Pinhawk Club seeks to restore, play old pinball machines

Pinhawk Club seeks to restore, play old pinball machines
Three students work on a vintage pinball machine game

The newest club in Winona Area Public Schools is certainly making quite a bit of noise. 

The Winona Pinhawk club is housed at the Winona Area Learning Center and led by Matthew Wagner, an art and work-based learning teacher. The club focuses on the restoration of pinball machines and making them work again. 

There are schools that may have pinball clubs where students play pinball. The Pinhawk club is believed to be the only one that focuses on fixing up old pinball machines.

“Pinball machines are the perfect example of hands-on learning, as they combine art, science and engineering in one interactive product,” Wagner said. “Students use problem solving skills to determine why something is not working and what needs to be done to fix it.”

That could be as simple as a burned out lightbulb, or something more complex, like a flipper not receiving power. 

Every pinball machine has something called a schematic, which shows the theory of operation. It’s like a big picture that shows how everything inside the machine works together, like a map that shows all the roads and buildings in a city. This schematic helps the Pinhawks understand how the machine functions, where the electricity flows, and how all the parts fit together. 

Other problems are artistic, such as a worn out playfield or touch ups on the outside of the machine. 

“Students tackle one problem at a time, eventually working their way through the machine until it starts up properly,” Wagner said. “Their reward is the joy of being able to compete and play each other on the machine, with no quarters required.”

A student paints a yellow piece of a pinball machine game

Similar to organizations that seek donations of vehicles or boats, the Pinhawk Club is accepting donations of any pinball machines, regardless of condition. The goal, Wagner said, is to repair at least one machine a year. 

That goal has already been met this year thanks to the donation of a 1964 Williams Zig Zag Pinball machine from Trevor Gonning. This machine was donated in memory of his father DuWayne Gronning, and thanks to the hard work of the Pinhawks, it is now fully functioning and playing great!

Two students work on fixing an board that shows a bunch of numbers

The best part of all? This machine will be featured at the Foundation for Winona Area Public Schools fundraising event on May 11, and will be available to play and purchase for your home, with funds going towards the Pinhawks and the Foundation.

Questions or inquiries about donating to the Pinhawk Club can be directed to