by Russ Jensen
THE HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS (PART 2)
Last time I described the first three telephone conversations I had with late pinball pioneer Harry Williams. This time I will relate information he passed on to me during two additional phone calls. The next time I talked to Harry was April 29, 1980. We first talked about two games produced by Exhibit Supply in the 1930's, both of which were named LIGHTNING. Harry told me that the first LIGHTNING, which came out in 1934, was patterned after his pioneer "electric action" pingame CONTACT. Harry said he sketched out the design of this game and made it such that it was not an exact copy of CONTACT. He then told me that Exhibit produced the game under a license agreement with Fred McClellen who's Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. was producing CONTACT.
I then asked Harry if he remembered a later Exhibit game with the same name which I had recently purchased? He said he remembered he and Lyn Durrant designing a game by that name when they worked for Exhibit, but did not remember much about it. When I told him that the game had "electro-magnets" under the playfield which caused the ball to move in unusual ways, Harry said he remembered a game he designed called BUTTONS which used that idea, and thought that LIGHTNING may have come after that. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: According to the information I currently have, LIGHTNING was first advertised in Billboard magazine in August of 1938, with BUTTONS being advertised several months later in October.)
Harry then said he remembered that principle being used in conjunction with rubber rebounds such that the ball would "bounce back and forth over a scoring button to add up score". He called that idea an "adder-upper", and said he thought it was automatically disabled when the "1000 scoring unit" was advanced. Harry did not, however, say on what game that idea was used. In a final remark regarding LIGHTNING he said he remembered it having a short scoreboard attached to the playfield and said that Stoner had originated that cabinet style with their 1937 game RICOCHET.
I next asked Harry about the "free play" idea which had been originated by his young shop assistant in the early 1930's, Bill Bellah. He said Bellah's device was mostly mechanical, and not the electrical device used for years utilizing a solenoid mounted beneath the coin chute (Harry remarking that he himself came up with that idea later on). Harry then said Bellah's invention used a metal drum, mounted near the front of the playfield, which had numbers on it (showing through a small window) indicating the number of "free play credits".
He went on to say that this unit was mechanically linked to the coin chute to allow it to be pushed in without using a coin as long as credits were indicated. He said, however, that the drum was advanced, when replays were earned, by an electric solenoid. Harry then went on to say that he believed that the first game to employ this device was made by Keeney, but he could not remember it's name. He said it was then used by Rockola on a game that he believed was called FLASH. Harry then said he remembered that game as having two indicating type counters, one for "replays" and the other to indicate a "winning number". He said that the "winning number" would start out as "1", and if the ball went into the number "1" hole, a replay would be scored and the "winning number" advanced to "2", etc. Harry then remarked that in this way one replay was scored for each consecutive numbered hole into which balls landed. He again emphasized that the "free-play" Counter was mechanically linked to the coin chute.
The rest of this phone conversation dealt with Harry's current design efforts. He said that Stern Electronics was trying to standardize on a longer playfield (23 7/8" by 46") as was used in their game BIG GAME. The last thing he told me was that he was currently working on a new game which he said would probably be called (of all things) LIGHTNING!
My next phone call to Harry, which occurred on March 24, 1982, dealt mainly with things that coin machine historian Dick Bueschel wanted me to ask him about. I first asked Harry if he remembered a game designer in the 1930's named Bon McDougal (who Dick had heard about as having been rumored to be the actual designer of CONTACT). Harry said that he had known Bon, and that he did once work for Pacific Amusements (PAMCO), but started with the company at about the same time as he himself left, which was at the time of release of his last PAMCO design, MAJOR LEAGUE in late 1934.
Harry said he thought Bon was responsible for the design of a series of 5 Pamco games, referred to as "the quintuplets", the names of which he could not remember. Finally, he remarked that Bon was better known as a "wing walker" than a pinball designer. Harry then asked me if I had ever found one of his CONTACT games?
When I told him I now owned one he asked if I would send him pictures of it, which I later did. He then asked which size game I had, and when I told him I had the "Junior" size (24" x 44") he told me that he made those in his own shop because Fred McClellen did not want to make that size in his. Harry then remarked that the idea of making a model of that size came from Los Angeles May Company department store.
I next asked Harry if he remembered a game, supposedly made by Exhibit, which had balls in the backboard (Dick Bueschel had found a patent for that game and wanted to know if it had ever been produced). Harry said he vaguely remembered the game, but not it's name. He then said he remembered he and Lyn Durrant working on it, but thought it may have only been a "prototype" and never released. Harry went on to say that many games never got past that stage. When I read him the names on the patent (Eugene Kramer, Percy Shields, and Milton Gitelson) Harry said he had heard of Kramer, had never heard of Gitelson, but had known Percy Shields very well. In fact, he said, Mr. Shields once worked for him in his shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles.
While we were on the subject of "prototypes" Harry mentioned a "puck" game he once designed at Williams. He said it was called FLYING DUCKS which was build as a prototype only and never went into production. Harry also said that at the present time Stern Electronics had a game called CUE which never got past the prototype stage. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: That was indeed true as I have since seen one of these rare prototypes at several pinball shows in recent years which is owned by Las Vegas "Super-collector" Tim Arnold)
I next asked Harry about another early game designer, Ken Shyvers from Seattle, whom Dick Bueschel was interested in finding out about. He said that Ken was a very good designer, and that he designed the first "score totalizer" in conjunction with Lyn Durrant around 1936. (When I later told Dick Bueschel about this he told me he had the patent for it!) Harry went on to say that Ken also designed CANNON FIRE for Mills, then remarking that Ken sold his designs on a "royalty" basis.
When I asked Harry if he had any pingames at home he replied he had two. One was a home game he designed for Brunswick, and the other SPLIT SECOND which he designed for Stern. I next told him about Dick Bueschel interviewing the son of Earl Froom, one of the designers of the pioneer pingame WHIFFLE. Harry said that he had always wondered if WHIFFLE was the "first pingame". I then told him about Mr. Froom having a copy of an advertising film his father had made for WHIFFLE. Harry said that he thought that was very interesting and would like to see it someday.
Harry then remarked that he had the capability of "converting" 16mm films to video tape. The final topic of this phone conversation concerned the Stoner Company. I told Harry that I had just acquired a very nice 1938 Stoner pin called ELECTRO. He then told me that Ted Stoner was a "wood worker" and had a lot of wood-working equipment in his plant, but did not have a router. Harry went on to say that Stoner had been given a contract to make prototypes for CONTACT. He said that he visited the Stoner plant at that time and saw they were drilling the holes.
He then told me that he got them a router but found out that they were still locating the hole positions "by hand". Harry then said that he once said to Ted Stoner "no wonder you talk about your 'custom aristocrat line'". Finally, he told me that Stoner made 750 CONTACT prototypes.
This will conclude this installment of my detailing of my phone conversations with Harry Williams. The present article may seem somewhat short, but next time I will relate the phone call which dealt primarily with Harry's famous pioneer pingame, CONTACT. In that same article I will conclude this series with the final bits of information I received from Harry during our last telephone conversation before his untimely death. Most of that conversation, however, contained "repeats" of things that he had discussed during earlier conversations.
HARRY WILLIAMS PHONECONS - THE FINAL CHAPTER
The last two telephone conversations I had with Harry Williams were both in 1982. The first of these was on April 7. I phoned Harry on that day to ask questions regarding his famous pioneer pingame - CONTACT.
Before making the call I had prepared a list of questions to ask him regarding that subject. I first asked Harry if he had designed any games before CONTACT? He told me that he started in pingame design designing "replacement boards" (new playfields which could be substituted on an existing game) to be used on Mills' OFFICIAL. He said he did not put any names on these boards and that he sold them for $5 each. Harry went on to say that this gave him experience in determining the proper placement of the holes, pins, etc., on playfields. He then said that those playfields were "custom made".
Harry then told me that the first complete game he designed was called ADVANCE and that it was "entirely mechanical". He said that he sold it to Seeburg, adding that this game was the first to use his now famous "tilt" mechanism, and also the first pingame to have a "visible coin chute". I next asked Harry about Fred McClellan and how he got into the pinball business, and about his Pacific Amusement Mfg. Co. (PAMCO)?
He said that Fred was originally a carburetor manufacturer and then decided to get into the games business. Harry then said that Fred started by selling two large pingames, MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN, which were actually made by a cabinet company, Fred acting as a "jobber" for the games. I then asked Harry how he came up with the idea for the first "electric action" pingame, CONTACT? He told me that around that time he was running low on cash, receiving very little royalties from Seeburg for ADVANCE. He said he knew he needed a new idea to make some money.
Harry then told me that he went to seek advice from a Christian Science practitioner who told him that his worries were "blocking his mind" and advised him to relax and meditate. Harry went on to say that he took this advice and one day, while relaxing on a park bench, he all of a sudden got the idea for CONTACT. He said he quickly made a sketch of his idea on a large pad of green paper which he carried with him. Harry told me that his new design required electric solenoids, and he wondered where he could obtain them. Then, as luck would have it, he discovered that there was a shop next door to his small shop which made just the items he needed.
Harry then continued, saying that he built a model of his new game and showed it to Fred McClellan, whom he had heard about because of his selling of MASTERPIECE and METROPOLITAN. He said Fred thought the "electric action" was a great idea and wanted to buy the rights to it, and have the cabinet shop who had build his previous games build it. Harry said that he convinced Fred to do his own manufacturing rather than sub-contracting it to someone else. Fred agreed. Harry went on to say that he actually made the "Junior" size in his small shop on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles, with the other models being made in Fred's shop on Hope St. Later he said Fred opened a plant in Chicago and also had a sales office in Portland Oregon.
Harry went on to say that CONTACT was produced for almost one year (an extremely long production run for any pingame, past or present) and he estimated that between 28 and 33 thousand games were actually manufactured. This, of course, included all four sizes of the game. I then asked Harry about the use of his "tilt" and bells on CONTACT. He said the first models had neither attachment, but that both were added somewhere during the first 100 games produced. He then said that later models used an electric "pull- chain" tilt mechanism he designed, having an indicator on the playfield which pointed to either "OK" or "TILT". This incidentally, was the forerunner of the still current "plumb bob" tilt mechanism.
Finally, I asked about the several models of CONTACT and their prices? Harry replied that the large model, "SENIOR", which was 5 feet long, sold for $100 and that the "standard size" "JUNIOR" model sold for $75. Regarding the small "BABY" model, Harry said that the idea for making a small version of CONTACT came from Los Angeles' Bullocks Department Store. He said they wanted a "home model" to sell, and that they produced the BABY in both a coin-op and a non coin-op model for home use. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: You may recall from one of my earlier phone conversations with Harry that he said it was the May Company Department Store and the "Junior" model (which I believe was a mistake). Well, his memory might have been a little hazy but at least it appears that one of the large Los Angeles department stores gave Harry the idea for his BABY model of CONTACT.)
That ended my conversation with Harry on that day. The information I obtained during that phone call was used as the basis for an article I wrote for the Summer 1982 issue of Pinball Collectors' Quarterly entitled "CONTACT, Pinball Goes Electric".
The last phone conversation I had with Mr. Williams, before his untimely death in September 1983, took place on Sept. 14, 1982. We first again talked about the two games called LIGHTNING with which Harry had been involved. He said that right after CONTACT came out Fred McClellan sold the rights to Exhibit Supply to make a "copy" of CONTACT (which they called LIGHTNING) for a royalty of $1 per game.
When Harry found out about this he said he told Fred that he was "crazy" since he paid Harry $3 per game to put out CONTACT. Harry went on to say that he suggested to Exhibit that they make some changes to the playfield of LIGHTNING so it wouldn't be exactly the same as CONTACT. He then said that he offered to do that for them, and that Exhibit agreed. I then asked Harry if he remembered getting a patent on CONTACT, or the game he later designed for Exhibit called BUTTONS, both of which Dick Bueschel had a copy of. He said he did not remember having a copy of either patent.
I again asked Harry if he remembered that 1938 Exhibit game (which I used to own) which was also named LIGHTNING. That game had electro-magnets under the playfield which caused the ball to do all sorts of crazy antics, just like was used on BUTTONS. He said he couldn't remember that LIGHTNING particularly. When I then asked him if LIGHTNING could have been a "prototype" for BUTTONS, he said he didn't know.
The rest of this final phone conversation dealt with Harry's current involvement in the games business. Harry said he had designed a "pin-vid" (combination pinball and video game) and sold it to Gottlieb. He said he thought that they might call it either "THE CUBE" or "PAPARAZI". He then told me that the video part of the game used a "Rubick's Cube" motif. Harry then explained that this game had a pinball playfield in a video cabinet and used mirrors. He then said that the pinball and video play of the game was "fully integrated". Harry also told me that both Bally and Williams showed interest in his game, but that Gottlieb could use it's existing CAVEMAN tooling to produce it.
Finally, Harry said that he thought there was great potential in videos. He then remarked that he was currently designing video games for Stern Electronics, and also for a Japanese company which he did not name. Well, there you have it, a run-down of my memorable visit with pinball pioneer Harry Williams in 1978, and the subsequent telephone conversations I had with him during the next four years.
As I said at the start, there were many times during my talks with this fine gentleman that it seemed that he was having trouble remembering things correctly, but other times his recollections seemed "crystal clear". At any rate, being able to talk with him on so many occasions was certainly one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! Anyway, it's something I'll never forget!
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