- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

STRASBURG, Pa. (AP) - What on earth is the Pendolino?

And what does it have in common with pinball machines and the Strasburg Rail Road?

Well, if you board the Strasburg, one of America’s oldest railroads, on weekends between now and Sept. 6, you can find out how steam collides with pinball wizardry and take up the challenge of playing one of those pre-video games on a rocking train.

The railroad, which runs tourists and rail buffs from Strasburg to Paradise and back, is unveiling the Pinball Pendolino Train.

Perhaps some background information is in order.

Tilting trains

Pendolino is Italian for a family of tilting trains that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s.

The trains tilt as they speed around corners without causing undue discomfort to passengers.

The trains also are sleek and streamlined - the polar opposite of the Strasburg’s vintage 19th-century heavy coaches.

But that doesn’t mean the Strasburg train lacks speed. And this is where pinball machines come into play.

A classic coach car known as “Grasshopper Level” has been outfitted with a dozen 1960-1970s-era pinball machines, which have been borrowed from Steve Zuckerman, a pinball collector and co-owner of Silver Bell Museum Arcade in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

It’s an unlikely setting for the games. There is elegant woodwork overhead, as well as beautiful brass light fixtures. On the floor, however, are the blinking lights of games such as “Big Ben” and another saluting motorcycle legend Evel Knievel.

And for all of you millennials, pinball doesn’t involve looking at a screen. You have to push buttons to control flippers to keep a silver ball from going into the gutter in an old-fashioned mechanical device. It’s tough enough when playing on stable ground, but playing while on a moving, rocking train takes things to a whole new level.

Try not to tilt a pinball machine while playing it on a moving train.

The challenge

“I think that is part of the challenge,” says Steve Barrall, Strasburg’s stationmaster.

He’s right. Playing “Big Ben” - a salute to the “swinging London” of the 1960s - on a moving train is difficult.

It didn’t seem so bad at first. The Strasburg train rolled peacefully through what tourists call “Amish Country,” and it was possible to rack up a score of some 35,000 points. (By the way, the cost of your games is included in the price of your ticket. No need to bring quarters. And all of the machines are family friendly; those of us of a certain age might remember suggestive “Charlie’s Angels” imagery on some of those pinball machines. No worries here if you are bringing the kids.)

But as the train picked up speed - as it did on the way back from Paradise - the score drops fast.

The Strasburg became a Pendolino, and all of those silver balls head into the gutter .

Even the “Pinball Wizard” from the rock classic “Tommy” might be intimidated.

But those on board were having fun. At one point, an Amtrak express flew by the Strasburg train. Barrall smiled as he observed the passing streamliner.

“I don’t think they have pinball machines on their train!”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1OeaKlv

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Information from: LNP, https://lancasteronline.com

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