Pandemic Projects – 1977 Bally Night Rider & 1979 Atari Asteroids

Haven’t been getting out of the house much these past few months except to get groceries, what with that deadly global pandemic and all. But I’ve masked up and made a few exceptions to pick up a couple more projects to keep busy with while I’ve got all this indoor time.

First is this wonderful condition 1979 Atari Asteroids upright, found out at the coast. The owner had bought it from a mall arcade many years ago and had it in a spare room, and was selling it now as they began home renovations and were tired of it getting in the way. It plays but the monitor image is collapsed and the sound is missing. Pretty typical issues for this game, with well documented repairs, and the price was very sweet.

Second is this 1977 Bally Night Rider. My dad has had one of these around since before I was born and I was fascinated by it even before I could reach the flippers. I’ve wanted one of my own for quite a while, but hadn’t had any luck, missing out on two that turned up locally in years past. I put another want ad up a bit ago though, and got a promising lead from a local operator. Agreed to a deal sight unseen since it was buried in storage. Once I got it home and cleaned up I was pleasantly surprised.

Cosmetically it’s in great shape aside from some wear up in the pop bumpers, back glass is minty. “Needs boards” turned out to mean just an MPU, everything else is there and looks usable.

Vintage Cooking – Central Lutheran Ladies Guild of Portland X Purefoy Hotel

Though I’m not a particularly accomplished home cook, one of my favorite things to collect is old cookbooks, in particular the small run examples turned out by local community organizations, or businesses capitalizing on the secrets to their own menu. Besides what you can cook from them, they’re always fascinating anthropological documents. The introductions and asides, back page advertisements and acknowledgements, and illustrations and photographs carry a wealth of details about daily life at time of publication. The evolution of cooking techniques and wax and wane of the popularity and availability of different ingredients evidenced by the writing is always interesting too.

Today, I prepared a few items from two cookbooks I’ve accumulated…

The first is from one published by members of the Ladies Guild of Portland’s still extant Central Lutheran church in Northeast. Printed by the Kenwood Company of Portland in 1956, this volume advertises Scandinavian specialties on the cover, and the set of lefse recipes I adapted from are featured front and center.

The second is from a 1941 edition of the Purefoy Hotel cookbook, authored by Eva B. Purefoy. Being a lifelong resident of the Northwest I can’t say to what degree the byline “Tried and True Recipes of Real Southern Cooking” stands up to a practiced connoisseur, but they all look pretty tasty, and the one I prepared certainly delivered.

On account of dietary restrictions and preferences in the household, a number of modifications applied to both recipes. For standard wheat flour, I substituted the gluten free 1:1 substitution mix we have around the house. Milk ingredients were also omitted or substituted.

I started off with the creamed chicken recipe from the Purefoy cookbook. Since I have an instant pot handy I just used that to cook the chicken, which since I’m not keen to deal with a whole bird was just two pounds of fresh chicken breasts. Cup of water, some salt and pepper, and a bit of garlic powder thrown in with it for 7 minutes at high pressure did the trick nicely. I then cubed the meat and set it aside.

The rest of the recipe I followed fairly faithfully, though I went heavier on the vegetables, especially mushrooms since I enjoy them a lot, and couldn’t find pimentos in the midst of the Coronavirus-instigated grocery apocalypse this weekend and so left them out. Substituting chicken stock (from bouillon) for milk worked just fine, and the gluten-free flour posed no problems aside from being a bit more prone to clumping. Adding it in slowly and aggressively whisking it into the butter and stock mixture was enough to compensate for that tendency.

The “lefse” I prepared ended up being a more troublesome adversary. I used red potatoes out of personal preference, leaving the skin on, and cooked them in the instant pot to start. Then I cut them into small sections and started mechanically mixing them at lowest speed with a flat edge beater attachment. Other ingredients were added in quantities somewhere in between the two lefse recipes pictured, with the cream and sugar omitted, and a non-dairy butter substitute used.

I’m not certain what exactly what went wrong, but I suspect the gluten-free flour… The resulting dough was not at all suitable for rolling out and I gave up on that idea in moments. As an alternative I first tried dropping a ball into a pan on the range and pressing it flat, but found the stickiness of the dough to be a problem, and also ran into the issue of it being quite slow to cook through. I tried a few different heat settings and thicknesses of cake and found the sweet spot to be about 1/4″ thick of a dough blob at 1/3 power, low and slow. Once one side firmed up the cake could be flipped without disintegrating, and yielded an passable but not pretty result. The better preparation came by way of a suggestion from my partner, who offered that we might want to drag out the waffle iron. That worked far better, at about 40% heat with a well oiled grid.

As the comments on the recipes suggest, the finished product loses its crisp pretty quickly following preparation, so I was glad I did the potato cakes last.

The finished combination is perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing dish, but it was very delicious. It came together as something resembling a chicken and dumpling soup, or inverse chicken pot pie. Certainly something I’d try again, especially once I’ve done a bit of research as to how to improve the handling of the potato based dough.

Danger Zone – Williams F-14 Tomcat playfield swap

I checked off another project that’s been a long time in coming with this one. This particular F-14 Tomcat is another of the machines I grew up around at my parents’ shop in Anchorage. I always wanted to get it working but didn’t have the skills, or enough information to build them, back then. As I got into working on these machines in earnest after my move to Portland, it became another project that followed me down here to join Sorcerer and 300.

Even then, it sat for quite some time. Like most of the production run for this title, it suffered from extensive damage due to playfield inserts lifting out of place. It also had mylar installed over many areas of the playfield when new, which had now been pulled up by the rising inserts and taken up art with it. The pictures below are the state I found it in after over a decade in storage.

While the playfield was rough, the machine had been stored dry. It also didn’t look to have all that many plays on it before it had been laid up in storage. The boards were pretty clean, with no battery leakage, and all of the playfield mechanisms were pretty fresh looking, if dusty.

Some time after I took possession of the machine, Buthamburg (AKA Perfect Playfields) announced they would be doing a run of reproduction playfields for F-14 on Pinside. I got myself on the waiting list and after a few months a package from Germany arrived at my office.

Several months of procrastination later (I’d claim it was to let the clearcoat cure, but I’d be lying) I cracked things open and got the old playfield and new laid out side by side.

Disassembly was pretty straightforward. I took pictures of everything I could think to and still ended up with missing information. Next time I plan to take a few slow pan videos over the entire thing to get a more complete documentation of part placement and wire routing. The full gallery of pre-disassembly pictures can be found below (right click and open in new tab to view full resolution).

It took a while but I eventually got everything swapped over… While I kept the original incandescent flashers, I swapped all of the smaller bulbs over to warm white frosted non-ghosting LEDs from pinballbulbs.com, with a couple colored ones for the spots where an incandescent bulb would have had a color gel sleeve over it. I’ve been very satisfied with the results, though I’ve heard sunlight spectrum LEDs offer an even closer look to the original incandescent glow and plan to try them out on my next shop out.

A few things I did to ease the process and improve the end result were:

  • Tracing brackets of each assembly before removal to record their orientation
  • Replacing wood screw posts with machine screw posts mounted to new T-nuts from the underside for high impact areas, where possible
  • Didn’t trust the dimpling on the new playfield. While it was close, each of these machines is hand assembled, and it came down to using my eyes on the top of the playfield while making adjustments to get the proper fit for many of the mechanisms
  • Acquired some new drill bits and a nice set of pin vises for doing holes in the top of the playfield for things like wire guides

There were only two major issues I encountered after re-assembly.

The first was due to my decision to re-install the factory ground braid for several segments of the lighting. I picked up an electric staple gun to re-install it on the new playfield and found it did not have enough strength to drive the staples into the hard plywood. Worse than that though, was I ended up not being careful enough with the staples holding in the lamp sockets, and ended up with a few cases where a staple leg created a short to the barrel of the socket, resulting in blown GI fuses.

After that experience I wouldn’t re-use the braid again, nor use staples to install the sockets. Instead the next swap will include switching to the piggy back grounding with insulated wire used in other areas of the machine. Were I doing a detailed restoration where using factory style braid was non-optional, I’d find a pneumatic staple gun to do the job with less frustration. Regardless of the fasteners used, I’ll also be careful to continuity test a bit more extensively prior to first power up.

The second issue was a mysterious and very consistent air ball problem on ball launch. When you’d plunge a ball it would come flying out of the shooter lane and smack the glass much of the time, and even if it got going up the ramp would often not have enough velocity to make the orbit and enter play. I initially thought this was a wireform ramp alignment issue, and spent too long chasing that red herring… Ultimately though, it ended up being a problem of the alignment of the plunger assembly itself.

You can see in the above picture the outline of the assembly’s placement with the original playfield, and just how far I had to move it over to get the plunger centered with the lane of the new playfield. Following that adjustment, my air ball problems went away entirely.

It’s now half a year, several thousand plays, and a visit to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo later, and so far the machine has played beautifully and largely problem free after the initial shakedown period. Besides the issues noted above all I’ve had to deal with has been an occasional playfield element connection broken due to fatigue. I have seen the development of the dimpling due to ball impacts that is common to new clear coated playfields. I won’t be worrying about it too much as the game plays quite smoothly and I haven’t seen any actual finish loss, only what I’d consider normal wear, but it’s worth noting for those it bothers.

You can view the rest of the post-swap pictures of the machine below (right click and open in new tab to view full resolution). A thread full of others’ experiences with swapping in this particular run of reproduction playfields can also be found on Pinside here.