Date: 21st July 2015

It's not something most of us have cause to consider, but back in the '60s and '70s when train companies around the world were looking to run ever-faster services, the one thing holding them back wasn't the power or efficiency of the locomotives. It was the track.

How could a curved track designed for trains running at 50mph hope to accommodate vehicles travelling at twice that speed without them tipping over? The answer was to tilt the train in the opposite direction - to lean them into the curve - so that they remained upright and passengers were not thrown around.

A Pendolino tilting train
A Pendolino tilting train

So it was that the first 'Pendolino'-style Advanced Passenger Trains entered service on the UK's West Coast Main Line route, to much scepticism and derision from the British public. However, the Pendolino trains are still very much in use today.

All very interesting, but how - apart from a play on the word 'tilt' - does this affect pinball?

To find out, we go to Strasburg in southern Pennsylvania, around sixty miles west of Philadelphia, from where the Strasburg Rail Road operates it's rather awesome steam locomotives and passenger cars.

The Strasburg Rail Road
The Strasburg Rail Road

What could be better that a leisurely and relaxing train journey through Amish country, enjoying the beautiful scenery, reclining in a first class carriage, and marvelling at the elegance and sophistication of the golden age of rail travel?

Entering Amish country
Entering Amish country

Obviously you liven things up by installing some pinball machines. A dozen of them to be exact, carefully fitted into one of the train's tilting Pendolino passenger carriages.

Pinball in a Pendolino
Pinball in a Pendolino
(click to enlarge)

Electromechanical titles from the '60s such as Cow Poke, Soccer, Apollo and Star Trek share the space inside the authentically-restored wooden passenger carriage with electronic games from the late '70s and early '80s like Firepower II, Night Rider and Eight Ball.

The games share the ornate carriage with passenger seating
The games share the ornate carriage with passenger seating
(click to enlarge)

Here's the full list of machines in the train carriage.

  • Apollo

  • Big Ben

  • Blue Note

  • Cow Poke

  • Eight Ball

  • Evil Knievel
  • Firepower II

  • Flipper Pool

  • Hokus Pokus

  • Night Rider

  • Pop-a-Card

  • Soccer

The train takes passengers on a 45-minute round-trip journey from East Strasburg to the town of Paradise in Pennsylvania.

East Strasburg station
East Strasburg station

Playing pinball in a Pendolino carriage requires a whole new level of ball control and anticipation skills as the train rounds the curves in the track, as well as a rather more relaxed tilt setting. The machines themselves come from the collection of Steve Zuckerman who is the co-owner of the Silverball Museum Arcade in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

Access to the pinballs in limited to those with special Pinball Pendolino tickets, which cost $18 (or $33 for two) plus a $5 handling fee. Pairs of passengers are allocated a two-person seat and its associated machine to play during the trip. With twelve machines, that makes a maximum of twenty-four passengers in the car.

The Pinball Pendolino runs on the hour from 11am until 5pm during weekends from July 18th, 2015. Pre-booking is definitely advised although there's no facility to pre-select the machine you would like to play.

If you've ridden the Pinball Pendolino, let us know about your experience.

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Please tell us about your journey in the Pinball Pendolino:

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JR Pinball:

My brother and I drove down to the Strasburg Railroad after touring the Yuengling beer brewery a few weeks ago.

It was late in the evening, and we purchased tickets for the 7pm train when the ticket booth opened at 6pm. We were able to immediately board the train, and we were the only ones on that particular coach, so we enjoyed playing all the pinballs for a whole hour before the train departed.

The Bally Hokus Pokus was out of order, and there was a rather scarce Gottlieb Astro add-a-ball wedgehead in place of the Eight Ball which you have listed.

The train departed at 7PM, and it was quite an experience playing the games as the train rollicked down the tracks! I can't imagine any of the games had the 'tilt' activated at all, because the motion of the train would surely have caused each game to tilt. I commented that playing with the train moving was like "trying to hit a knuckleball". Many times, the ball would be saved from a drain between the flippers or an outlane.

It was definitely a departure from the way we normally play pinball, and it was really, really fun! The countryside was beautiful as the sun was setting over this picturesque area of rural Pennsylvania.

The train itself was very charming, with coaches serving dinner and others offering wine and cheese. My brother and I though, being the pinheads we are, enjoyed the unique experience of pinball in a vintage coach hauled by a steam locomotive.

It was like something you would be doing in a strange dream, but it was very real, and very much fun!

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