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.

Together Again To Tear It Apart

From this…

…to this…

…took about 3.5 hours over two sessions. Or, to put it in relative terms, about a third of the time I put into Sorcerer, and even more favorable compared to Comet… Though I can’t say exactly how much better since I didn’t keep time for that one. I’m very pleased with how streamlined my workflow is becoming. During disassembly I basically break the playfield into a 2×8 grid and work my way through each section, photograph it, remove parts in logical (to me, at least) groupings, and bag and label each subassembly.

I found that the most time consuming part of reassembly on the previous two tables was filling in the blanks where I hadn’t done enough documentation during teardown. Being extra methodical with breaking this one down saved me a ton of time in recomposing it, despite the significant increase in complexity from System 9 pins like Comet and Sorcerer to the more feature laden System 11 based Big Guns.

Given there are 2-4 layers of parts to remove to get to any given bulb, I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of having to tear things down to get to short-lived incandescents, so I decided to go the LED route. I used Pinballbulbs.com non-ghosting LEDs in warm white for the #44 general illumination and cool white for the #89 flasher bulbs on the top of the playfield and in the area behind the ‘wall’ at the back.

I think the results look pretty nice. The photo makes it look like a lot of the plastics are blown out by the brightness of the LED bulbs but in person they have a nice bright, even light behind them that shows off the art and lights up the playfield nicely without being overpowering. After seeing how the top of the playfield looks I’m going to go forward with replacing the lamps under the inserts on the bottom of the playfield, and replace the lamps in the backbox as well. The previous owner installed a color ‘coordinated’ LED kit in the backbox and it makes the art look really bad, since the color of the LEDs completely overpowers the translite’s coloration.

Now that Big Guns is back together I’m going to swap it in for Sorcerer at the office and bring that one into the shop for some MPU diagnosis… After having several hundred balls played through it without a hiccup during a party the company hosted I turned it on the day after and it was resetting randomly during gameplay. Poking around (very literally) narrowed the issue down to a bad connection or flaky component in the lower right corner of the MPU board, but tracing it further than that is more than I want to do with the limited tools I have at the office.

If you’re interested in seeing what the disassembly process looks like (or have one of these things you’re trying to piece together yourself), see the gallery below for all of the reference photos I took while tearing this thing down:

This… Is my BOOMSTICK!

I was talking to a guy I do some repair work for and he mentioned he had some pinball machines he was selling… A week passed, and I went back to his place and came back with this:

The exterior of the cabinet isn’t too much to look at. It’s flaking terribly and just looks really bad. Like the plywood is separating or something, I haven’t really seen anything quite like it…

The rest of the game however, is immaculate.

Like I seriously cannot believe this is an almost 30 year old machine.

It plays wonderfully, and looks and feels like it barely has any wear on it. I can only assume it saw very, very little time on location.

Both sides of the playfield are in excellent shape, little sign it’s ever been touched. There’s next to no wear of the art anywhere, and only a few plastics have any damage. Inexplicably about a quarter of the lamps have been replaced with modern LEDs, which is a bit baffling.

The boardset is all numbers matching, and shows no sign of damage or repair. No acid damage either. The first thing I did when I got it home was pull those batteries, cause I definitely don’t want that to change…

I don’t believe it ever even had the target decals installed.

It’ll get fully cleaned, a new rubber kit, and either the LEDs replaced with incandescents, or the LED conversion completed, I’m not quite sure yet… Once all that’s done I’ll probably rotate it in in place Eventually I’d like to pick up a set of stencils and redo the exterior cabinet art, but that’ll have to wait til I have a decent environment to spray in.