Bait & Switch

The Atari Roadblasters I picked up is in good overall condition, and the major parts are working, but most of the controls have problems of one sort or another. The steering yoke was half disassembled when I picked the machine up, with a pile of parts rattling around in the coin box. A few of the trigger and thumb button switches had been replaced, with incorrect parts, and one of the actuator buttons and several screws were gone altogether.

I brokered a deal with another local collector and got my hands on a second mostly complete yoke and pedal assembly… I still needed the right switches though…

I knew I recognized the switches from somewhere… That somewhere turned out to be the mechanical switch keyboards all the nerds are going crazy for nowadays (self included). I happened to have such a thing lying around, one of the cheaper and more commonplace of its kind, a Dell AT101W.

This model comes populated with Alps black keyswitches of the non-clicky variety. The one I had was also fucking filthy. As a rule, if you haven’t personally cleaned a keyboard in the last year or so (and I mean really, complete disassembly involved, cleaned it) it probably looks like this inside. Thought you all might appreciate that knowledge…

The other side of that mess is a PCB like this, to which each of those keyswitches is soldered.

Some quality time with my desoldering pump later, I was able to peel the PCB away from the keyswitches and their mounting plate. If you desolder the connections well, they’ll come apart much like this. If you do it wrong, you’ll either get nowhere, or rip the guts out of all of the keyswitches. Don’t try to do this with wick or a manual pump, is all I can say.

Even exercising some care I ended up breaking a pin or two on several keyswitches. Seems like they’re fairly brittle. Even with some loss I still ended up with plenty for this project though.

Removing the switches from the mounting plate was tedious but straightforward. Each switch has four tabs that secure it to the plate. I used a steel ruler to push in one side of two tabs at a time. It took a while but I was able to remove all of the switches without damage.

Alright, this is what really matters… On the left is one of the Omron B3G-S keyswitches that came out of the yokes originally. On the right is one of the black Alps from the Dell keyboard. Below is the small PCB the switches mount too and ride on inside the yoke assembly.

We can see a few differences right off. For one, the Omron switches have three pins, while the Alps have only two. The extra pin on the Omrons doesn’t matter, it only comes into play if you want to use these switches in a normally closed configuration, which is not the case for the Atari yoke. The small PCB the switches will be installed on is set up for a variety of different pinouts, so the slight difference in alignment doesn’t matter either.

There are two differences that *do* matter though…

First, the Alps switches have slightly larger pins than the Omron ones. This was easy to handle by enlarging the holes on the PCB with an appropriately sized drill bit in a pin vise.

Second, the Alps switches have a different setup for mounting then the Omron switches, and the yoke body halves assume you’re using the Omron type. To get the Alps to fit I had to clip off the tabs, and file down the remaining plastic to match the profile of the Omron switches while retaining the rectangular protrusion that keeps the switches from being pushed down into the yoke assembly.

The above picture shows an Omron switch on the left, a modified Alps in the middle, and an unmodified Alps on the right. A small straight file is sufficient to mod the Alps switches to fit, they should end up around 14mm wide when all is said and done.

Here we can see one of the original Omron switches installed in the lower position with the white actuator pin, and a modified Alps switched installed in the upper position with a black actuator pin.

It’s a bit of work, but considering the high failure rate of the Omron switches, and the fact that used replacements start at six bucks each and only get higher from there, I found it to be worth the effort. A single mechanical switch keyboard should have me covered for several lifetimes as far as replacement switches for this style of yoke go, and I know this style of standard key switch is used in other games as well.

If you’re another Roadblasters owner coming upon this information be advised that this is only confirmed for the kit style Roadblasters yoke. The dedicated Roadblasters yoke is a different assembly entirely and may use different switches. If anyone has pictures of the internals of a dedicated style yoke, or information on the switches used therein, please send them to me and I’ll update the post to include that information.

Speed Heart

Just when I was getting a bit of space back in the shop, another too good to pass on deal popped up. I thought it was a bogus ad at first, what kind of person offers, among other titles, Paperboy for $150 in working condition?

A friend had more confidence in the promise of Craigslist to deliver a steal every so often and texted the seller… They got an answer back, and a seven trip Friday night of acquisitional frenzy later we’d packed his garage solid. Thankfully, only two of our purchases would follow me home.

What’s six and a half feet tall, four hundred fifty pounds, and doesn’t clear the rear door latch of my van by about an inch?

The allegedly ‘compact’ version of Atari’s 1990 sequel to Hard Drivin’, Race Drivin’. I nearly passed this one on to another collector by virtue of its size alone… Moving it is awful! But a couple rounds at the wheel convinced me otherwise and I conned some friends into helping me drag the beast home.

The second, much more diminutive addition is another Atari title, Roadblasters, circa 1987. This example is the kit version of Roadblasters, installed in a System 1 cabinet that originally came outfitted as a Road Runner.

All of the games in the lot had signs of being taken off route at about the same time in the late 90s.

Roadblasters had something I’d never run into before attached to its main board. An Atari repair tag from 1992. The distributor noted, Dunis, is one I’ve found property tags for in several places, not surprised they were the go between for repair work on a local machine.

Roadblasters needs a little bit of attention to its controls, but is otherwise in good condition. The accelerator pedal needs a new potentiometer and the yoke has some missing parts and a failed repair to the trigger buttons on one side. I’ve got the parts I need on the way and as soon as its fixed it’ll be replacing one of the machines in the row of games at the office.

Race Drivin’ needs a little more in the way of repairs. It has no sound right now, despite the sound board passing its self test routines. The first gear shifter position and brake pedal are also non-functional. The shifter is a simple microswitch replacement, but the brake pedal uses a strain gauge rather than the typical potentiometer or microswitch common in other games. As far as I know, a proper replacement is unobtainable short of finding old stock or used parts, and neither really grows on trees… So I may have to figure out an alternative.

Interstellar Safari

Took a little step back the timeline from prior projects with this last one. Designed in 1978, Stern Stars is part of the earliest wave of solid state machines, and bears many resemblances to its electromechanical predecessors. Most noticeably, it uses a chime box for its sound effects rather than a speaker.

The example I have landed alongside F-14 Tomcat, both fresh out of very long hibernation.

If the musty odor of long dead cigarettes didn’t give it away, the op tag confirms this machine spent some time on the bar circuit in Anchorage. While this machine survived its stint, the phone number for the Anchorage Amusement and Vending company now points to a physical therapist. Their last address of record is a still standing but one step above derelict warehouse with boxes and equipment piled high in front of the windows, and a high fence festooned with ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

While filthy, strung with rotten rubber, and malfunctioning, the bones of this Stars are quite good.

All that grodiness is probably the only thing that save the playfield from having a groove worn into it by the dragging right flipper, so I can’t complain too much about the mess.

The flipper assemblies needed an almost complete rebuild, the only original parts left now are the frames underneath the playfield. For some reason Stern used aluminum for most of the metal parts on this machine, including the flipper shafts, and one was bent enough to cause the entire mechanism to bind.

I had to modify the bushings I received from Marco, despite them being labeled as appropriate for this machine, because they were too tall for the playfield. A few minutes with a saw fixed that right up though.

The drop targets were another area where the aluminum hardware caused problems. The arms the targets ride on had deformed around the pins that hold the mechanism together, causing them to mushroom out around the pin shafts and in the most extreme cases this would cause them to bind against other parts of the drop target assembly. I straightened everything as best I could and filed down the burrs caused by this wear. Now the mechanisms work, albeit a bit sloppier than from the factory since the holes are wallowed out and some material was lost in the process. The reproduction drop targets from Marco are slightly different in design from the broken originals, but the changes didn’t cause any fitment issues.

The relatively simple layout only took a few hours to relamp and refresh the rubber on, and some light cleaning made short work of the built up grime on the artwork.

All of the playfield plastics cleaned up nicely, looks sharp reassembled and lit up. I’d originally intended to make a quick flip of this machine, but it’s grown on me since I took possession. The simple, colorful layout and straightforward rule set give it a character much like its EM ancestors, and the art is a great example of how a generic theme can pop when illustrated by a talented artist.