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Random Thoughts & Pictures

Space Station was near the forefront of my current, adult addiction to pinball. My wife and I sold our old home in April of 2003, but our new home wasn't finished until April of 2004. We spent that year stuck in a crappy one-bedroom apartment in a not-so-nice neighborhood of Manassas, Virginia. Mostly out of boredom I went for a lot of long walks around the neighborhood. And I began noticing pinball machines on location. Pinball? I had casually played pinball here and there through out my life, but never took it too seriously or thought too much about it. But now armed with more quarters than I could ever afford as a kid, I began scouting the area for more pins. Before long I was hooked. Just a few blocks away from our crappy little apartment was a crappy little strip mall with a crappy sandwich shop and a crappy biker bar. The sandwich shop had an Earthshaker. Predictably, the biker bar had a Stern Harley-Davidson. I liked both but spent more time with Earthshaker. The Earthshaker was still 25 cents and was a bit more generous with the replays. Then one day the Earthshaker went away and was replaced by a Space Station.

My first impression of Space Station was not good. I'm generally not a fan of pinball machines with unconventional lower playfield layouts. But I quickly discovered that the game was fun after all. The lack of inlanes opens up the lower playfield for a lot of target shots. And the ball is not terribly hard to control. The sounds and music are great. The art and theme are great. I like the interlaced habitrails and the Space Station diverter toy. And the game has a great 3-ball multiball (the main objective of the game). There's even a secondary GI circuit of green bulbs that comes on during multiball. In fact, Space Station became my favorite System-11 game! I quickly took over all the high scores and was picking off playfield specials as fast as I was earning replays on points. One quarter is all it took for me to play as long as I liked. By the way, this game gives you a fantastic sound and light show for a high score.

But I also began earning unfriendly looks from the establishment's owner. I tried to always order some food when I went to play, but the food wasn't very good. I guess the token sandwich order wasn't enough to make up for my hours of game hogging (not that there was a line of customers waiting at the door). Eventually I got kicked out. And by then the Harley-Davidson had been replaced with a less-than-exciting Sharkey's Shootout. Fortunately the construction on our new home was wrapping up. It was time to move on. But I believe Space Station's theme music will always remind me of that period of my life.

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Our crappy little apartment.

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The crappy little sandwich shop and the crappy little biker bar have become a collection of crappy little ethnic restaurants (with no pins).

I acquired my Space Station from a local craigslist ad on April 5th, 2008. The previous owner purchased the game around 1995 from Rockville Home Amusements. It would appear that this company is no longer in business.

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craigslist ad

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The game had a Rockville Home Amusement card in place of the missing price card.

MISSION CONTROL--REPORT TO--SPACE STATION

This was a solid, playable game, but in need of a good tear down and shop job. Initially I had to clean the flipper coil sleeves, re-solder a lane change switch and adjust the lock down bar. That was enough to get the game playable and everything appeared to be fully functional. The playfield is in pretty nice shape. Games of this era are often well protected with full factory Mylar. But, many of the inserts are hazed and there are some small wear spots by the outlane switches. There's a horrible down-to-the-wood wear spot between the top jet bumper and right rollover (no Mylar there). Fortunately the spot is completely hidden from any normal viewing angle. The mini-playfield, Space Station toy and plastics are all excellent. Unfortunately the ramp is a pending disaster. It has many cracks and a missing chunk at the entrance. But it doesn't look all that bad and seems to work well (for now). Hopefully someone will see fit to reproduce this ramp in the near future. The cabinet is okay, but could stand some touchups. The translite is not perfect, but new translites are still readily available. The boards are original, matched, clean and un-hacked with no replaced or burnt connectors. The only issue I found was with the top left display. It was either replaced or re-soldered. Unfortunately the mounting pegs are broke and it's resting against the face of the display panel. My biggest concern is the ramp. Otherwise, this game has a lot of potential.

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Promotional plastics for Space Station.

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Shown above is the two page promotional flyer for Space Station. The third image shows another flyer signed by designer Barry Ousler. Click for larger picture.

Prototype Drop Target

Here's a picture of an unpopulated playfield. Note the artwork "hole" in front of the ball popper. Apparently there were prototype games that had a drop target guarding the ball popper similarly to how the ramp entrance is guarded by a drop target. The lamp insert is positioned just right to accommodate a drop target mounting bracket.

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Artwork "hole" for a drop target.

Alternate Ramp and Mini-Playfield

Dennis from Arizona provided this picture of his Space Station with a clear right ramp. It appears to be an early production game including the "Williams Version" insert board (see below). Could the clear ramp be an early production part? Or maybe it's some sort of reproduction part. It seems odd to me that Williams would produce a clear ramp with no means of cosmetically concealing the right ball dock kicker coil.

It would also appear that some early prototype or sample games may have come with an alternate opaque black upper mini-playfield. See IPBD for pictures of the black mini-playfield.

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Clear right ramp. Note Dennis' custom made illuminated diverter toy.

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Here's another clear ramp from an old eBay listing. A kicker coil is plainly visible beneath the ramp.

As of 2014 no one had offered a reproduction ramp in original black. However, a hobbyist who goes by "Freeplay40" on Pinside did produce a limited run of ramps in both clear and translucent blue. The blue color was selected to complement the game's translucent blue upper mini-playfield. It's a pretty good match. I decided to purchase one of the blue ramps. My crappy picture shown below doesn't do it justice. It really is a cool product. But I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. As neat as the blue ramp may be I was reluctant to deviate from the game's original look. And since the ramp is translucent I'd have to devise a way to hide the kicker coil as seen through the clear ramp pictures above.

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Freeplay40's pretty awesome custom translucent blue ramp.

Turns out I wasn't willing to do blue. But Freeplay40 figured out how to do black. Actually it's one of his clear PETG ramps that's been back-painted with plastic compatable Krylon Fusion spraypaint. So in January 2016 I traded my blue ramp for black. Then the day after I arranged this deal a NOS ramp popped up on eBay. There was suprisingly little interest and I got the ramp for an irristable price. So I went from no new black ramps to having two. At least I got to do some side by side comparisons. The PETG ramp isn't as glossy as I was expecting, but it's still glossier than the NOS ramp. In other words the sheen of the PETG ramp won't quite match the sheen of the existing diverter at the top of the ramp. On the other hand the PETG ramp is of thicker construction and should be more durable than the NOS ramp. The PETG ramp includes a reinforcement ring at the drop hole whereas the NOS ramp is already cracked at the drop hole despite never having been used. The PETG ramp has been equipped with a micro switch whereas the NOS ramp has a leaf switch.

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Freeplay40's PETG ramp (bottom) compared to a NOS ramp.

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PETG ramp (bottom) compared to a NOS ramp.

Insert Board Variations

Space Station appears to have been built in two different versions featuring two different lighting schemes for the translite. The first version (what I'll call the "Williams Version") features controlled lamps under the Williams logo and controlled lamps under the shuttle flames. Lamps under the space station are GI.

The second version (what I'll call the "Wheel Version") features controlled lamps under the outer wheel of the space station. Lamps under Williams logo and the shuttle flames are GI.

The picture pairs below show differences between the two versions. All of the "Williams Version" pictures (left) are courtesy of Jacob Erskine. The "Wheel Version" pictures (right) are of my game. The first pair shows front overviews of the two insert boards. The "Williams Version" (left) has four additional lamps that are not found on the "Wheel Version". All four of these extra lamps are GI (red circles). Note that both insert boards have had their six "wheel lamps" replaced with green LEDs.

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Front overview. Click image for larger picture.

Next are rear overviews of the insert boards. The six "wheel lamps" are GI on the "Williams Version" and controlled on the "Wheel Version".

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Rear overview. Click image for larger picture.

The lamp circuit board behind the Williams logo is shown below. Each of the three lamps is a controlled lamp on the "Williams Version". All three lamps are GI on the "Wheel Version".

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Lamp detail behind the Williams logo. Click image for larger picture.

Shown below are the two lamp arrangements behind the little shuttle flame in the lower middle area of the translite. Note that one of the four extra GI lamps is located in this area. The "Williams Version" features a controlled lamp behind the shuttle flame. This controlled lamp is GI on the "Wheel Version".

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Lamp detail behind the little shuttle flame. Click image for larger picture.

The last pair of pictures show the lamp arrangements behind the big shuttle flame in the lower left area of the translite. Both versions have a parallel pair of controlled lamps under the flash lamp circuit board. Despite this similarity, each version controls the lamp pair from a different driver (see list below). The "Williams Version" has an additional single controlled lamp near the shuttle engines. This lamp is GI on the "Wheel Version".

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Lamp detail behind the big shuttle flame. Click image for larger picture.

The game manual was written for the "Williams Version" whereas the lamp test software was written for the "Wheel Version". Pertinent entries from the game manual's lamp matrix table are shown below.

37 - Little Shuttle
41 - Not Used
46 - Williams (left)
47 - Williams (middle)
48 - Williams (right)
49 - Big Flame (single lamp)
57 - Big Flame (lamp pair)

And here are the corresponding entries shown by the game during lamp test.

37 - Station Wheel 4
41 - Station Wheel 6
46 - Station Wheel 3
47 - Station Wheel 2
48 - Station Wheel 1
49 - Flame 1 (lamp pair)
57 - Station Wheel 5

Translite Variations

There appears to have been three different translite variations for Space Station related to the station wheel and six wheel lamps noted above. One variation has a transparent pattern of "windows" in front of each wheel lamp. A second variation has the windows punched out. A third variation has no windows. My game had the windows punched out. A replacement translite I bought also had the windows punched out. One of the reasons I replaced the six wheel lamps with green frosted LEDs is because I thought the conventional bulb filaments looked a bit too harsh through the windows.

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Detail of one of the windows which is punched out in this variation. Note the wheel lamp behind the window which in this case is a conventional incandescent bulb.