My “First” Fruit Machine


Well done, you find the write up about my third foray into the world of arcade machine ownership. If you’d asked me a year ago what it would have been about I would have said I’d be describing some kind of jukebox, but what I’m actually describing is something different.

It’s my first fruit machine, or slot machine if you will.

The best place to pick up arcade machines in the UK is by scouring web forums and newsgroups rather than trawling eBay where prices tend to be on the optimistic side, if not leaning towards the outrageous side. The best forum that I’ve found so far for picking up machines and parts is Jamma+ where I’d already picked up my Disco Fever Pinball machine, and this fruit machine popped up on there for my favourite price of “Free if collected.”

Luckily it wasn’t too far away, just under an hour’s drive, and the guy wanted it out of his way but assured me the machine had worked the last time he had plugged it in. Feeling adventurous I decided to go and pick it up, honestly more for my wife and children than for me. I sometimes play fruit machines but not very often, however, following a trip to St Anne’s, Lancashire where we’d all played a few fruit machines in the pier arcade. and particularly a 2p roulette machine, I decided that if I saw a suitable fruit machine on offer somewhere that I would get it.

The machine in question was an old one themed around the Space Shuttle called Moonraker, also the name of a Bond film that featured variations of the Space Shuttle. I picked it up from the cellar of a house in Accrington, Lancashire and I can honestly say it weighed a bloody ton. Not only because of the cab itself but it was an electro mechanical machine with a lot of fairly heavy moving parts inside.

Once I got it home I did what every right minded arcade machine owner does when they get a new machine. I checked the coin box to see how much money the previous owner had left inside. Unfortunately the previous owner had also been a right minded arcade machine owner and had checked it himself before getting rid of it, so the coin box contained a couple of pieces of fluff, a washer and an old style 10p piece.

Looking around the cab itself, it is battered and bruised, and in truth beyond quick repair because a lot of the wood on the corners has been bashed and is either broken off or rotted away. There isn’t any ongoing rot problem but it essentially needs rehousing in a new cab rather than repairing. I was warned about that before I collected it so I was prepared, and it confirmed my intentions of just getting the machine clean and playable. I would fix it, use it, and if it broke to the point of needing an expensive repair, I would sell or trade it on for something else rather than throw money at it to restore it.

Two immediate problems became obvious:
(1)  It is running on old coinage and wouldn’t accept any new coins that I put in it.
(2)  The reel paper is slipping on the reels so when the reels come to a stop, the paper continues for a fraction of a second and displays the wrong symbol.

To overcome those problems I would need to convert or replace the coin mechs and reset the reels and reel papers.

Time to hit another forum then and ask for help and advice. The best fruit machine forum in the UK that I found was MPU Mecca so I signed up and asked for a couple of things: some general information about the machine itself, and how to fix the problems that it had.

A couple of very helpful and informative members filled me in somewhat, apparently it is a Bell Fruit base machine, most probably a Dash or a Sprint housed in a wide button panel cabinet and converted by Nobles as most Bell Fruits were in the 1970s, which would seem to be supported by a sticker in the back of the machine that bears the name Barry Noble, and they were of the opinion that although the cabinet is not the best, the machine and it’s control panels and reels should still function very well and can be repaired if not.

I tackled the issue of the slipping reels first because I would be able to play the machine without changing the coin mechs, it just meant that I had to manually trigger the coin up switch each time rather than drop a coin in and have the coin trigger it automatically.

The machine has three reels, and the unit comes out as a whole and contains all three reels. Once this was out I could see that down one side of each reel are a set of brass wipers that touch a series of contacts on the reel, and as the reel spins the wipers touch different contacts and complete different circuits so the machine can tell what position the reel is in at all times.

The reels themselves are reset by rotating them until the wipers are in the same horizontal position on each reel, and then the reel paper also needs resetting to its home position on each reel. Once the reels are in position, the symbols on the win line should have the end of the paper reel strips directly above them. The reel strips are paper rather than the plastic I expected and were originally stuck down with double sided tape, but over time the adhesive on the tape dries and the strips break loose and slide around the reel. To stick them down again I used a dab of glue from a glue gun and replaced the mechanism in the machine.

Next up, the coin mechs. The S1 coin mechs in the machine determine whether or not to accept a coin based simply on diameter and thickness of the coins. Any coins not accepted are simply returned to the reject slot so I had to remove all the mechs from the machine to make adjustments to them. In total it has 4 coin mechs; a token slot which adds 2 credits, a 5p slot which adds 1 credit, a 10p slot which adds 2 credits and a 50p coin slot which doesn’t add credits but pays out five 10p coins that you can use to play.

Once out of the machine I could access the adjustment screws on each mech and it was simply a case of trial and error, making adjustments and then dropping a coin in to see if it was accepted or rejected. The height adjustment bar must allow the coin to roll free in an upright position along the coin ramp. If the bar is set too high then the coin will tip over in the gate, if it is set too low the bar will ‘nip’ the coin and stop it from rolling. The coin thickness adjustment also has to allow the coin to roll down the ramp. If it is set too wide the coins will drop into the reject slot, and if it is set to narrow the coin cannot roll down the coin ramp.

The token mech, the 5p mech and the 10p mech were fairly straight forward, but the 50p mech was not because it contained a rocker inside it, so if the coin entered was not a genuine 50p then the rocker would also reject it. This rocker did not like new 50p coins at all, so I had to remove it and use a fairly primitive but effective replacement, a coin and a piece of tape.

The 50p mech has 2 exits and the genuine coins had to drop out of the front one, but with the rocker removed they would always fall through the back one, so I put an old 50p piece in the back exit and used some tape to stop it from falling out, and now the genuine coins pass through the first part of the mech, hit this old 50p and then fall forwards into the front exit and down into the coin box. Quite rudimentary but very effective and not a single coin has got stuck in it or failed to fall into the right place yet.

Having the coin mechs working meant that I could play the machine properly but it did however present a new problem: The coin tubes and the payslide mechanism.

As the 10p coins are put into the machine they are sent to a coin tube where they sit in a horizontal position, stacked on top of one another. Once this tube is full to the top, the next coins then roll over the top coin and go into a tube which sends them to the coin boxes at the bottom of the machine. As the machine pays out, it has a plunger that pushes the bottom coin in the tube out into a chute that the player can retrieve it from. All the coins in the tube drop down one position, and the next 10p inserted will fill the tube again, and then future coins rollover it again until the next payout.

Now that I had adjusted the coin mechs to accept new 10p coins this presented a problem. The new 10p coins being smaller than the old ones did not always stack neatly in the tube and some would fall down the side and sit vertically, so when they dropped to the bottom of the tube the plunger could not cleanly shoot a coin out into the chute and would stick and jam up the whole mechanism, so I would have to change the coin tube to one with a narrower bore.

I headed off to B&Q and found that a piece of plastic draining tube had the right bore and I just had to cut it to length and make an opening in the side for the switch mechanism to go through.

What this switch does is tell the machine when there are a certain amount of 10p coins in the tube. If the switch is triggered, then the 50p slot is activated as it will be able to kick out five 10p coins in exchange, but if the switch is not triggered then there may not be enough 10p coins in the tube to be able to exchange a 50p coin for five 10p coins so the 50p slot is disabled.

With the new tube in place the 10p coins all stacked up nicely and it has not jammed up again even under heavy use.

Sometimes a machine in an arcade under heavy use would also need the top of the payslide chute changing as well as that can also jam up but mine never has done, and under home use is not that likely to see enough wear and tear for it to become an issue.

So now my machine was working and usable I noticed a couple of smaller issues:
(1)  I adjusted the token slot to also take 10p coins and it accepts them and trips the microswitch but it does not add a credit.
(2)  The machine says it will pay £1 wins in tokens which is an issue because I don’t have any tokens, so I need it to pay in 10p coins instead.

The token slot is actually disabled by a switch that’s connected to a key operated switch on the front of the machine, and once I switched it on it worked as normal, and there are a couple of ways around the Jackpot payout problem:
(1)  Fill the token tube with 10p coins and replenish it when it empties.
(2)  Move the wiring from the token payout slide to the 10p coin payout slide so the machine may still trigger a token payout but it will actually payout from the 10p coin tube.

When I looked into it and my daughter finally won the Jackpot, it paid out from the 10p coin tube so somebody had already made this change which helped.

Some research and some more helpful people on MPU Mecca told me that there are a couple of common faults with this machine, it would constantly keep running out of tokens, which is not an issue for mine as I don’t use tokens and it isn’t paying out the Jackpot in tokens, and the middle reel will sometimes stick when nudging.

I’d noticed some issues with the reels sticking a little or more often not stopping straight away. The reels are held in place by a locking bar connected to a solenoid, and when at rest a spring holds the locking in bar in place so the reel can’t spin. When the Start button is pressed and the reels need to spin the solenoid fires and pulls the locking bar away from the reel so it can spin, and then it release the bar so the spring can pull it back into place and lock the reel again. If these solenoids are failing or the piston is not moving freely then the spring may not be effective enough and the reels will not come to a clean and immediate stop, they can stutter a little or even stop in the wrong order if only one is failing.

I dismantled the mechanisms and cleaned them which seems to have helped a lot but if this were a restore project then I would just replace the solenoids as part of that project.

For now though, and for occasional use it is fine. We’ll all use it until it breaks, and when it does, if I can’t fix it I’ll move it on like the previous owner did. I think a fruit machine has earned its place in my home arcade though and I would always pick up another to replace it should it be moved on in the future.

As one astute forum member noted “Not bad for a freebie machine.”

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