Repairing Crank Talkers

Millions of crank-operated talking toys were made by Ted Duncan, Inc., of North Hollywood, Calif., from 1953 through 1959 under U.S. Patent  No. 2,890,887. The mechanism was introduced at the New York Toy Fair in March 1954; by November of 1957 it had been used in over 4 million toys. Here's a partial (and unreliable) list of toys that used the Duncan talkbox:

  • Benjamin Franklin Cash Register (Kamkap Inc.)
  • Bozo the Clown (Renall Dolls)
  • Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig
  • Dragnet Talking Police Car
  • Gong Bell Disney TV Pay Phone
  • Gong Bell Talking Plaphone
  • Gund Laughing Clown
  • Gund Laughing Santa Claus
  • Gund Singing Minnie Mouse
  • Ideal DeLuxe Talking Telephone Bank
  • Ideal Hickory Dickory Clock
  • Ideal Howdy Doody
  • Ideal Smokey the Bear
  • Ideal Talking Animals
  • Ideal Talking Carol Doll
  • Ideal Talking Duck
  • Ideal Talking Howdy Doody
  • Ideal Talking Lamb
  • Ideal Talking Mechanical Train
  • Ideal Talking Police Car
  • Ideal Talking Pussy Cat
  • Ideal Talking Smokey the Bear
  • Ideal Talking Special Agent 99 Car
  • Ideal Talking Telephone
  • Ideal Talking Train
  • Irwin Pay-Station Telephone
  • Keytstone Model 418 Talking Railroad Station
  • Laughing Clown
  • Laughing Santa Claus
  • Marx Talking Glendale Train Station
  • Mattel Melo Musical Teddy Bear
  • Mickey Mouse Club Talking Telephone
  • Ohio Art Jack in the Box
  • Patty Prays
  • Poky Little Puppy
  • Popeye
  • Ranch Phone 39R2
  • Real Talkie Junior Commando Phone
  • Reliable Doll Company talkers
  • Robert the Robot
  • Saggy Baggy Elephant\
  • Scuffy the Talking Tugboat
  • Sequoia Publishing/Audio Creations talking books
  • Steel Stamping Co. Talking Telephone
  • Talk-O-Phone Bank
  • Talking Cash Register
  • Talking FBI Car
  • Talking Glendale Station
  • Talking Plaphone
  • Talking Ranch Phone
  • Talking Toy Company of America Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig
  • Talking Telephone (Ideal)
  • Talking Telephone (Steel Stamping Co.)
  • Talking Telephone Switchboard (Kamkap Inc.)
  • Talking Telephone Bank
  • Talkytot
  • The Talking Train by Ideal

The Duncan Voice Box was made in at least two different styles, and it was guaranteed to play 5000 times--but not to last forever. The following repair instructions cover the more common problems of one variant of the Duncan device.

It's common to find cracked cases (and broken and detached cranks), as with this particular talkbox. The first step in a repair is to slip a razor blade between the cardboard sounding board and the plastic case (see picture above); run it around the perimeter to separate the parts. Be sure to angle the blade so the cutting edge slices between the two and not into the cardboard.

Now you can see why the crank became detached: The push-on steel retaining ring broke; a C-shaped half of it is visible just above the center hole, above. The oddly shaped silvery hunk of metal riveted to the record is the reset cam, with its wire spring now out of position. When the spring is positioned correctly, the cam lifts the tone arm at the end of play and moves it back to the outside edge of the record.

The cracked case. Note the five spots of original grease on the circular ridge that the record rides upon. Redistribute this grease to relubricate the ridge, and don't add a petroleum-based grease like Vaseline or other common grease--it can dissolve the case. If it needs grease, use one labeled as safe for plastics.

Swing the tone arm over to the center hole and check the needle's tip for wear, looking at it through the hole with a 10X loupe. The tip should be uniformly rounded, without flat areas. If the needle needs replacement due to wear or rust, carefully twist it out through the center hole, holding the metal tone arm with pliers so you don't bend it. You can find replacement needles on the Parts page.

Use Testors glue, epoxy or Weldene to repair the cracks in the case, and give it at least a day to cure.

To restore a broken crank hub flange, jam the crank into Sculpey or plasticine and rotate the remnant of the flange until you have a mold. (If the flange is completely gone, press a 5/8" diameter washer into the clay to make the mold.) Remove the crank and scrupulously scrape the broken plastic hub clean. Remove any remaining oil from the plastic with gasoline or naphtha. Replace the crank and prop it in place, then mix some slow-set epoxy glue and drip it into the mold. Give it a day to cure. Remove the casting and sand or file away any irregularities.

You'll need one of these, a #6 11/32" push-on retainer, to replace the broken one.

Reassemble the parts.

Note that the push-on retainer has to be aligned so that two of the four legs of its X-shaped hole align with the two "ears" on the crankshaft rod; then the retainer is pushed past those ears until it holds the record snugly against the red plastic crankshaft hub. The square part of the hub has to fit into the square hole in the record, of course, and the other set of ears on the crank has to fit down inside the hub.

Also note the correct position of the reset cam spring above.

Test the repaired mechanism thoroughly before gluing the sounding board back onto the case. Hold a sheet of rigid clear plastic where the sounding board should be while you turn the crank. Listen to the recording and watch the action of the reset cam to make sure everything's working properly.

Here you can see the epoxy restoration of the hub flange. You can paint it to match if you like. If your crank is missing, you can try making your own, to these measurements, out of 1/8" steel rod. Good luck.

Glue the cardboard sounding board back onto the plastic case with Testors-type glue, weight it in place and give it a day to cure. If your sounding board is damaged, replace it with a thin sheet of styrene from the hobby shop. Tape the metal speaker cover more securely in place than the original single strip of cellophane tape.

© Talky Tina Press, Medford, Oregon