Redneck Pinball Dolly

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"I'm too old for this shit." That's what I said the last time I moved and set up a pinball machine by hand. I needed a way to make it easier.

This project began with an inexpensive motorcycle/ATV lift from Sears. This lift makes a good starting point for a pinball dolly because it has plenty of capacity, plenty of vertical travel and is inexpensive. The lift typically costs around $90. I got mine on sale for $60. Commercial pinball dollies, by comparison, can cost several hundred dollars. The lift's only disadvantage is that it's not tall enough to reach the bottom of a pinball cabinet. Some modifications are in order...

Disclaimer: But first, a quote from the Sears owner's manual, "DO NOT make any altercations to this product". I am not a mechanical engineer. I built this dolly based on what "looked right" to me. Who knows if it's safe? If you're dumb enough to replicate my example, you're on your own.

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The starting point for this project was a Sears motorcycle/ATV lift.

The Sears lift comes with four 3" steel wheels. I replaced the steel wheels with a pair of 4" and a pair of 5" rubber wheels from a Tractor Supply Company store. The wheels feature large hubs, ball-bearings and roll real nice. Each is rated for 350 lbs. This modification is not necessary, but does offer several advantages. The larger wheels roll easier over any rough or uneven surfaces and the rubber is less destructive to gameroom floors. The four wheels cost about $50. This was the second most expensive purchase next to the lift itself. Everything else that went into this project was just nickel and dime items of lumber and hardware.

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Rubber wheels from Tractor Supply Co.

Shown below are the fixed 5" wheels. I made new axles out of modified carriage bolts. This wheel modification required some careful consideration. Since the wheels are larger than the originals, they need to be mounted outside the lift frame. But with the new wheels in place, the lift is so wide that it just barely fits between the front legs of a standard, modern pinball machine. I selected wheels that were thin, but still offered adequate carrying capacity.

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Fixed 5" wheels.

The 4" swivel wheels (with brakes) are bolted in place with two new mounting holes. Even though these 4" wheels are smaller than the 5" fixed wheels, this end of the lift is a little higher because of the mounting arrangement.

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4" swivel wheels.

Next I made a 12" by 28" extension frame from 2x10 lumber. The picture shows how I ripped a shallow wedge off each side of the frame. This is because the bottom of a pinball machine cabinet tends not to be exactly parallel to the floor. The angle of the cut is about ½" per foot. The cut is somewhat arbitrary since no two pinball setups are alike. I also rounded the back corners to accommodate the tilt bed described below. The radius of the corners is 1¾". After assembling my extension frame I temporarily removed the lift platform and secured it to my extension frame with eight lag screws.

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Extension frame side piece.

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Tearing the rubber pads off the Sears lift platform revealed convenient pre-drilled mounting holes.

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I mounted my extension frame to the lift platform with eight lag screws.

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Reassembled lift with extension frame.

At this point the dolly is ready to move pinball machines. But I also wanted to add a tilt-bed for tilting machines between their up-right and on-end positions. The tilt-bed is a 15" by 54" frame of 2x4s. The back of the bed has a 2" aluminum angle piece that acts something like a hand truck when the bed is in the vertical position. Note that the angle piece is recessed into the frame. The frame has a ½" plywood top. The plywood does not extend to the ends of the bed. This accounts for the lip around the bottom edge of the pinball machine. I also added a handle to the front of the bed.

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Tilt-bed with a 2" aluminum angle piece.

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Finished tilt-bed.

The tilt-bed is pinned to the extension frame with a ½" aluminum rod and cotter pins. The pivot point is 15¾" from the back of the bed. This is another arbitrary measurement I picked because it "looked right".

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Tilt-bed is pinned to the extension frame.

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Here's another view of the rod with the bed in the vertical position.

The finished dolly is shown below. As can be seen, the red T-handle that comes with the lift is not of much use. Not only does it interfere with the dolly modifications, it limits how far the dolly can be pushed under a pinball machine. The handle is easily removed with the pull of a pin. The dolly is very easy to roll around just by gently pushing and pulling on the pinball machine itself.

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Finished dolly before the T-handle was scrapped.

To set up a machine I first raise the tilt-bed to its vertical position and adjust the height of the lift such that the back of the tilt-bed is resting on the floor. Next I position the bed beside the bottom of the machine just like a hand truck. I secure the front of the machine to the front of the tilt-bed with a ratchet strap (The Sears lift includes a pair of ratchet straps). I put one foot on the front of the dolly, grab the tilt-bed handle, pull toward me and pivot the machine to its horizontal position. Next the machine is jacked up and the legs are leisurely installed without any backbreaking acrobatics. Lastly, the machine is set up and rolled into position.

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Machine strapped to the tilt-bed.

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Machine pivoted to its horizontal position.

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Legs leisurely installed.

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Set up and rolled into position.

I'm not the first person to turn a motorcycle/ATV lift into a pinball dolly. Check around the Internet for more ideas.

Redneck Pinball Dolly version 1.1

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My original intent was to use the dolly only to move pins around the smooth concrete floor of my basement gameroom. Then I began to think that the dolly could be more versatile. With a few modifications I could use the dolly to move pins in and out of the basement as well as in and out of my Pinball Hauler cargo trailer. Mostly what I needed was more ground clearance to get over door thresholds and other obstacles. The modifications are outlined below.

To raise the rear of the dolly I made new wheel brackets from 3⁄16" by 2" angle steel. I used a second piece of 3⁄16" steel and a pair of bolts to clamp each wheel bracket to the lift frame.

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New wheel brackets.

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Rear wheels reinstalled.

Raising the front was easy. I just shimmed up the frame with some wood blocks and longer bolts.

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Front wheel shim.

I'll need to lift the front wheels over obstacles (as opposed to lifting the tilt-bed). So I added a sash lock to each side of the dolly to lock the tilt-bed down to the extension frame.

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Sash lock.

I drilled some holes in the lift platform to accommodate a tie-down strap. When transporting a game the head goes down, but the game remains horizontal and the legs stay on.

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Tie-down hole.

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Strapped down and ready to go.

I also got the idea that the tilt-bed would work better if the pivot point was closer to the back of the bed. I have more tilt leverage with this modification. And I also have better front to back balance when the bed is horizontal. Here's what I did...

The lift originally came with this ratchet thingie that's supposed to prevent the lift from accidentally lowering. I never used it. And it was in the way, so it got scrapped. Next I cut a notch in my extension frame to fit over the hydraulic cylinder. This allows the lift to get down a little closer to the floor. Then I drilled for a new pivot point and repositioned the bed. Now the pivot point is 14½" from the back of the bed.

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Ratchet thingie removed and scrapped.

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Extension frame notched to fit over the hydraulic cylinder.

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New pivot point.

In Retrospect...

The rubber tread on my wheels is far too soft for outdoor use. The rubber picks up a lot of pebbles that need to be scraped off before coming back inside. The tread is beginning to look like Swiss cheese. Eventually I may need to replace these wheels with something else.

If I had to do this again I would look for rubber wheels better suited for outdoor use. And I would try to somehow mount the wheels under and within the width of the Sears lift.