24th October 2002

Wednesday Afternoon:

The flight into O'Hare airport arrives on time and gives a great view as we circle over the lake and downtown Chicago. United Airlines have an interesting feature on their flights - the chance to listen to air traffic control communications between the controllers and the planes throughout the flight including taxiing, takeoff and landing. A nice diversion. I flew into the US on a different plane, one with nose and belly mounted camera so you can watch the taxiing, takeoff, flight, landing and parking without even having to turn your head to look out of the window.

I don't know why, but it always seems that once I get on board the courtesy coach from O'Hare to the Ramada there is always someone there who is also going to Pinball Expo. I swear Richard Shapero and Sam Harvey ride these busses all day.
Today it was Richard and Jim Belsito on the coach and we got chatting about pinball - as you do.

After checking into the hotel there was only one place to go - the bar!
Goose Island's Honkers Ale seemed to fit the bill (goose - bill - geddit?) and pretty soon a group of us were there. Time slipped away and it was past time to leave for Rick's Party.

Wednesday Night

Another excellent evening at Rick Schieve's home, and his excellent selection of pinball and video games.

If you've been to his pre-Expo parties before you'll be accustomed to the high quality of the games and there was no disappointment this year. Around 100 people turned up this year and although it is an hour's drive from the Ramada hotel, the chance to meet, chat and play against a good crowd of fellow enthusiasts is enough to bring them out.
As the way to start off the show (albeit unofficially), it's the best way to say hello to familiar faces before the early registration the next morning.

Apart from the pinball games there were also a number of MAME-based video cabinets, each holding between a few hundred and several thousand games. The chance to play Moon Cresta again after so many years made the journey worthwhile in itself.

Thanks go out to Ron & Lidia Rogalla for their hospitality and transport to the party and to Rick for hosting another great one and letting us all run riot in your home.

Thursday Morning

A late finish last night and an early start this morning to get registration for the show completed before the schedule departure time of 9am.

Some last minute work was still taking place outside the hall but the registration process was quick and easy as I'd faxed a registration form to the organisers a week before, so there was a welcome pack of badge and tickets to the banquet and tournament. The show programmes weren't ready at this point. With ten minutes to go, was there time to dive into McDonalds across the road and grab some breakfast and coffee before the busses arrive? Probably not and I don't want to miss the tour, so I wait. And wait.
There is a sign at the registration desk telling us that the food at Saturday's banquet will be an all-you-can-eat buffet. Hmm, that doesn't bode well for the quality.

Finally the busses arrive 30 minutes late and I'm left mourning the lost chance of breakfast, the only meal in over 24 hours. It's another 15 minutes before the busses depart and we arrive at Stern shortly after 10am where we were divided up into groups of eight or so and take round the factory.

The production process is the same as last year when Monopoly was on the line and the glimpse of boxes of Austin Powers parts led us to suggest there could be another run of those coming up.

That, of course subsequently happened. This year it's Roller Coaster Tycoon in production.

Wiring takes up about a third of the factory - it's not something you immediately thing about when you consider the pinball game. Usually it's the cool toys, the boards that go wrong, the coils that need cleaning, those are the things that you think about but the wiring is the part that makes it all work and in a pinball game there's a lot of it.

Each game has a number of diagrams made up and mounted on a board with pins and pegs to guide the wires while they're measured, cut, terminated and tied into the cable runs.

There are two main assembly lines running from the back to the front of the factory. One builds the playfield while the other fits out the cabinet. Playfield parts are assembled elsewhere in the factory and fed into the process. At the end the two parts are joined together and have the backbox added to make the completed game.

As for this year's sneaky peek? I'll say no more but you can make up your own mind about this wiring diagram.

It's not all pinball at the Stern Factory though. They are also contracted to make some video games - they were working on an all-terrain vehicle simulator when we toured.

All the spare parts for Stern and Sega pinballs are kept at the factory. When an order comes from a distributor it end up here where the parts are shipped. They aim to keep parts for five years after the game was made although in some cases this is shorter due to failure of supplies.

Also on show at the factory was a test rig with the new tournament system ToPS.

To round off the visit we were presented with a translate from a variety of past games before the school busses whisked us back to the hotel and that late breakfast.

Thanks to folks at Stern Pinball for allowing us in to run riot around the factory and generally get in the way while answering our questions.

Thursday Afternoon

Lunchtime rolls around and it's time for the Bumper Blast luncheon - an informal welcome to the show by the organisers and the chance to get people mixing and chatting over cheese, coke and pizza. When I told people I'd come to the show from Orlando it was amazing how many others had also come from that city.


In the next part of this look at Pinball Expo 2002 we'll look inside the hall and see what games were on show and who was out there selling parts, games and assorted goodies. We'll also look at the start of the seminars and let you know who was there - and who wasn't!

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© Pinball News 2002