we had last year. This will also give me the opportunity to put in a brief appearance at the Chicagoland show, which fortunately will again be held "across the street" and on the same weekend as the Pinball Expo. What a break! Well, enough of this chatter; on with the games!
As is my usual custom, I will describe the pingames to be found at the show in chronological order. This year we had the rare opportunity of seeing a real "pioneer pinnace"! Not one from the 1932 era, but a real "ancestor" from around the Turn Of The Century. This game was the famous LOG CABIN put out by the equally famous coin machine makers, the Caille brothers of Detroit. While probably classed as a trade stimulator, the game was definitely in the pinnace format using steel balls, a sloping playfield, and numerous "pins" on the playfield. The front of the cabinet had an ornate metal casting depicting a log cabin in a forest, hence the name.
The machine at the show was an example of the "square top" version of LOG CABIN. An example of the "round top" version of this game was on display at Pinball Expo '85, and was owned by industry figure Alvin Gottlieb. It was indeed a pleasure to see two examples of this rare pinball ancestor within a year, an opportunity which at one time I believed was impossible.
Despite that early pinball-like machine, there were few games of this type made until late in 1931. For a detailed look at this early period, however, you will have to wait for dick Bueschel's forthcoming book, "100 Most Collectable Pinball Machines, Vol. 1".
BALLYHOO AND MONTE CARLO
For all practical purposes 1932 was the beginning of the "pinball age". Representing that year at the show were two examples of early pingames, Bally's first pinnace, BALLYHOO, and Genco's second, MONTE CARLO. Since both of these machines appeared at last year's show I have not included photos of them this year. They are indeed excellent examples of pioneer pingames by these two pioneer companies. Incidentally, there were actually two BALLYHOO machines on display by two different sellers. For pictures and descriptions of these two classic games, including the story of how Bally got its name, I refer you to the Winter 85/86 issue of Coin Slot.
The best represented year at this year's show was 1933. This was indeed an interesting time in pinball history, as it was the time when the simple "pin and ball" games began to give way to games using some form of mechanical action, as is well illustrated by most of the 1933 pingames at this show.
Bally's SKIPPER of 1933 (that name incidentally was used again in 1937 on Bally's payout version of the first bumper game, BUMPER) probably could be said to be a trade stimulator rather than a pin, but it did use a ball propelled by a plunger. The game had a circular playfield containing holes, each with one of the familiar bell slot machine fruit symbols next to it. A player was given three balls for a nickle and would try to get them into holes corresponding to one of the winning combinations of symbols shown on the "award card" at the bottom of the game.
Each combination would entitle the player to so many "points", which, I assume, would be translated into merchandise or coins by the owner of the shop in which the game was located. The game was a small counter-top machine measuring 11 1/2 by 19 by 6 inches. The SKIPPER at the show was in excellent condition.
Another 1933 pinnace at the show was Rockola's WORLD SERIES. This was indeed a very interesting machine with an ingenious mechanism. A turntable device, depicting a baseball diamond with a hole for each base, was located near the bottom of the game. This device could rotate simulating baseball players advancing around the bases. The motive power to accomplish this was from a spring which was "wound up" by the player pushing in the coin chute at the start of each game.
The player would shoot balls until three "Outs" were obtained. The balls could land in slots near the middle of the playfield labeled "Out", "Strike", "Ball", and "Hit". A ball landing in the "Hit" slot would enter the "diamond" and cause it to rotate 1/4 turn. When the turntable made a complete revolution (after 4 hits) the ball would go into an area labeled "Runs", the number of balls in that area at the end of the game being the players score.
In addition to "run scoring", other baseball scoring was simulated. The third ball landing in the "Strike" slot would 'overflow' into the "Out" channel (3 strikes equals an "out") and the fourth ball landing in the "Ball" slot would overflow into the "Hit" channel (a "base on balls"). All in all, this game was a very clever mechanical simulation of the game of baseball and a big hit for Rockola in 1933.
Next, also from 1933, was Gottlieb's SPEEDWAY. This, in my opinion, was the most interesting of the pingames at the show, and it really was not strictly a "pinnace", as it had no "pins".
The playfield of this game contained five small racing cars, each of a different color, and each mounted on a 'track' which ran up and down the playfield. Next to each of the tracks was a hole into which the balls could be shot. If a ball landed in one of these holes, the corresponding race car would advance by one 'increment' toward the "finish line".
There were two additional holes on the playfield. One to the right of the tracks was apparently a "loser hole". The other hole, located near the top center of the playfield, was a special 'skill hole'. If the player succeeded in getting a ball into this hole, all five cars would advance one 'increment' down the track. This was indeed a fascinating game and even ardent "flipper players", like my friend Sam Harvey (Sam also took all the fine photos for this article) took some time to play this game and try the "skill shots".
Gottlieb's advertisement for this game, appearing in the September 1933 issue of Automatic Age, stated in part: the race is on! Five miniature metal racing cars are rarin' to go! Release the ball. It zooms around the track, lands in a pocket and 'zip'!--the corresponding racing car automatically moves forward! Each ball as shot advances any one of the five cars into successive "score zones" a skill hole strike advances all five cars at one time. And what a thrill to see the entire field go forward!
As a final note regarding SPEEDWAY, Alvin Gottlieb, during his banquet speech at Pinball Expo '85, made mention of this game. He said he remembered it because he was given some of the surplus racing cars used in this game by his father. He said he was the "hit of his grammar school" when he brought them to school.
The last of the 1933 pins at the show was a game called MAT-CHA-SKOR, put out by the Peo Manufacturing Company of Rochester, NY. This was a well built and brightly colored counter-top machine with a rudimentary 'score totalizer'.
The playfield was circular with each ball following a circular course to get into it. There were eight scoring holes in a horizontal row, and with a different score value ranging from 50 to 5000. There were two additional holes, one at the bottom of the "playfield area" and the other in the middle of the circular track that the ball followed to get onto the playfield, which, I presume, were "out holes". I guess that a ball had to be shot fast enough from the plunger so as to "skip" across the latter hole.
A ball dropping into any of the eight scoring holes would then roll into the 'score totalizing area', which consisted of vertical slots on the board just below the circular play area. This allowed the player to more easily total his score (by counting the balls in each slot and multiplying by the corresponding score value). It also allowed more than one ball during a game to land in the same scoring hole.
Finally, near the lower left-hand side of the board, was a diamond shaped area with a hole in the center labeled "Matchit". At the start of each new game a different number (one of the possible score values of the scoring holes) would be indicated in this 'window'. This was the score which the player tried to 'match' to presumably receive some sort of award, hence the name MAT-CHA-SKOR.
This was indeed a very novel and colorful machine, and still another example of the innovative pins to appear on the market during 1933.
Next, chronologically, came BABY CONTACT from 1934. This was, of course, one of the "CONTACT family" of games put out by Pacific Amusement Manufacturing Company (PAMCO) and designed by none other than pinball pioneer Harry Williams. These were the first pingames to use electricity to provide playfield "action", the power source being "dry cell" batteries. You long time Coin Slot subscribers can read the complete story of the invention of CONTACT by Harry Williams in my previous article, "Contact, Pinball Goes Electric!" in the October 1983 issue.
As I said earlier, BABY CONTACT was one of a "family" of CONTACT models and was the smallest of the four family members, measuring 16 by 30 inches. The other models were: "Master" (18 by 36), "Junior" (24 by 44), the model I own, and "Senior" (a whopping 30 by 60 inches).
The operation of these games was fairly simple, yet the new principle involved, of using electricity to provide playfield "action", was, of course, the basis of all pinball "action" in the future. The games had two areas on their playfields which I shall call "Special Scoring Sections". Each of these sections contained three holes in vertical alignment, surrounded by a "hedge" of pins in the earlier models, and cast aluminum in the later models like the one at the show.
A ball entering one of these sections would land in the top hole of that section, which had the lowest scoring value of the three holes. This hole was fitted underneath with an electro- magnet "solenoid" device which, when energized, would cause the ball to be ejected from that hole so that it would roll down into one of the two higher scoring holes below it. This "eject hole" principle has been used on a multitude of pingames since that time and is still used on the sophisticated "solid-state" pinballs of the Eighties.
In order to energize these "eject holes" the player had to get another ball in the "Contact hole" at the top of the playfield, requiring a "skill shot" by the player. Although simple in concept, the ideas introduced in CONTACT had a revolutionary impact on pinnace design in the future.
It was surely nice to see this innovative historical pinnace at the 1986 Fun Fair. The BABY CONTACT at the show was in excellent condition, including the original instruction cards.
This year's show was certainly one displaying innovative, historical pingames. We have already described LOG CABIN (a historic early "ancestor" of the modern pinnace) and BABY CONTACT (the first pinnace to employ "electric action"). In addition to these historical beauties we had Bally's BUMPER of 1936, the game that introduced the "bumper" to pinball.
Prior to the introduction of BUMPER by Bally, the primary 'scoring objectives" of pinball were playfield holes or some form of 'channel'. Incremental scoring of points was also difficult to implement. BUMPER introduced a new scoring device which was to be the next "sensation" in pinnace design, and which came to be generically referred to as the "bumper" after the name of this historic machine.
The "bumpers" on BUMPER consisted of metal posts with a circular plate on top from which was suspended a coil spring like device. When this spring was hit by a ball two things would happen. First, the lower end of the spring (which was bent straight and projected through a carbon-ringed hole in the playfield) would make an electrical contact, causing points to be scored. Secondly, the springiness of the spring would cause the ball to rebound, giving "action" to it. In fact, these new devices were so attractive to players that for a period of several years after the introduction of BUMPER the use of "electric kickers", introduced by Harry Williams in CONTACT, was almost discontinued in pinnace design. With a few exceptions, it wasn't until 1941 that "kickout holes" began to reappear on pingames.
BUMPER also introduced another device which was to become one of the major methods of score totalization and indication for the next several years. This was the "score projector" which indicated scores as the lighted image of a number projected from behind onto a frosted area of the backboard. As each bumper was struck, this device would be incremented and the next higher score (in units of 10 points on BUMPER) would be shown.
So here again was another historic and revolutionary pinnace offered for sale at the 1986 Fun Fair. This was quite a show as far as pinball history was concerned.
The final two pingames from the 1930s at this year's show were two payout pins, both by the famed slot machine manufacturer, the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago. The first of these was Mills' HI-BOY, which was in reality a Mills mystery bell slot machine 'disguised' as a pinball machine. The machine at the show, as displayed, was actually incomplete, but I didn't discover this until later when I began to research it. For this reason, a copy of a photo-ad for HI-BOY will be shown, in lieu of a photo of the actual game.
Missing from the machine was it's lighted backboard, which displayed light-up versions of the Mills 'animal bell' slot machine symbols popular in the Thirties. The machine contained a Mills bell mechanism which was activated when a coin was inserted and the handle on the side of the machine was pulled. The mechanism controlled the lighting of the symbols on the backglass, and when they finally stopped changing, a final pattern was displayed.
If the machine stopped on one of the 'winning combinations' the actual payout was held back until the player shot a ball onto the pinnace playfield and it landed in a hole marked 2000 or more. If the player succeeded in doing this he would receive the payout he had 'earned' from the winning combination shown of the backboard.
Furthermore, if the player did not achieve a winning combination from the 'bell', he could still win a "consolation prize" of 3 coins by shooting the ball into the hole marked "5000" at the top of the playfield. This machine, as you can plainly see, was surely a combination of a pinnace and a bell slot machine.
The other Mills payout pin at the show was also a combination pinnace and slot machine, but with a different mechanization. ONE-TWO-THREE was first advertised by Mills in 1938 and was such a popular machine, with both players and operators, that it was in production for several years.
This machine also showed slot machine symbols on the backboard, but used actual 'reels' behind the glass instead of lighted symbols. These reels were not, however, controlled by a 'bell' mechanism, but were 'stepped', one symbol at a time, under control of the ball in play on the playfield.
ONE-TWO-THREE had a stainless steel playfield with 12 bumpers (4 orange, 4 green, and 4 yellow). As each bumper was struck by a ball it would 'advance' the reel on the backboard (above which the corresponding color was displayed) to the next symbol. When the game was over the slot machine combination showing on the backboard determined if a payout was to be made and how much, according to a slot machine type "award card" shown on the backglass.
The game was available in several forms. The symbols on the reels could be either the standard "fruit symbols", or the then popular "animal symbols", as was the case with the ONE-TWO-THREE on display at the show. It was also available as a "direct payout" or a "free-play" machine, the latter version having a large box mounted above the backboard to display free game 'credits'.
ONE-TWO-THREE was indeed a very novel pinnace, which combined bumper pinball play with slot machine scoring. This was apparently a very popular combination with players in the late Thirties and early Forties judging by the long production run for this game.
Well, that ends the description of the pingames from the 1930s which were at this show. The next game was made in 1947 and was GOLD BALL by Chicago Coin. Pingames from the Forties and Fifties (and even the Sixties, for that matter) have been fairly rare at the Fun Fairs, so its always a pleasure to see one or two games from that era at a show.
There is a sad story connected with the GOLD BALL which was at this show. It was owned by a friend of mine and he called me the day after the show to report some bad news. It seems that during the "ride home" the machine fell out of a truck and was demolished on the highway. A truly sad ending for this beautiful machine.
GOLD BALL was typical of the pingames made after World War II, but before the introduction of the flipper in 1947. They had lots of kickout holes, bumpers, and rollovers. This machine, however, had a unique feature. One of the five balls in the machine was made of a different material and was gold in color, hence the name. The three kickout holes on the playfield could somehow 'detect' when the "gold ball" landed in them. If one of the normal steel balls landed in one of these holes 50,000 points were scored. But if it was the "gold ball", 100,000 would result.
The center hole could also be lit for an "Extra Special" award, which was increased to "Super Special" for the "gold ball". I am not sure how the "gold ball" was detected, but I suspect that it was made of a "non-magnetic" metal and that that property may have been used to distinguish it from the "magnetic" steel balls.
As a final note regarding GOLD BALL, the scoring values are interesting. Most pinballs in the 1945-1947 era had scores ranging into the "hundred thousands". GOLD BALL had a "one- million" light on the backboard, a hint of "things to come" as within a year or so most pinballs had scores reaching up into the "millions". In fact, a Country and Western song came out around that time called "Pinball Millionaire", which I am sure was prompted by the high-scoring pingames of the day.
While I was walking the aisles of the show looking for pingames I came across a small counter-top game which I thought was another of the counter games made around 1932. The game was called SKILL CARDS, had a playfield dotted with holes, each labeled with a playing card value, and with a sign on the lower part of the playfield indicating that you could play "Poker" or "Twenty-One". We photographed this little game and went on.
A few days later I was talking to Dick Bueschel on the phone and I mentioned SKILL CARDS. Dick immediately said, "that's no early game, its a trade stimulator made in the late Forties or early Fifties." He went on to say that it was originally made by a small outfit in Cleveland, later sold by a company called Monarch, and that finally a two player version was put out by the Auto-Bell Mfg. Co. of Chicago. Dick later sent me a flyer of the Auto-Bell game which was called ACEY-DUCY. This game had two playfields, coin chutes, and plungers, mounted side by side, the playfield being identical to that used on SKILL CARDS.
The game had 'pins' on the playfield just like the early pingames from the Thirties. Like the sign said, you could use the game to play "Poker" or "Twenty-One" since each of the five balls would land in a "card hole", thus giving the player a five card hand such as is used in both of those games.
So here was a game made around 1950 that had the same playfield characteristics as pingames made some twenty years earlier. Quite an interesting game indeed. RACE-WAY
Jumping chronologically now to the 1960s we had a game called RACE-WAY put out by Midway Mfg. Co. in 1963. Midway has been owned by Bally for many years (maybe always, I'm not sure) and primarily made "arcade games". RACE-WAY is sort of a "cross" between a pinball and an arcade game for several reasons.
First, it does not have a plunger. Instead the balls are shot onto the playfield from the bottom center of it, when a button is pressed. Second, it has no bumpers, only "targets" (of the style used on most "pitch and bat" baseball machines), kickout holes, rollovers, and "slingshot kickers". It does, however, have flippers and that makes it more like a pinball.
The game has an animated race car unit behind the backglass consisting of an oval track and two race cars, one blue and one red. The machine could be played by either one or two players, the 1st player having the blue car, and the second the red one. The various "scoring objectives" on the playfield would cause the appropriate car to advance around the track, with each complete "lap" for each car being tallied on the "lap" score reels on the backboard. It would seem to me that this would be a nice "competitive" game for two players because you could see the two cars "vying for position" on the track.
So, while maybe not a pinnace in every sense of the word, this was a game from the 1960s, an era which has not been too well represented at Fun Fairs over the past years.
SWINGER and JUBILEE
Finally, we had two pinballs from 1973. They were SWINGER and JUBILEE, both by Williams. These were both typical pinballs of the 1970 era, with SWINGER being a two player and JUBILEE a four player. They both had "bonus" scoring and, of course, large flippers. SWINGER also had a "Ball Saver Post" which, when raised, kept the ball from passing between the flippers into the "out-hole". This was a feature found on several games of that era. Both machines at the show were in excellent condition and reasonably priced, considering their condition. I know for a fact that at least one of them was sold on the first day.
So, there we are. As you can see there was a better than average showing of pingames at the 1986 Loose Change Fun Fair. Not only was the quantity of games a little more than usual, but so was the quality, especially in the area of historic "firsts".
We had one of the first pinnace type machines ever built (LOG CABIN), the first Bally game (BALLYHOO), the first "electric action" pin (BABY CONTACT), and the first "bumper" game (BUMPER). In addition, we had two "mechanical marvels" of 1933 (WORLD SERIES and SPEEDWAY) and two excellent examples of the "payout" pins of the 1930s (HI-BOY and ONE-TWO-THREE). All in all, I would say this was probably the best overall line-up of pinballs at any Fun Fair to date. Lets hope next year will be even better!
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