It’s been quite a while since my last post, but the custom pinball business keeps me busy (on nights and weekends anyway). My current project is quite interesting- although at first it might not seem so. I affectionately call this project my “Dirt Machine”, since it is a custom design for a museum exhibit dedicated to the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. The Smoky Hill Museum is located in Salina, Kansas.
The museum’s website is at https://smokyhillmuseumorg.presencehost.net/.
Farming Fun in Kansas, 1930s. No, Thank You.
With the Great Depression as the backdrop, many families fell victim to circumstances that included over farming, extreme debt, economic collapse of the wheat markets, drought, illness, and death brought on by monstrous dirt and dust storms. Suffice it to say that the people of this region experienced some miserable conditions at the time.
So how is that for a challenge to design a custom pinball machine? Sound like fun?
Fortunately, I have the guidance and enthusiasm of Josh Morris, Curator of Exhibits at the museum, to feed me information and ideas. The first thing to note is that the machine will be a centerpiece of a new area of the museum called “The Curiosity Shop”, a hands-on area for children to explore.
My goal is to have the parents of these kids- in a fit of nostalgia- flock towards my pinball machine. The kids won’t have a chance.
So what’s the plan?
The theme of the machine will be to take on the challenge of an impending dust storm, and to take (symbolic) actions that can “save the farm” and otherwise weather the storm. Progress/success takes the form of accumulated points on the vintage machine that is the basis of my new design (a 1964 Williams “Wing Ding” EM unit). There is a feature in this machine that lets the player hit targets to “rack” little wooden balls in the back glass of the unit, and after accumulating 9 such balls, the machine rewards the player with an extra ball. At this point, any dust storm in progress will end.
Wing Ding Back Glass: That Doesn’t Look Like a Dust Storm to Me….
I’ve adapted this game play such that the targets and “racking” represent the proactive things that farmers needed to do to improve their chances of saving their farms and surviving the dust storms.
For example, one target will activate mechanical “wind breaks” (gates) that will close off the sides of the game making it easier by eliminating the side drains. These “wind breaks” in reality would be the planting of lines of trees to lessen the impact of heavy wind.
The key feature of the game, however, will be the presence of a mechanical mechanism that simulates a dust storm- that slowly covers the lower playfield, obscuring the player’s view and making it difficult to play. This dust cloud effect will cover more of the play field as time progresses.
The “Dust Storm” Mechanism Design
So the game includes both positive and negative impacts to game play that the player needs to deal with in order to score more points, get an extra ball, or play on through the dust storm so that peace is restored to the game play.
Add to this a custom sound track that simulates an old-timey news cast, with music, news, and weather alerts from that era. All of this will be played through a sound system that incorporates a vintage RCA speaker on the top of the machine (Thanks eBay!)
Looks Authentic To Me: RCA 100A Speaker
Concept artwork designs are in process, and I’ve solicited the talents of my friend and comic book artist Chad Cicconi to finalize the look and feel of the playfield. We are considering a scarecrow as the central figure to the design.
Check out some of Chad’s work at http://ccicconi.deviantart.com/
Stay tuned for more details as work progresses.
The Basic Layout of the Playfield: Missing? Scarecrow.