The (ugly bright orange) paint was chipping off and the coin slot would not push in far enough to activate the mechanism inside.
As a prospective mechanical engineering student in college, I saw this as an opportunity to test some of my skills while also learning about mechanisms that were made around 80 years ago.
This project was also appealing since it is very similar to the premise of the History Channel TV series "American Restoration", of which I am a fan.
Step 1: Disclaimer
The idea of making the slot machine functional and visually appealing also meant that I could potentially sell it sometime down the road for a nice chunk of change.
I simply did what I thought should be done in order to get the machine to a state where I would be happy with it. I'm not sure how I will affect the true value of the machine, but this project is more about the restoration journey than the monetary destination.
Step 2: Planning
- Get internal mechanism working
- Repaint outside of slot machine
- Clean worn/dirty parts
- Replace viewing window glass
- Replace reel strips
Step 3: Research
It turns out that it's a "Vest Pocket" slot machine produced by the Mills Novelty company in the 1930s and 40s. Its claim-to-fame is that it is the smallest slot machine of its kind ever produced. It was also cleverly designed with a flap that covers the viewing window so that the reels and the machine's identity as a slot machine can be hidden.
After a few more google searches I was able to find a PDF version of the original owner's manual for the Vest Pocket. This helped me on several occasions with its diagrams of the slot machine's mechanism as well as tips for maintenance and repair.
This document can be found here:
Step 4: Tools and Equipment
- metal scraper
- various grits of sandpaper
- metal wire brush
- good lighting
- white vinegar (if rusting)
- clear coat
- painter's tape
- Adobe Illustrator (any similar drawing program will work)
- 1/8" Acrylic sheet
Step 5: Disassembly
Step 6: Fixing the Mechanism: Part 1
By taking out a few small screws I was able to use a hammer and a few small flathead screwdrivers to open the gap between the two parts wide enough for the nickel to fall out. With this jam cleared, the mechanism actually began to move for the first time.
Step 7: Fixing the Mechanism: Part 2
Long story short, it really didn't.
Step 8: Fixing the Mechanism: Part 3
Unfortunately though, the reels wouldn't start spinning when they were supposed to. Reading through the owner's manual, I figured out how the reels were supposed to start spinning. When I examined the machine, I noticed that a small spring on the arm that turns the reels was deformed. After replacing it with a new one, the reels started spinning.
Step 9: Fixing the Mechanism: Part 4
Step 10: Fixing the Mechanism: Part 5
Step 11: Mechanism Testing
Since the mechanism was now completely functional I spent probably 30 minutes playing it to make sure everything was running smoothly. This was actually one of the most rewarding parts of this project, since it was the first time the slot machine had worked in decades.
A video of me testing the slot machine can be seen on YouTube here:
Step 12: Replacing the Viewing Window
Step 13: Cleaning Parts
The top flap that shows the payout combinations for the slot machine was rusting, but the paint on each symbol was still good. Since I wanted to preserve the original paint, I soaked the flap in white vinegar over night (roughly 12 hours) to help lift off the rust. I then used a small flathead screwdriver to scrape off the remaining rust, followed by sandpaper to restore the shine of the metal.
Step 14: Making New Reel Strips
While doing research on Ebay, I came across an auction for 3 printed paper reel strips for a Vest Pocket slot machine. Instead of paying the $15 and waiting for them to be delivered, I decided to make my own.
By using some simple math, I was able to figure out that the circumference of the reels is 7.5" while the width is 5/16". I then divided the circumference of 7.5" by 10 to get the spacing between the symbols, which is 0.75".
Using the program Adobe Illustrator, I then drew up my own reel strips, using a combination of symbols taken from the internet and some of my own design. I then printed them out on regular printer paper and laminated them so that the paper and the ink would last longer.
Step 15: Removing Old Paint
This was actually a great advantage for me, since this already-flaking orange paint was easily removed by using a metal scraper. Once all the paint was removed, I sanded all the pieces until they were smooth.
Step 16: Prepping for New Paint
I then sprayed 3-4 coats of primer (letting it dry for 10-15 minutes between coats) over everything so that the new paint would adhere well to each part. I chose to use Rustoleum brand spray primer simply because it was the best choice for this type of project at my local hardware store.
After the primer was completely dry, I sanded the pieces very lightly to smooth out the surfaces in preparation for paint. I then used a damp paper towel to wipe off the parts before painting again.
Step 17: Applying New Paint
I sprayed on 4-5 coats of color, letting it dry for 10-15 minutes between coats. After the color dried over night, I sprayed 4-5 coats of clear, again leaving 10-15 minutes between coats.
Step 18: Reassembly
Step 19: Finished Restoration
I was able to utilize many engineering skills that I've learned over the years to completely restore this 1930s slot machine. I was able to fix the internal mechanism back to working order, clean dirty metal parts back to original shine, repaint the shell and make new reel strips with custom symbols.
This project was so fun that I may attempt another restoration in the future should I find another item in need of help.
I also want to dedicate this project to my grandfather, whose slot machine it was, and who passed away this past summer.