Serious gamers need to keep their equipment in tip-top shape, which is why it’s important to learn how to move a pinball machine properly during your move. Moving large pieces of gaming equipment on your own is a plausible way to save money during a relocation, but there are plenty of safety issues to keep in mind. Not only do you want you and any individuals helping you stay safe, you want to keep your impressive pinball machine(s) damage-free. There’s nothing worse than a classic pinball machine sitting in a corner at your housewarming party, sporting a big spider web crack over the gaming surface.
If you want to take on the project of moving a pinball machine, there are a number of contingencies you need to address. Is this a solid-state electronic machine from the ‘70s? Or is it a newer machine with more complicated mechanics and delicate electronics? How are you going to remove the back box? What about the legs? What will you use to cover and stabilize the pinball machine during transport? We will cover all that and more in this guide on how to move a pinball machine safely.
Moving a pinball machine can be an intimidating endeavor. The sheer size, awkward shape and deceptive fragility make the task seem like a huge deal. But just break it down into tasks and it will be easier than you think. And be grateful for the chance to own your own pinball machine, because it was once illegal! From the 1940s to the 1970s, most big cities considered pinball a game of chance, not of skill, which put it squarely in the category of gambling. So even as you lament your need to move this big ‘ol pinball machine to your new house, consider yourself lucky.
Electro-Mechanical Pinball Machines
These are the machines that can allow the head box to fold down. But you want to disconnect the main wiring in order to do that. Find the rear access panel and remove it. There may have been a key at some time for this panel and if you have it, great, use it. But if not, you might have use a screwdriver and some ingenuity to gain access. Once in there, unplug the large connectors and label them if needed to know where to reconnect once you move the machine.
Dealing with Early Solid State Pinballs
With older machines, you will need to remove the pinball machine backglass. On these machines, there is usually a lock in one of three spots on the head box: the upper left, upper right or on top of the head box in the middle.
Once you unlock the glass, slide it out through the bottom of the head box. Once it is out, handle it very carefully and find a properly sized box to take it on and wrap it securing with packing material. Most likely, it will have an intricate, singular design painted on the surface, meaning that it will be almost impossible to replace or repair if damaged.
Modern Solid State Pinball Machines
Depending on the manufacturer you will either need to use a special Allen key to fold the head box down, as will Data East, Sega and Stern or utilize a simple latching system in the back, like with Williams, Bally and Gottlieb machines.
How to Remove the Head Box
If you have a machine from an earlier age, the head box (essentially the vertical piece that shows the score and main artwork) will probably be attached with 2-4 bolts. They can be easily removed, most of the time, with a wrench or ratchet set.
Most modern machines have hinges on the head box that allow it to be folded down. You might want to place cardboard or some other shock-absorbing material between the glass of the head box and the playfield glass.
How to Remove Pinball Machine Legs
Examine the area around where the legs attach to the main playing surface of the pinball machine. Each leg should have 8 bolts connecting it to the main machine. Most likely the bolts will be ⅝ inches or 9/16 inches, so be prepared with the proper wrenches.
Make sure to remember which are the front legs and which are the back legs. With the exception of Sega pinball machines, most have back legs that are longer than the front legs. You will want to replace the legs in the same spots when you put the machine back together.
Wrapping the Pinball Machine
Invest in some furniture blankets and self-adhesive cellophane wrap to protect your pinball machine properly. With all that glass, there is a very good chance that something bad will happen if you do not take steps to protect it in transport. If the head box just folds down, you will want to wrap that and the main playing box in enough furniture blankets to cover the entire surface area. Wrap the cellophane around it to secure the blankets in place.
Gather the pinball machine legs together and wrap them with one blanket. You can use the cellophane or duct tape to secure that package. Be sure to save the bolts, nuts and other small parts necessary to put the pinball machine back together at the new location.
Get Yourself a Hand Truck (or a Body Builder)
Even when you get the legs off, a pinball machine is still going to have plenty of heft to it. When it is wrapped properly, consider using a hand truck to move the machine from its spot to the moving truck. Don’t try to be a hero and lift it with the help of a few friends. It is very awkward and the potential for disaster is great. So much of a pinball machine is breakable that damage is a real possibility whenever you try to transport it. Plus, if you are using non-professionals, you don’t want to risk them getting hurt. You don’t need your friends holding that over you head for the rest of eternity.
Reassemble and Start Playing
When you get the pinball machine transported to your new game room or basement, let’s get it put back together so you can work on beating your old high score! Unwrap all the pieces and lay them out on the ground. Replace any light bulbs or lamp pieces that you may have taken out for moving and make sure they work before moving on.
Put the pinball machine backglass back into the head box and lock in in place. If your head box is unattached from the main piece, attach the legs back on before you put the head box back in its spot. Be sure to put the legs in their proper place so you don’t end up with a lopsided pinball machine.
Attach the head box back on and re-attach any wires that you took apart for transport.
Once everything is back in working order, you can get back to playing. Happy pinballing!