It’s been a while since I posted progress on this restoration. I’ve actually finished up the restore by “shopping” the playfield. “Shopping” a pinball machine from what I understand is the process of cleaning, repairing, and waxing the playfield and its parts. Basically it is restoring the playfield. I hear the term quite a bit but never had a machine to do it myself and to see what it really takes. I figured this would be pretty easy! It was a challenge and far from an easy task for someone who has never done it before!
I started by pulling the playfield out of the machine. I had to remove it to bring the machine down into my basement, so I decided to work in it down there instead of the hot garage. Since I didn’t have a rotating repair fixture to mount the playfield in like some of the hardcore pinball collectors, I sat it on the end of my air hockey table so I had plenty of space to work. Not the best arrangement but it worked out OK for me this time.
Once I had the playfield out and laying where I could start working on it, I began removing everything on the top surface. I didn’t remove too many items from the bottom because I didn’t want to get into an even bigger mess than I was already committing to. I slowly removed parts one section at a time. I kept a log of all parts I removed. I took photos of EVERYTHING as I removed each part. I tried to logically group them together. Each group was stored together in a numbered Ziploc bags. There were hundreds of parts to this thing!
As I started removing parts it became even more evident that this playfield needed some serious work. I honestly couldn’t see any sign that it had ever been cleaned or maintained. The ball paths were caked with dirt and who knows what else. I found several rubber rings that were either broken or disintegrated. Here are a few pics of what I found:
Things got really interesting when I started taking apart the right slingshot. It had a broken plastic, and it looks like at some point it was repaired with drywall screws. YIKES! Thankfully nothing was damaged and it would be an easy fix.
One of the problems I had was that I kept breaking off the small playfield posts. Williams used a really good thread-locker! The posts were only the size of #6 screws, so they weren’t very strong to begin with. At one point I ended up making a quick purchase of new posts and T-nuts, only to change that order twice before it shipped to have enough parts to replace my damaged parts. I also picked up enough locknuts to replace all of the ones that are on top of the posts. The old ones were tarnished, and new nuts would make it really shine.
A common problem with older pinball playfields is the fact that the lighted inserts will loosen and raise up from the playfield. This happens due to the heat from the bulbs underneath breaks down the adhesive that holds the insert level with the playfield surface. I ended up heating the insert from below the playfield, then pounding the insert level from above with a block and mallet. Once the insert was leveled, a little superglue holds it in place again.
I was really hoping I could keep the mylar covering on the playfield. From what I understand, Williams used a custom cut mylar protective cover on all of their playfields for a few years to try to protect the playfield artwork. The mylar covers ended up becoming harder to maintain, so they switched to a tougher clear coat. Earthshaker is one of the games that uses a mylar cover. Mine looked in great shape until I started tearing parts off the playfield. What I found was that there were several places where it was peeling up or bubbling up from the surface. After researching removal techniques, everything I read pointed to using compressed air cans sprayed upside-down for a “freeze spray” to freeze the adhesive. This allows the mylar to peel right off without damaging the artwork underneath. Then all I would have to do is simply remove the adhesive and I’d be all set. “Simply” was definitely NOT what I found out. The mylar did remove very easily, but the adhesive was a nightmare. It took forever to get it off of the playfield. It was especially bad over the inserts where the heat of the bulbs underneath practically baked it in place.
Before I worked on the playfield surface itself, I cleaned up every piece that would be reinstalled. I used several different methods depending on what I was cleaning. The clear ramps were cleaned with soap and water, then followed up with a cleaning using Novus 1&2. I then waxed each one with hard wax. I cleaned the wire forms using soap and water, then polished them with Millwax. I purchased Millwax on a recommendation, then after further research realized that I shouldn’t use it on the playfield itself. Works well on metal parts though. Finally, the rest of the small parts were cleaned in a small ultrasonic cleaner I picked up from Harbor Freight. I read that people used ultrasonic cleaners for pinball parts and thought it would be worth a try. I ran each bag of parts through the cleaner. Some I ran for several cycles. I tried plastics, metal parts, and even the hardware. I was amazed by the results. Not bad for a $25 tool. My only issue is that the cleaner I bought was so small. Some items were too big to fit into the tank. Check out the pictures below of the difference this made.
The flippers were really bad. The rubber from the black rings really built up on the plastic. I had to use a combination of scrubbing and ultrasonic cleaning but they cleaned up really nice!
My next Earthshaker post will cover the playfield reconstruction. Check back soon!