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Working on a 1949 Williams Dallas pinball. Building one good game out of two. Probably destined for California when it’s complete.

In the late 40s, Williams built a series of woodrail games based on American cities.

El Paso
New Orleans
St. Louis Tennessee


65 years later, two survivors from this period ended up with faithfully yours in Canada.

The changing market for woodrail pinball machines.

Woodrail flipper pinball machines were manufactured from 1948 up until the late 1950s. Aptly named because of the absence of stainless steel metal rails alongside the playfield glass. In fact, up until about 1955, all machines were supplied with hardwood legs as opposed to metal. Both the upper and lower arches of the playfield were also milled from hardwood as well. The only real metal to be found on these classic machines were in the mechanisms.

Woodrail pinball machines peaked in value in and around 2003-2005. A typical woodrail that would have easily fetched $1500 or more in the collector circles now only realizes about 60% of that amount, on average, unless you are buying an example in exceptionally good original condition. Sadly, not many machines of this quality caliber exist today. It would be safe to say that the hands of the workers or skilled craftsmen who built these machines are long gone. Today, it is also estimated that games built in the 1950s have an average survival rate of 5%. 50 machines out of 1000 produced isn’t much.

To really appreciate these games, you have to get into the groove of the era. Forget any comparisons to more modern machines. The speed and depth of play, light shows and sounds are not even in the same ballpark. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and should not be seen as such either. In actual fact, many of these games should be considered marvels of engineering and manufacturing, considering that they are now between 50-60 years old or more! If you take the time to study and understand the nature of a woodrail, you will soon realize that most titles possess a fair amount of depth to the game play.

Back in the day, it was all about replays (free games) which could be enjoyed or cashed out by the operator of the establishment. And with most woodrail games, there are multiple ways to win replays.

For me, the other draw is in the art and the themes of the games. You can really place yourself into the era of these machines but becoming engrossed in the art. What was trending, popular or desirable at the time? It’s all there. Forget licensing. The artists were able to create their own worlds from their own imagination. Today, everything seems to be packaged around a media mogul, ultimately backed by a huge corporate entity. In 50 years, what messages will this be delivering about society today?

So if you get a chance, reach into your pocket, pull out a nickel, and step back in time. Imagine the hands that have touched the game. Where has it been? Who has played it? At which locations did it live? How many stories could the machine tell, and what ghosts or spirits may still be lurking…

Have some fun and appreciate the history and evolution of pinball!

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