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Articles from Russ Jensen Pinball historian and author, Russ Jensen's Articles, Imported from Pinball Nirvana's old home page.

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Default MY FIRST ARTICLE

(Author's Note: This was the first pinball article I ever had published. It was published in the premier issue of AMUSEMENT REVIEW in March 1979)


Five balls for five cents! That doesn't sound like modern pinball! Well, you're right, it isn't, and this column has nothing to do with modern pinball, except maybe to compare it to
earlier predecessors. This monthly column is devoted to the pinball machines of bygone years--those with wooden legs, brightly lighted scoreboards, and even those without flippers!


First, let me introduce myself and my fascination with

pinball. I am Russ Jensen and my card reads "Pinball Collector

and Historian." Even before I became interested in pinball, I was

interested in electrical things. My father was an electrical

engineer in the telephone industry and he began teaching me about

electrical things early in my life. I read from his books about

the "step-by-step dial system" and how relays and stepping

switches operate and enjoyed experimenting with electrical

circuits.

In the late forties, when I was 12 years old, my quest for
electrical parts led me to the shop of a local coin machine
operator, Glenn Catlin, of Montrose, California. I had seen
electrical parts in his trash containers which were near a bus
stop I frequented. When I asked if he had any old parts, his
response was, "Yes, but how would you like a whole pinball
machine instead!"

I barely knew what a pinball machine was, but it sounded
good to me and I left with the understanding that I could have
the machine if I could haul it away. Later that evening my father
and I returned with the car and were given not one, but two
pinballs, VARIETY and VOGUE, which I learned later were made by
Bally in 1939.

Although I had read about relays in books, this was the
first time I had come "face to face" with them, and after a
little probing and adjusting, the games sprang to life. To this
day, one of the greatest thrills in my relationship with pinballs
is the initial "light up" of a long dormant game--when, for the
first time in years, it is plugged in, the coin chute is pushed
in, and something (no matter how small) happens.

As you can imagine, when the other kids in the neighborhood
discovered my machines, they wanted one also, and within a few
weeks my benefactor had provided about ten old pingames to local
kids. I was the only one who knew anything about electrical
circuits and became the repairman for all these games. My
familiarity with the inside mechanisms of pinballs increased
quickly.

As people became tired of playing their own game, trades
ensued, and as a result I owned five or six different machines
during junior high school.When my family moved in 1951 to a
different city, I took one game with me, Exhibit's LANDSLIDE
(1941). Before I graduated from high school in 1954, a friend and
I dismantled the game, and my interest in pinball waned until
years later.

In the late forties until around 1954 I also enjoyed playing
some of the modern games of the period (with flippers, no less!).
Most of my flipper playing was done during summer vacations in
Memphis since at that time pinball machines were illegal in most
of southern California. My uncle often treated me to nickels
meant for pinballs--and in those days pinballs could be found
almost everywhere in Memphis. One of the high points of my
pinballing endeavors occurred when the same understanding uncle
gave me $5 to spend entirely on pinballs during my return bus
trip to California. Every Greyhound station had several machines,
and there are quite a few stops between Memphis and L.A.!

Sometime in the early fifties I discovered that a different
type of pinball game was starting to appear. It had no bells,
flippers, or pop bumpers--just a lot of holes on the playfield,
and it made a curious clicking sound even when it was not being
played. These "In-Line" games, as they were called by the trade,
fascinated me, not so much for their play appeal, but because of
my curiousity as to their circuitry. I wrote a letter to Bally,
the company which made most of these "bingo" games, and requested
a schematic for their YACHT CLUB, the game I knew best. I was
pleasantly surprised in a few weeks to receive in the mail not
only a schematic, but an instruction and parts manual.

As a result of my communication with Bally, I began receiving
their monthly newsletter "Bally Who" (which has since become a
publication for Bally personnel only). The January 1953 issue
proved to be especially interesting, as it commemorated the
company's 20th anniversary with a four page ˙feature entitled
"Twenty Years of BallyGames." It included a picture of one Bally
game for each year and to my delight, 1938 was illustrated by
Variety, my first pinball machine!

In the years between 1954 and 1973 my pinball interest
essentially lay dormant, although I did occasionally play. I
married and bought my home in 1965. Then about six years ago,
while perusing that old issue of "BallyWho," my interest in
pinballs resurfaced. I started thinking it would be nice to own a
pinball again, so Jan, my wife, and I answered a classified ad
for used pinballs at which time I purchased William's EIGHT BALL.
It is a nice game, but not like the ones I had played during my
childhood visits to Memphis. About a month later, a visit to the
same place resulted in my bringing home Gottlieb's EASY ACES, a
pinball with wooden legs and side rails similar to the games I
had played in "the good old days."

I was then hooked on "wood rails", and in the years that
followed, I began buying, selling, and trading mostly wood rail
games. During one phone conversation, a dealer described what I
immediately recognized as my first pinball, VARIETY. Needless to
say, I bought it and still own and enjoy the game--it's a small
pinball world! My collection grew and now includes nine vintage
pinballs dating from the first Bally game Ballyhoo (1931) to a
1955 bingo machine.

Paralleling my pinball collecting has been an interest in
the history and development of pinball, which explains my
collection of pinball literature. I found no books on the subject
at the time except for a booklet written by Rally's advertising
manager and pinball industry pioneer, Herbert Jones.

After searching the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature,
I tracked down and copied all magazine articles pertaining to
pinball. I learned that Billboard magazine in past years was one
of the industry's main advertising mediums. The Los Angeles
Public Library (fortunately only 50 miles from me) was one of the
few places in the country where the entire collection of
Billboard from 1894 on, is available on microfilm. I spent hours
studying the microfilm˙ (especially issues from December 1938
through 1952), listing the pinball machines advertised, their
manufacturers and dates of first advertisement.

Enough about me! What about future editions of this column!
As I stated previously, I intend to devote my attention and this
space to earlier pinballs, pre-1960. That year separates the era
of "vintage pinball" from that of "modern," since this was when
wooden legs and rails were replaced by stainless steel, and score
indication using lighted patterns on the backglass were replaced
by mechanical and digital scoring reels. This date criteria is
certainly not sacred and later developments will occasional be
discussed.

Upcoming columns will deal with such subjects as the
definition of pinball (since several types of games have been
called "pinball"); major changes in the general face of pinball;
the development of components through the years such as bumpers,
rollovers, targets, and relays; close-up descriptions of vintage
machines; and from time to time, a bit of "pinball trivia."

I would greatly appreciate receiving readers' suggestions
for future columns, questions concerning pinball and its history,
and, of course, any criticisms or corrections. Letters maybe sent
to me personally at 1652 Euclid Ave., Camarillo, CA 93010 or care
of Amusement Review. Here's hoping that 5 Balls, 5 Cents will be
rewarding for all of us in the months to come.


Updated Apr 26, 2007 Written by Russ Jensen
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