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Silver Skates Restoration Diary


The Initial Home Inspection

After getting the game home, we carried it by hand into the basement. This is the first time we've actually just lifted a game in without using the appliance dolly. That's how light the body was! Once the game was down, I saew that I didn't have leg bolts and rushed to the hardware store for some suitable bolts and washers. That allowed me to get the game up on its legs. I also had to hammer one of the corner metal pieces to hold the bolts. It had been laying inside.

With the game on it's legs, I lifted up the playfield. Suprisingly, there was no prop rod, the first game I've encountered like this. I had a long stick outside that I brought in and used to prop it up. It looked pretty clean (and empty!) inside. A couple of banks of relays were attached to the playfield under side. The bottom of the cabinet was empty. Only some snipped wires to a slam tilt switch. Even the cash box was attached to the playfield underside!

Quite disconcerting in the head was the fact that there was some sort of leg leveller imbedded in the 100,000 step up unit! I pulled it out fairly easily.

Order A Schematic

As with most pinballs I buy, the schematic (wiring diagram) was missing. Almost always rectified by contacting Steve Young's Pinball Resource! I usually order this ASAP so that I get it quickly and can start diving into the electrical problems that will eventually surface.

In the old days I used to just order schematics straight from the factory. Amazingly enough, they always had them, even back into the 50's and they didn't charge much.

Strip the Playfield

This game was in bad shape all around, so I decided that cleaning the playfield and re-rubbering it would boost my enthusiasm. I stripped all playfield components off that screw down (posts, rubber, ball return guide, one way ball arch gate, etc.).

Clean and Wax the Playfield

I used Wildcat 125 to clean the dirt off, and get to those seldom reached places. I also vacuumed and swept it first (with a paint brush dedicated to that task). This gave me a clean playfield free of dust and grime.

Scrub the Playfield With Steel Wool

But I still wasn't happy with the way it looked - the large areas representing the ice which should have been a bright powder blue where sort of dark murky blue-green color. This was due to a coating of lacquer that someone put on years ago. This was a popular pre-mylar playfield protection method (I guess). But like everything else, they did a poor job, and you see many areas where the lacquer was goobered up because they didn't strip the playfield when applying.

So I decided to gamble and bought some #00 fine steel wool at the corner hardware store. I scrubbed a small normally hidden area and was quite pleased to see that the original powder blue cam back up, without scuffing or destroying it.

So off I went over the next day or two, using the steel wool and a lot of elbow grease and removed as much of the old lacquer as possible. This took about 4- 5 hours of time, and I was left with calluses on my thumbs as a momento. There were only about 3 areas where I may have damaged the base paint job. Given the overall condition of the playfield, this was a small price to pay.

There are still minor traces of the old lacquer color at hard-to-reach edges, but for the most part it looks a lot better. Basically, it's brighter and more uniform.

Re-wax the Playfield

Since I had scrubbed the top surface of the playfield off, it was necessary to re-polish the playfield. This time I used Mill Wax pinball polish, a product I hadn't used before. I can't say how good it is, but it worked okay here.

Re-rubber the Playfield

Finally it was time to re-attach all the posts and new rubber to the playfield. All posts were cleaned with Armor All and a razor blade (to scrape off tough carbon stains and dried rubber). Some cracked posts had to be replaced. Fortunately, I had a small supply of old posts purchased awhile back from Mayfair Amusements.

All rubber rings were new. All lightbulbs near plastics were changed from #44's to #47's to reduce heat. All bulb sockets were cleaned with the rubber-tip cleaner as supplied by the Pinball Resource. All contact switches on the playfield were cleaned with white cut up business cards (by far the greatest use for business cards).

I also took the brackets for the ball rebound and one way ball gate at the top right arch and cleaned them with a circular sanding attachment to my drill. This made then look reasonably new and certainly clean.

Re-attach the Flippers

Normally I wouldn't remove flippers from the playfield, but in this case I did in order to remove the lacquer on the playfield with steel wool as mentioned above. The flippers on this game are held in by a top screw. The plastic flipper is braced by a flat metal bracket underneath.

I had a horrible time reattaching the metal brackets to the pladstic flippers - they didn't want to fit back into thew bottom of the flippers. This was due primarily to shrinkage of the flipper bottoms with age (and constant pounding?). So, as Mark McGwire attempted to hit home run number 62, I sat in front of the tube and filed down the metal bracket to fit back in. This had to be done for 3 of the 4 flippers. I also filed down the inner flipper surfaces also, but not too much, as it needs strength to avoid cracking under stress.

This took an hour but then they were back properly, and refitted to the game. I ensured that there was good clearance between the flipper and playfield, so no scraping would occur.

Scan All Plastics

Before I replaced the playfield plastics (only 3 pieces), I tooke them over and scanned them into my computer at 600dpi. Some paint was missing on them, and the computer images will allow me to create perfect replicas at some point in the future. Interedstingly, the screened paint on these plastics was on the top of the plastics and not the bottom! I nearly screamed when I squirted Armor All onto the top to clean what I thought was the clear side of the plastic! Fortunately, no damage appeared to have been done.

Make A New Head Bottom

The bottom of the head was split off, most likely as a result of a desperate attempt to detach the head (since they had hard-soldered the connectors!). Fortunately for me, my father-in-law is a master carpenter and he quickly made me a perfect fitting bottom wooden piece.

I installed the new piece and nailed it in and it was as good as new (probably better).

Remove and Replace Head Bulbs

This is kind of standard work - replacing the dirty old heat emitting #44 bulbs with new #47 bulbs to reduce the heat. 150ma versus 250ma. Helps preserve the backglass while reducing power consumption.

Replace the Plug and Socket In the Head

Ugh! This was one of the worst parts of the job. The reason the wires were hard-soldered to the head socket was because one of the tabs for attaching wires had broken off. I could think of better ways to fix a single wire problem than soldering all 24 wires!

Since the whole thing was such a mess, I decided to chuck it out. I had some guts from a 1959 Williams Pinch Hitter baseball game, and was able to find a 24-wire socket from that game to use. It was of a different style, employing a thin 2D type of male connector into a narrow female slot. This is as opposed to the Silver Skates connector which consists of 24 plugs into 24 holes/slots.

Resolder Snipped Wires

The most tedious and time consuming part of the project! I spent several hours mapping out the wires from the head connector and tracing them back into the body to the relay board on the underside of the playfield. If you've ever tried tracing wires on old pinball machines, you will know that many wires are of similar colors (try and detect slate versus slate with a white tracer!). Add in 45 years of fading and a sprinkling of black carbon, and you get a basket case.

I drew diagrams of the various connection points and labelled them with assigned numbers and letters, much like you would find with modern electronic PCB connectors. Most connections were obvious, but a few had me checking over and over, back through the relays and lights in the head to make sure I had the wires lined up correctly. I needed to bat 1.000 in order for the game to work.

Fortunately, I got it right the first time, although in the initial shakedown I wondered if I did have it right, especially as problems cropped up.

The biggest helper for this soldering task was to get a mini-vice from Radio Shack. It comes with adjustable clips and a heavy base. So it can hold the two wires to be joined very steadily while you concentrate holding the solder and the gun. Highly recommended!

I think I did 72 connections in total. I attached masking tape to each wire and wrote its connection code (from my paper diagrams) on it for ease of identification.

Scan Score Card and Tray Liner

The tray liner for the game was in horrible shape and the score/instruction card was very worn also. At least I had them. I simply scanned the instruction card into the computer and edited it. Then I printed it out and cut it to size. It looked like brand new.

For the tray liner, I managed to take one from my 1953 Struggle Buggies game (since sold - sigh) and also scan it in and reproduce it. Because of the size I had to print it off in halves and join it together. This wasn't noticeable very much since the instruction card hid the seam.

The end result looked very good and the game looks much sharper because of it.

Defeat the Steel Wool Gremlins

Steel wool is evil - use only as a last resort. I spent a few hours of diagnosis for a stuck 50,000 point relay. All switches and relays seemed to be in perfect order. But intermittently, the relay would stick on. Eventually, with all lights out in a dark room, I was able to detect a blue spark around one of the slingshot kicker switches.

Close investigation revealed that steel wool fragments from my playfield scrubbing operation was imbedded in the base of the switch assembly, causing the shorts. Even though I had vacuumed repeatedly as I used the wool, a lot was left behind. I spent an hour or two cleaning every fragment out that I could. For tough spots, I cut strips from fridge magnets to draw the metal fragments out.

I think I have defeated this problem, but not without a real battle! Avoid steel wool on a pin if you can.

Backglass Restoration

The backglass on the game was in very bad shape - yet the main objects on the glass, the hockey playing George Molentin babes, were in near perfect shape. But I didn't fancy trying to fix the rest up.

I got lucky when Mike Hanley came over, saw the glass, and had a flashback to a bar which had a Silver Skates glass hanging on their wall. "I know where there is one of those" he said. I couldn't believe it! I had looked for years for a Struggle Buggies glass (same vintage) and never located one, and yet here I had a lead on a Silver Skates glass after only a couple of months.

I called the bar guy (owner) and he had it put away. Since the bar was over by Mike's house, and fairly far from me, Mike agreed to look at it for me. Months pasted and nothing happened, as Mike and the bar guy couldn't connect. So I finally went over on my own one night. The bar is cool, with lots of old relics hanging on the wall, and a nice jukebox in it.

Bar guy lead me to his storage area in an adjacent building. There, in a room full of old junk and quasi-neat collectible thingies, sat the Silver Skates backglass mounted in a custom red wooden frame. It was in far from perfect condition, but still better than what I had. Bar guy didn't want to part with it of course (suddenly becoming very attached to it).

We were $25 apart and I wasn't going any higher so I said thanks and started walking out. That got him thinking and he agreed to my price. Not cheap at all but what options did I have?

I slugged the glass home and wasted over an hour bashing the frame off of it. It was well made, but was never meant to come apart again. Can you say glue?

That was the easy part. I then proceeded to spend about 25 hours touching up this glass. There were literally hundreds of small pin holes or tiny scratches in the glass, plus the lower left paint near the hockey net was almost all gone.

For the first time ever, I applied my limited artistic skills to doing a high quality, non-trivial touch up. I went to the art store and bought some colors and brushes, and the most useful thing of all, a plastic palette where I could mix several colors together.

I lucked out here a bit also, as my wife had a great selection of acrylic paints that she uses when doing crafts with the kids. I carefully mixed colors night after night to get the colors to match. In many cases I was perfect and in many cases I wasn't. But in the end, it looked pretty damn good to me.

I even managed to do a decent job around the hockey net. If you look at the glass when you first enter the room (with the game off), you would think it was a mint glass. Closer inspection reveals some flaws of course. Even when backlit with the game on, it looks quite good, although I don't play with the room lights completely off.

EM Problems

The game worked pretty good but needed many minor adjustments, as with any old EM. I won't detail all of the problems. The pop bumpers needed some work and thus far I have only done a minimal amount of work. I think I need to replace some parts there. I spent some time on the relay bank, where the A-B-C-D relays don't always get reset properly.

I think the springs on these relays are poorly engineered, as they are not configured at the right angle to provide optimal pressure. This is a problem on most old pins I find.

The 100K step-up unit provided problems. Again, the engineered design of these wiper units is flawed. As the score gets higher, up over 3 million, the spring tension increases and forces the bakelite disk out farther. This causes the wiper fingers to make poorer contact the higher the score gets! I recently noticed the same problem on my Gottlieb Spot Bowler.

Current State

The game still needs some EM work to perform snappier and be closer to operating as designed. I think I'm at a plateau, and need to wait to forge ahead to the next stage. But it is playable and looks respectable now. My daughters like playing it and the "Thing flips" auto-flipping flipper feature is pretty cool.

A lot of time and a bit of money invested to rescue a woodrail from the scrap heap!

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Last updated: May 13, 2005

© Terry Cumming, 2000-2005