My father liked fixing things. When he wasn't teaching others how to fix television sets (something I myself have never mastered), he would spend evenings and weekends fixing the problem children of manufacturers like Bush and Telefunken. The local TV shop would set aside the really nasty problems, just for him.
Often, he would fix weird and wonderful pieces of equipment as a favour, and in return he would be rewarded with some sort of bartered payment. So it was, he arrived home one day in the mid seventies with a Bally Bongo EM.
In the style of Professor Caractacus Pott and his amazing car, my father spent quite a few hours with his head buried in the machine. Eventually, to our absolute amazement and joy, he pressed a button on the front, the score motor kicked off, the reels clattered back to all zeroes, and a silver ball appeared in the shooter lane.
Such was my young introduction to pinball.
The machine originally lived in the hallway of our house, and I don't know what FCC or CE approval the beast had, but every solenoid kick caused the TV in the sitting room to lose the run of itself. It wasn't long before the machine was dispatched to the garage, where it remained for many years.
The problem with the garage was dampness. The west of Ireland has quite the rainfall, and the garage offered little in the way of shelter or a dehumidifier. The net result was the pinball machine would find some new and exotic fault, every time you turned it on. I ended up being a student of the Dark Arts, and learnt how relay contacts could be combined in series to form an AND gate (in digital logic terms) or in parallel to form an OR gate. It would be much later in college that I discovered Boolean Algebra, but the relays made sense. The score motor however, was inscrutable.
Mostly, it was a question of finding the relay or relay contact which was refusing to co-operate, and cleaning the contacts with a piece of cloth. Once cleaned, the reward was one or more games of pinball, until some other fault would present itself, and the ball would be removed, the playfield lifted, and the diagnostic efforts revisited.
Unfortunately, as my sisters and I all sloped off to college, the pinball became a nuisance and one day disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. I like to think it went to a new home, where another thirteen-year-old, would-be electronic engineer would disappear into the maze of wires and relays, coils and motors, in search of an elusive problem, and come out the other side with a lifelong love of electronics, digital logic, pinball machines, the lure of the silver ball, and of course, the works of Rowland Emett and Rube Goldberg, who seem to inspire pinball designers to this day.
Photo courtesy of the Internet Pinball Database.