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Pinball Wizards

Posted Date: 12/16/2022

Pinball Wizards

Toward the end of last school year, River Quintero and Ryan Ketchum noticed an old pinball machine in the engineering lab at the Andover Center for Advanced Professional Studies.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool. An old pinball machine,’” River says. “It’s a great conversation piece.”

Little did they know that this fall, they would invest more than 100 hours into restoring the machine, and that it would even spur one of them to consider a career in electrical engineering.

A local business owner approached CAPS engineering students about restoring the machine, which has a “Picnic” theme and dates back to 1958. It was one of 850 manufactured by the Gottlieb company.

Close-up of the pinball machine playfield.

The late 1950s were a period of transition for pinball machines, with electric portions paired with mechanical parts. But when compared with its original wiring diagram, this particular machine was more complicated because of alterations made to it through the years.

“There are parts that are supposed to be there but aren’t, and parts that are there that aren’t supposed to be,” says Seth Scripter, engineering teacher.

Ryan and River, both Andover Central High School seniors, set out to restore the pinball machine to working condition. They quickly realized it was going to be difficult.

First, they had to figure out how to even open the cabinet, then how to remove its contents. They documented the entire process meticulously so they could eventually get every part back where it belonged.

River and Ryan working on the cabinet of the pinball machine.

Then came time to test the electrical components. They were able to do that one-by-one using isolated power, but running power to the entire machine required replacing a worn-out transformer with three separate transformers.

“It felt like we were finally accomplishing something when we got it powered up,” River says.

“It was really cool,” Ryan adds.

The flip side?

“Before, we couldn’t see how many problems there really were with it, because it wouldn’t turn on,” Scripter says. “It’s a huge project. To fully restore it, you’d have to go component by component.”

Referencing online forums and videos, Ryan and River have worked through challenge after challenge. Now, they are at a crossroads and need to decide if they will continue on the project during the spring semester or hand it over to others.

“This has definitely taught me persistence,” River says. “As we’ve had trouble, we had to take things step-by-step to tackle the issue, then move on to the next challenge.”

After graduation in May, River plans to continue pursuing his aerospace engineering interest as a career. Ryan, however, had planned on either aerospace or mechanical engineering. Because of the pinball project, he’s now added electrical engineering to his potential career fields.

“I had played pinball,” Ryan says, “but I had no idea what went on inside to make it work.”

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Center for Advanced Professional Studies
1401 W 13th St
Andover, Kansas 67002
Phone: 316-218-4640