An history about electromechanical pinballs

by Bruno Zappaterra

When I was a boy of maybe eight or nine I used to visit a bar in my home village near the town of Ferrara.

Ferrara has the third oldest university in Italy and for this reason many students were often there. They would spend many a cold and wet afternoon playing cards but the main attraction was a Gottlieb pinball: DRAGONETTE. I, like them, was enchanted by the "flipper", that is the name by which pinballs have always been called in Italy. I remember that the game had a backglass depicting a beautiful girl in a cellar of an inn. On the playfield there were two holes with a halo of red light around them. I canít remember whether they were kickout or gobble holes, though. The students usually played the machine in pairs, partly because it was cheaper to play like this, but most of all to have a better chance to beat the machine, which was very difficult.

Dragonette was a very fast game but the players knew all the secrets, which direction the ball would have after any rebound and, perhaps more importantly, how to "push" to alter the ballís trajectory to their advantage. Occasionally their efforts would result in the appearance of that much hated pinball term, Tilt! in the backglass. Undeterred they would start another game and win! Dragonette was soon changed by the bar tender and everybody longed for it!

As I grew older and entered my teens I had another little love affair with another Gottlieb pinball: this time it was SILVER and once again it was in a studentsí haunt. The object of my desire was in a university club in my home village. Despite the fact that me and my friends were under age and therefore not really allowed to enter this club, we used to get in by saying we had come to watch our friends play cards. This was in part true as we would watch them playing poker, but we could also see the battles being fought out on the pinball in the corner. The more we went to the club the more enchanted we became with that game.

Eventually, one of my friends managed to get hold of a key of the club from his older brother. On the rare occasions when we had some spare change we would visit in secret. We had to plan our visits carefully to avoid being caught. Usually we would go on very warm summer afternoons when no one else would be around. Now we could enjoy our private affair with SILVER and this reminded me of my childhood visits to the bar. One of my friends became fascinated by the prospect of getting money from the gameís cash box. We all had to start thinking about how this might be accomplished.

We studied the bottom of the cabinet and deduced from the way sound reverberated from it when we kicked it, that it must be quite thin. We considered the possibility of sawing through it under the cashbox but the fear of being caught dissuaded us. We tried to detach the front locking bar but it was very strong and securely fixed. In the end we managed to force open the top frame of the backglass. This was enough to allow us to slide the glass out. We had to force the glass as it moved only after a great deal of effort. When it was nearly all the way out we discovered we caused a deep vertical scratch. This caused us to abandon our criminal career and we lived in fear of being charged for a long time afterwards!

When it appeared safe again we resumed the playing of SILVER. We knew that in common with other games of that era, that when the special was lit the best way to get it was to stop the ball on the flipper. This allowed us more time to hit the right target. With all the practice we had we became good at making the shot but eventually our persistence at holding the flipper button in resulted in a burnt out coil! From that day on, we couldnít even bear to hear of people talking about pinballs!

Time is a great healer, everybody forgot all and one day I learned that the club had to close. The club secretary took the machine home where it lay dormant in his shed for some time. Knowing that he had the machine I made enquiries as to its fate. One day he called me and said that he needed the room for something else. I went over with a friend and his truck and recovered the game. Getting it home I was very excited and started to open it up. As I did so I recalled some of the more memorable plays I had played with and remembered the burnt out coil too.

I was still at school and didnít know much about electromagnetism. By using common sense, something which even today you canít buy at the supermarket, I thought it would have been sufficient to know the length of the coil winding and the wire gauge in order to manufacture my own replacement. At the time I lived in a big house with a long court so I went outside, tied one end of the winding to the gate then I walked up and down the court unwinding the coil while at the same time keeping a mental note of the times I had walked the distance in order to find the length of the winding. I obtained some similar wire from an electric motor shop and carefully rewound the coil. After soldering it into the game everything worked perfectly and my friends and I could once again enjoy the pleasures of SILVER.

Years later I replaced my home-made coil with the proper Gottlieb part that I acquired from a local distributor. Today SILVER is at home where it is enjoyed by the rest of my family and still by myself, now aged 56! In a drawer in my workshop I still have that home-made coil.


Cerca il DRAGONETTE sull'IPDB - Look for DRAGONETTE on the IPDB

Cerca il SILVER sull'IPDB - Look for SILVER on the IPDB


© Bruno Zappaterra - -