Designer: Pat Lawlor
Art: John Youssi
Added to my collection: June 29, 2004
Current Condition : Working 100%
My first coin-op game memories are of playing pinball machines at a resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania called Mountain Lake House. I can't remember the name of the first pinball machine I played, but a couple that stand out from my pre-video game days were Captain Fantastic and Playboy, both of which were in the Mountain Lakehouse arcade and/or lobby at one time or another.
When video games came along, I left pinball behind for the most part. I had a couple of brief pinball encounters during the heyday of arcades in the 80s--I spent more than my share of quarters on games of Black Knight, Gorgar, and Centaur--but, for the most part, I left the pinball machines alone.
Then, one day in the early 90s, Meghan and I and some of our friends were at a huge indoor arcade/amusement complex called Sports in Timonium, Maryland. That evening, Meghan and I played a pinball machine the likes of which we'd never played before. The Addams Family. Both of us were big fans of the Paramount movie based on the old TV series, and it was a blast to hear voices, sounds, and music from the movie. But, more than that, this pinball machine was fun. Fun like no other pinball machine we'd ever played.
Over the years, we both dropped some quarters (well--dollars by then) into The Addams Family every time we came across one in the arcades. I always said I wanted to own one, but they were always VERY expensive, even at the arcade auctions. I figured the price would eventually go down. After all, the machine was over 12 years old at the time! I figured wrong.
The Addams Family is hailed by most all pinball enthusiasts as the best pinball machine ever designed. Operators love the machine because it still makes money in arcades to this day. Collectors love the machine because of the movie tie-in and because it's so frigging fun! There were over 22,000 machines produced--some in the original run in 1992, and more in a second run in 1994. Some of the 1994 machines were outfitted as "Gold Edition" collector's models. These machines had updated software (more sounds, more game play features), and lots of gold trim--legs, plunger, side art, and so on.
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In 2004, I started thinking about adding a pinball machine to my collection. After all, with 13 video games and a pool table already in the house (at the time), there was only one major over-the-top toy that wasn't represented. Obviously, there are a lot of choices, but The Addams Family was the one I kept coming back to. I loved playing it in the arcade--as did Meghan, which is always a plus. (Not that she ever stopped me from adding any games to my collection, but it's nice to have spousal buy-in.)
I went searching online, and found all sorts of prices on machines, most of them quite high. Dealers typically want $3000-$4000--plus up to $200 shipping!--for an Addams Family machine. Prices at online auctions like eBay were a bit more palatable--usually from $2200-$2900 plus shipping for supposedly "shopped" (cleaned and serviced) machines. The thing about eBay, though, is that (as my friend Andy quoted Forrest Gump as saying) "you never know what you're going to get." I was, quite frankly, rather squeamish about plunking down $2500 on a machine that I'd never touched.
I had decided early-on that a shopped machine was the way I wanted to go. When it comes to fixing video games, I'm a neophyte at best. I've barely even seen the inside of a pinball machine, and there are a lot of moving parts--plus a bunch of circuit boards and a dot matrix display to boot! I figured that I'd rather pay a few extra bucks to get one that I know will work for a good while. This philosophy ruled out looking for one at a live auction. Those machines, although you can play them, are often not in the best shape. They typically sell for over $2000 anyway--regardless of condition--and there are fewer and fewer of them showing up every year.
To make a long story short (too late!), I posted on the pinball newsgroup rec.games.pinball inquiring as to the availability of an Addams Family machine in my area. A friendly local collector/dealer named Donnie Barnes contacted me and said that he had several at his shop. He invited me over to see them and showed all of them to me. I looked at three--one that needed work ($2250) one that was completely restored ($3300) and a third one that fell in between the others. After some negotiating, I chose the middle one.
The machine is in beautiful shape. Donnie shopped it out completely, and he installed the Gold Edition software in the machine for me as an added bonus. The only major thing that sets my machine apart from the top-end in Donnie's collection is a small flaw in the playfield on one of the mansion windows (an area that typically wears on these machines). Other than that--it's a beautiful piece! Donnie was nice enough to give me a tour of the machine inside and out before we loaded it up and I drove it to its new home.
I was thrilled to add this to the collection, and Meghan liked having it around so much that we put it in the house and not the garage! (That was back when the arcade was still in the garage, of course.) Over 13 years later, I'm still enjoying it.
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When it comes to pinball machine technical issues, I'm more of a neophyte than I am when it comes to video games. So, when my Addams Family started resetting (shutting down and restarting) during games, I was at a loss as to what the problem could be. Luckily, I had decided to buy from a friendly, local, knowledgeable dealer. Donnie made several attempts to fix the problem, including a nearly three-hour service call at my house one evening, but to no avail. Apparently, this reset problem is not uncommon in Williams pinball machines from this era. According to the online tech reports, there are several things that can cause this problem:
Donnie first had me remove the power driver board--quite an adventure, since there are about 25 different connectors leading into it--and bring it to him so that he could replace the bridge rectifiers and capacitors. I got the board back, reinstalled it, and the problem persisted. Donnie then came out to the house and did extensive check on the machine. He got the power driver board working again (it had died completely due to a broken trace on the board). He then tested the voltage at various positions on the board and found it to be low. He did quite a bit in this long service call, and it was working when he left--but started resetting again soon thereafter. At some point during this call, we checked the wall voltage and found it to be at around 112 volts (rather than the rated 120).
A week later, Donnie dropped by again. This time, he brought two replacement boards for me to try--but he made an adjustment to the power harness that he thought might do the trick. (Changed it to a lower power tap--don't ask me to explain the details.) This seemed to work, but he left the boards just in case. The reset started up again about an hour later, and I did the board swaps with no effect. During the course of the problem, I consulted the pinball collectors newsgroup (rec.games.pinball). There, I found references to a "line conditioner"--a transformer that plugs into the wall and, essentially, boosts the wall power when it drops below tolerances. I ordered one--a Tripp Lite 1200 (available at Securemart.com for under $100). There are less expensive models, but the maximum amperage of The Addams Family (according to the manual) is 8 amps. This is the smallest line conditioner I found that can handle 8 amps (it actually handles 10).Anyway, the line conditioner arrived, I plugged it in, and now the reset problem is minimal at best. If I hit both flippers within a minute or so of turning on the machine, it will reset once or twice, but after that everything is fine. This is a LOT better than it was before, and I'm satisfied that the wall voltage was the root of all my problems. According to sources online, low wall voltage--below 117 volts in the case of The Twilight Zone--can cause these reset problems. If you experience this problem with a Williams/Bally game, check the wall voltage and see if you're having a problem. A hundred bucks isn't a bad investment to make your machine work--and the line conditioner has the added advantage of working as a surge protector as well!
There are some great troubleshooting resources online. Besides checking rec.games.pinball, go to Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. Marvin has a ton of historical and repair information for pinball machines, including a thorough repair guide to Williams/Bally machines.
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After nearly a year of flawless service, the lower-left flipper started sticking. It started out as something that only occurred after hours of play at parties, but it eventually started showing up after only a few games. It was obviously time for some repair work--but I have a mortal fear of all things mechanical. After all, The Addams Family is the most expensive toy I own. If I screwed it up, I know I would be very unhappy indeed.
I consulted with Donnie Barnes, and he concluded it was a mechanical problem (much cheaper and easier to remedy than an electronic problem). He said he'd be happy to fix it for his standard service rate. He encouraged me to try it on my own, though. He logically pointed out that I would have to learn such things if I was to get into the pinball hobby, and asserted that rebuilding a flipper was easy, and that rebuild kits were readily available.
In the end, I made a compromise. At Marco Specialties, I found an already-built replacement flipper assembly compatible with my machine. It was more expensive than the rebuild kit ($50 as opposed to $30), but it included a new coil (the original coil was covered with carbon and I thought it might be the cause of my problems) and didn't require any assembly. Just take off the old flipper plate and all, put in the new one, attach the wires and voila! New flipper!
As always, when I'm fiddling with wires, the first thing I did was number all of the wires for reference during the reassembly process. I then numbered the connections on the new assembly to match the corresponding wires in the machine. I also took pictures for reference.
With all my ducks in a row reference-wise, I did the following. (Select steps are illustrated below.)
Donnie had warned me that Step 7 in the above process would be the trickiest part of the process--and that's probably true for people who are able to properly work a soldering iron. I suck at soldering, pure and simple. I admit it. Solder was going everywhere but where I wanted it to. I eventually got the job done, but not until I had wrecked one soldering iron (I dropped it) and burned two fingers (I caught it briefly before I dropped it--instinct works faster than the brain).
Anyway, all's well that ends well. The new flipper works better than ever--the new coil is a bit stronger. And there's a bonus! Because I removed the entire flipper mechanism, I now have one to practice disassembling and assembling. Next time, maybe I can use the rebuild kit instead of replacing the whole mechanism!
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