Monday, January 11, 2010

So, what first?

When I brought the slot machine home, I had few things I could do before starting any serious restoration effort. I needed to do some research into the machine itself, but since this is essentially a Mills High Top I was already pretty familiar with it. I definitely wanted to know more about the 777 version, but I've got a decent collection of reference material so I didn't that would be a problem.

Rather than start out with research, I decided to do some tinkering on the machine to figure out why it wasn't working. Please note that I'm not providing photos for this entry since all of these various parts will be photographed during the tear down, and the following text is more about process than about specifics.

The machine had a few problems that were evident when I bought it. Quarters had jammed in the escalator, which is usually a sign of some other problem deeper in the mech. When I tried to cycle the mechanism, only the third reel would spin more than a very small amount, and it was pretty sluggish. If I manually set the reels to a payout condition (three oranges, two cherries or whatever) no payout would occur. The mech cycle sounded basically right, and the clock appeared to be working fine, but the reels were going nowhere.

Now, since I'd already decided to do a ground-up restoration on this slot machine, some of you are probably wondering "Why mess with the little stuff now? Just tear the whole thing down and be done with it." This is a valid way of thinking, but non-working slot machines are like magnets to me. I just can't stay away from them. Plus, I really felt like this machine was close to working, and I wanted validation that my money had been well spent.

So, I got out the tools and started looking the mechanism over.

First, I took a stab at the escalator. I cleared all the coins out, worked the mechanism a bit to loosen it up, and put a small amount of oil in the proper places. At this point, we're going to take a break and talk about oil and slot machines. Believe it or not, there's a bit of controversy here. Read on.

Ok, so everyone loves WD-40. I'll bet you have a can in your house right now, and that's a good thing. WD-40 is handy stuff and is useful for a variety of purposes. Some people believe that it's good for lubricating slot machines. I am not one of those people.

WD-40 has several uses named by the manufacturer. I quote: "WD-40 cleans/degreases, penetrates to loosen up stuck parts, prevents corrosion and is a light lubricant." Notice that "light lubricant" is the last item listed. The WD-40 faq also mentions that WD-40 remains effective after it dries... but drying is the dead last thing you want from anything that should be lubricating your slot machine. In my experience, WD-40 is useful as a penetrating oil, allowing you to get parts unfrozen and stuck screws out of a mech, but using it as your primary lubricant will give you problems down the road since the mech tends to "gum up" and get sluggish. Also, spraying any sort of oil in your machine is likely to dirty up your reel strips, which you certainly don't want. In short, I'd recommend that you not use WD-40 on a slot machine except as a penetrating solvent to loosen rusty parts and/or screws.

Another product manufactured by the WD-40 company is suited to the lubrication task at hand, however, and that's good old 3-in-1 Oil. Some people swear by sewing machine oil, but I've had good results with 3-in-1.

None of these products, however, will suffice for parts where metal-on-metal friction is taking place. For those parts we'll need a good grease, but we'll get to that later.

Anyway, back to our slot machine. After I cleared the coins out the escalator, oiled it a bit and took it through a couple of cycles, it loosened up and appeared to work pretty well. Good news... one problem down. The escalator still needs a complete and thorough cleaning, but it looks to be fundamentally sound.

Next, I wanted to see if I could get all of the reels spinning. I noticed that the mech was making an odd "clang" sound when I cycled it, just when it should be kicking the reels into motion. As it turns out, the "kicker" was the problem. The kicker is the part of the slot machine that "kicks" the underside of the payout disks into motion, then gets out of the way and lets them (and the reels) spin. My kicker, however, was not getting out of the way and was ringing one of the payout disks like a gong.

Again, the problem appeared to be related to a dirty and gummed-up mech, so I mentally blamed WD-40 again, got out the 3-in-1 and spent a bit of time working the kicker back and forth until it freed up.

Now, when I cycled the mech all three reels spun at a good clip! So much for problem number two.

The last obvious problem was that the machine would not pay out. I checked the payout slides and found them frozen. This time 3-in-1 won't help us, since you should never put any lubricant on payout slides. Doing so tends to make the coins stick together, and that leads to other problems. Now, based upon the photos I posted in our last chapter, we already know that there is rust on and around the payout slides, so they definitely need attention. As an experiment, I manually worked the slides back and forth and did the same thing to the horizontal payout fingers. After a bit of time, I got things moving and the machine started paying off! Most of the payouts were the correct number of coins, but for some reason none of the payouts involving oranges were working at all. I spent some more time working with the slides, and they eventually started working as well.

At this point, the machine works almost perfectly, at least for the parts that are present. It accepts coins, marches them across the escalator, cycles the mech, spins/stops the reels, and pays off in correct increments. The escalator doesn't always reset as it should, but a couple of pulls on the handle set things right. That's a small problem that will probably work itself out after everything is cleaned and re-lubricated.

So what did I accomplish? I got the machine working and confirmed that the mechanism is basically solid. By far the largest problem that the machine is simple neglect, and we'll be able to cure that with some TLC and WD-40.

(Just kidding about that last part.) :-)

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