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Frequently Asked Questions--Repair

I'm having trouble finding what you call an "L-hook." Any suggestions?

We've checked, and we've found them at the local Ace Hardware, Sears, Lowe's and Harbor Freight (sometimes as part of a set). But, really, any kind of hooked probe will work--as long as it's sharp enough to grab the belt, but not sharp enough to damage anything.


I can't find any plastic-compatible grease locally. Can't I just use Vaseline?

We can mail you a small tube of plastic-compatible grease for $3.00 plus postage. Vaseline is just about the worst grease you could choose, because any petroleum-based grease will dissolve at least some formulations of styrene. We frequently find white lithium grease inside when we open up talkers, but we're very reluctant to recommend it, since some lithium grease formulations contain petroleum distillates that may dissolve plastic. Some lithium greases have a synthetic grease base, so presumably those would be okay--the only problem is that (unlike food products) grease formulators aren't required to list the ingredients on the label.

The only grease we can recommend without hesitation is Super Lube, since that's what we've been using for the last ten years or so. (We haven't seen it in tubes in the stores lately, but Lowe's carries it in a spray can--try the Multi-Purpose, not the Dri-Film.) The important thing is that you use an all-synthetic grease, without any petroleum-based ingredients.

Or, at your local outdoors store you should be able to find small tubes of Abu Garcia's Silicote Reel Lube with PTFE (Teflon), for lubricating plastic fishing reels. This is what we'll send if you order from us. It looks like it's the same stuff as Super Lube, and the manufacturer says it's plastic-safe. When our current tube of Super Lube runs out, that's what we'll be using. It's very likely that Abu Garcia's reel lube IS Super Lube that they've put in their own tubes.

At Wal-Mart we found a fishing reel oil and grease combination packaged by Jadico/Laker. A phone call to the manufacturer indicates that the grease is the same as Super Lube.

At a bike shop we found Finish Line's Teflon-Fortified Grease. It's a 100% synthetic premium grease, so presumably it'd be safe too.

Your best bet for finding a plastic-safe grease, though, is probably a hobby shop--radio-control and model train enthusiasts can't live without the stuff. At the local hobby store we found Bachmann's E-Z Lube and Woodland Scenic's Hob-E-Lube, both labeled "plastic-safe." (We've heard the Hob-E-Lube is pretty runny, though.) Labelle Industries also makes a plastic-safe grease for the hobbyist.


I can't find Shoe Goo. Will Plumber's Goop work just as well?

Sure. For uses where we recommend Shoe Goo, you can use just about any clear, thick-bodied, rubbery cement. They're technically "styrene butadiene" glues. The Goop sextuplets (Automotive, Marine, Household, Carpenter's, Outdoors and Plumber's) are virtually indistinguishable from each other, and will work just fine. Our favorite, though (if you can find it), is Clear Liquid Nails Adhesive for Small Projects. Make sure it's the clear variety. It's a lot like Goo or Goop, but it doesn't dry up in the tube as quickly. (And if you keep your tube sealed in a glass jar, it'll last until the tube is empty.)


I found this weird part inside the talkbox when I opened it up. It's obviously supposed to be there, but it isn't in your photos or descriptions. What's up?

If you're working on a turnover talker (Baby Flip Flop, Flip Wilson/Geraldine, Humpty Dumpty, Red Riding Hood/The Wolf, Redd Foxx/Fred Sanford, or Somersalty), you've found an omission in the manual. Those "extra" parts need to be installed correctly so that the doll will say one set of phrases when right side up, and the other set of phrases when up side down. Please see the next question, below.

If you aren't working on a turnover talkbox, what's up is that Mattel (or their contractors) apparently experimented occasionally. Usually the experiments were with string guides attached to the pullstring spool, which show up in some dolls but not in other, identical, dolls. Mattel didn't like to throw money away, though, so if a part didn't serve a purpose, it disappeared in later models. The manual photos show the mechanisms in their most common configurations. Any "extra" parts (on non-turnover talkers) are just that--extra. Your doll will almost always work just fine with or without them.


I'm working on a turnover doll, and a part fell out when I opened up the talkbox. Where does it go?

You've caught us. When we prepared that manual ages ago, we didn't know much about the turnover dolls--the ones that play a different set of phrases depending on whether they're right side up or up side down.

The little plastic piece is a spacer that travels up and down on a peg. When it's down against the record the needle can only play the grooves toward the inside of the record. Turn the doll upside down and the spacer flops to the top of the box, allowing the tone arm to reach all the way to the outside of the record.

Install the record first, then put the spacer on its peg (the peg nearest the tone arm pivot peg.) The spacer's legs straddle the plastic vane attached to the peg.

When I let go of the string, sometimes it whips in real fast and the talkbox growls instead of talking.

It sounds like a clutch problem. When you release the string carefully--giving the mechanism a chance to "catch"--does it tend to work then? That's the clutch catching or not catching. I guess you could compensate for a worn clutch by making slightly oversize bearings (see below), but I haven't tried it. You may have to replace the flywheel and spool with ones from a junker and switch the records. If the crimp on the flywheel spindle is worn, allowing the spool to "ride up" a bit on the spindle, the answer to the next question might solve your problem.


When she plays, she plays fine until she gets to the end, then she skips/echoes. What I see happening is the band that winds tight to make her play [the spring] is unwinding and spreading out so far it is touching the string and the needle, stopping the needle in its tracks and/or backing it up. I have tried both tightening and loosening the band but neither helps. Tightening it just makes it unwind longer and loosening it allows it to protrude into the recorded area of the record, stopping the needle. She will say her complete phrase but then make a repeated noise while it skips.

Well, you're obviously on the right track. End-of-play problems can only have three causes. Sometimes tightening the spring can get it out of the way. What terminates the play, though, is the string getting taut again, lifting the needle from the record. And that happens when the pull ring hits the back of the doll. So try shortening the string.

If your flywheel spindle is worn, the entire spool may be lifting up off the flywheel/record assembly at the end of play, pulling the string with it. You can replace the worn-off metal flange (what used to hold the spool down) with a "push-on retainer":
 
from the hardware store. Push it on the spindle until it holds the spool down onto the flywheel assembly while still allowing the spool to turn freely.

The doll talks REALLY fast (but she does talk). I was thinking that I might have used the incorrect O-ring or that it got too stretched out in the process of trying to re-assemble all those little parts. I'm debating disassembling the whole thing and trying another O-ring just to see if the voice slows down. . . . the only adjustment I can see is the size and tension in the O-ring.

Voice speed is always a problem with talkers, but the belt isn't where you'd want to make adjustments. On rare occasions a new belt will be too stretchy, allowing slippage, but fast talking is usually caused by an ineffective governor. The pads and cylinder get polished after awhile, so there isn't enough friction to slow down the mechanism. You could say that it's a design error; the other components should ideally have been calibrated better so that proper operation didn't rely so much on the governor to slow it down.

To get rid of that polished surface in the governor, try scraping the flat of a razor blade on the felt pads. If that doesn't do it, rub 000 fine steel wool inside the governor cylinder.


I lost the bearings on Mrs. Beasley (Chatty Cathy, etc.)! Help!

This is one reason why it's important to actually read the manual. If the parts are worn, and you separate the pullstring spool from the flywheel on a full-sized Mattel talker, those bearings are going to fall out--and they don't like being found. This isn't a big problem; you'll just have to make a new set. The original bearings are .063" in diameter by 7/32" long. You'll need to buy a #52 drill bit, which is .064" in diameter. (You can buy bits indivdually at hobby shops or high-class tool stores.) Cut three 7/32" long sections of the bit with a Dremel cutoff wheel, and round off their corners. (Even if you're only missing one, you should make a full set of three.) They live in those three notches around the axle hole of the spool; stick them in place temporarily with water or spit for reassembly.


Hi, I am interested in repairing a Liddle Kiddles Talking Townhouse (Major Matt Mason Talking Command Console, Hot Wheels Talking Service Center). Does this manual also cover taking apart the vinyl parts to get to the voicebox? I don't want to repair it if I have to rip it apart without doing it correctly, maintaining the look of the toy.

I have to apologize for not covering disassembly of the talking townhouses and garages in the manual. It does cover the repair of the talkbox mechanism you'll find inside. To remove the rivets holding the talkbox in the toy and those holding it together, put a piece of masking tape over each rivet (to protect the printing), and slowly grind it away with a Dremel tool. Take your time so you don't heat them enough to melt the plastic.

When you're done you can use pop rivets to replace the ones you've destroyed, but they won't look like the originals. For an undetectable repair, use dots of Shoe Goo to hold the plastic panels together and glue in rivet heads salvaged from another toy.


We haven't written in years. I guess that tells us how great your manuals are. We usually have no problems. I've got one now that's driving me nuts! We just purchased a Scooba doo. Part of her case where  the thread guide (rivet) is located is broken. I'm repairing it now. In the mean time have taken her inside parts and put them in an old Larry the Lion case. She is talking but she is now speaking a little  fast and dragging the last word or two. Just drives me crazy. I know if I slow her down the last words won't even make it out. Any ideas how to fix this?

I'd try putting the parts in a different case, or back in the old one. I
wasn't aware, when I wrote the manual, of just how UN-interchangeable
those parts could be. I'd assumed all the subcontractors would be working
from Mattel blueprints or with Mattel tooling, but it's now pretty
obvious that many (or every) manufacturer came up with their own
dimensions for things like bearings and spindles.

Normally I'd say the speaking too fast is because the governor isn't
doing its job because of slippage, and it's dragging out the last
syllables because the spring isn't wound tight enough--but in this case
both symptoms could be because of mismatched parts.


In the troubleshooting section of your book there's no mention about a rumbling sound at the end of her sentences. What should I be replacing?

Usually what people report as a rumbling noise at the end of play is just the noise of the mechanism continuing to rotate after play is complete. The only way to make the noise quieter is to lubricate the talkbox's bearing surfaces.

If the noise is actually coming from the speaker, it's because the needle is still contacting the record after play is complete. Since what lifts the needle from the record is the string, which becomes taut when the pull ring reaches the side of the doll, the remedy is to shorten the string.


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