In the 1970s pinball was king. You couldn’t swing a dead cat, to use that always chuckle-worthy adage, and not hit one. They were everywhere…your local arcade, back when there was arcades, the corner store, the mall, the neighbourhood watering hole, pool hall, anywhere one could be plopped down. And the people played…oh they played. Everyone did. It wasn’t just a game, but a way of life, no, a religion. Intoxicating times they were.
Coming from that era is the machine we’ll be documenting in this here post, our subject, Gottlieb’s Golden Arrow, circa 1977. It’s got what is perhaps an insensitive theme, but is a fantastic play. We’re here to watch a master in action, Gary Makota of Gary Makota Pinball Repair, who’s come to fix a couple problems and give it a tune up. When done, it’ll have a clean bill of health.
This “pin”, a term often used by those who play, comes from the firm D. Gottlieb and Company who made these machines from the 1930s to the 1990s. They were one of the big three back in the golden era, the others being Bally and Williams, along with also-ran Chicago Coin/Stern.
Gottlieb was based out of Chicago Illinois, as were all the other manufacturers mentioned. Near every pin made, ever, was made in Chicago. For lovers of the the silver ball, it’s the Holy Land, sacred ground, the centre of the pinball universe. The current incarnation of Stern, the largest of the two pin-makers in business today, calls the town home.
Pins are made in runs. Simply this, all of a specific design are made in one batch, “x” number being produced, then a new design would take over. Some runs are concurrent, so two or three different models in production at the same time on different lines. Back then, anywhere from a couple to say a half dozen different models would be made per year per manufacturer. Rarely was there a second run of any one design later, at least in the old days. But it did happen from time to time if a title was particularly in demand.
Some of the more popular pins had runs that lasted many months or more, the output totalling ten or even twenty thousand pieces. Most however, and recall everything we’re speaking is in the term of “back then” we’re well under ten thousand – say about five being average in the ’70s. Today, a run of one thousand would be considered damn good.
Golden Arrow is a less common machine, of the era, some fifteen hundred being made. It not rare, but certainly less common. One’s got to wonder how many have lasted into 2017…a few hundred? Maybe more? It’s a single player “wedgehead” – a backbox with a tapered shape and not squared as was more common – only Gottlieb used this shape and then only on single player games back then.
The machine’s rules are pretty simple, hit targets one through ten in any order then find the lit arrow and score big points. The latter moves about as other things are hit, making it a damn good challenge.
There’s three pop bumpers, up playfield, numerous rollover lanes, two spinners up high (an unconventional placement), several stand ups, sling shots, in and out lanes, the usual features, but no drop targets which Gottlieb was famous for. There’s no end of ball bonus, nor can an extra ball be won, two features which were common for the era, but not seen on this machine. Many Gottlieb Wedgeheads, the budget line from the firm, didn’t always have extras like this.
This is an electro-mechanical (EM) pinball. Meaning, all functions are controlled by switches and relays. There’s no CPU or brain if you will. When Golden Arrow was being made the industry was already transitioning to electronic pinballs. Still lots of mechanical parts in those, but they now had logic and memory, allowing for more advanced play, deeper rule sets and a more immersive player experience. And they were generally more reliable, but no mater the era, pins are maintenance intensive. Something to keep in mind if you want to own one.
The last EMs were made in 1979. Some people lamented the passing of an era, others celebrated the newer more sophisticated electronic machines, where as others still, your author included, saw the transition as a natural progression. The old pins were good and still revered but the latest technology opened up a whole new work of gaming. Gottlieb, by the way, seemed to suffer in the electronic era.
Pinballs would always have a theme. In the case of this one, it’s First Nation’s Culture. Is it a cliched portrayal? Yes. Insensitive? Yes. Sure the artwork shows powerful, confident, stoic warrior types and not some silly comic book characterization of natives, but still it seems wrong. Chime in if you have something to say on this.
Tyler owns this Golden Arrow and it’s been acting up. A call is made and soon on, the man, Mr “Pinball Repair”, Gary is on the scene. He’s been doing it since the 70’s, the only fellow today in Southern Alberta who can work on pinballs from any era, the old ching-ching EMs or more modern stuff, it matters not. And video games, modern, old, some jukeboxes, and amusement and novelty machines too, so pretty much anything. Them’s some well rounded abilities.
He tackles the machine straight off, making it look easy, as if no more difficult than tying one’s shoe. Nagging issues are addressed, some contacts not doing their job reliably, odd scoring problems, and the like, they’re all quickly fixed. Instinctually, he knows where to look. And wear parts, like rubbers, they’re replaced. We watch in awe. The cat watches in awe.
Following that, a good cleaning and waxing (pinball specific wax, who knew?) and the machine is like new. Some test games…everyone plays a round…confirms it’s firing on all cylinders. What a blast. Everyone challenges the high score, some 220k, but no one comes close. What a sad pitiful score this author reached. Used to be a wizard, long ago…
A pleasant surprise, found inside the machine, signs it once belonged to Gary’s father, who had a pinball route in Winnipeg Manitoba for many decades, way back when. There’s a good chance Gary worked on this pin before at some point. Small world moment, something special in what was otherwise for him a nothing out of the ordinary repair job. A smile, some stories, fond memories brought on by this. Now that’s cool.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March 2017.
Location: Airdrie, AB.
Article references and thanks: Internet Pinball Database, Gary Makota Pinball Repair, Tyler Pinkerton.