Repairing Mattel's See 'N Say II

Though Mattel made millions of full-sized See 'N Says since its introduction in 1965, the internal mechanisms of the full-sized models fall into just a few types. The procedures below cover two of those types--the ones pictured below:

These instructions cover the full-sized See 'N Says that used negator springs for energy storage, easily identifiable by the "chubby arrow" selector/pointer in the middle of the toy. This page doesn't cover repair of the older See 'N Says, and it is only intended as a supplement to our soft-bodied talker and hard-bodied talker kits. The manuals that come with those kits provide much more detailed explanations of talker theory, repair and troubleshooting.

The pullstring See 'N Says of this vintage generally aren't well glued together; you should be able to open a gap somewhere along the seam between the halves by pulling on them with your hands--a whack or two with a screwdriver handle might help convince it to start opening up. Slip a paint scraper (it works better than a putty knife) into the crack and push down to enlarge the crack. Don't twist the tool; you'll deform the plastic.

Chase the crack with the tool around the perimeter of the case, separating the glued joint. In this photo you can see the paint scraper's chisel edge that, along with the blade's stiffness, makes it a great tool for opening plastic toys.

There are generally four alignment/reinforcing pins (dark red dot, lower left), in the pullstring cases, and they usually aren't glued.

The lever models, however, like the blue case above, have ten glued pins. You'll have to either (a) shear them off by stressing the crack; or (b) saw through them through the open seam.

Pull the halves of the case apart a bit with your hands--a whack or two with a screwdriver handle might help convince it to start opening up. Slip a paint scraper (it works better than a putty knife) into the crack and push down to enlarge the crack. Don't twist the tool; you'll deform the plastic. If the toy doesn't want to open up, prop that part of the seam open with wooden wedges or popsicle sticks and move along the seam a bit.

Lever the crack open at one of the case's feet until a pin snaps. If the alignment pin at the spot you're stressing doesn't separate and doesn't shear apart, reach through the seam with a saw and cut it apart, then squint through the crack to find the adjacent pins. Take advantage of the widening crack to reach through and saw them apart, one by one, with an X-Acto saw (above).

If your See 'N Say will be seeing rough play after the repair, you'll want to be able to glue the pins back together when you're done. Just saw partway through the pins, then pry with the tool to snap them off. This leaves enough plastic so you can glue the ends of the pins back together during reassembly.

You don't always need to open the entire seam (but on pullstring models you do have to open the section where the string emerges). Opening two-thirds of the seam on pullstring See 'N Says will give you enough play between the halves to remove the mechanism. You'll have to separate the halves completely on lever models.

Now that the toy is open, this would be a good time to learn how it works. When you pull on the string (above), it lifts the phonograph needle (mounted in that T-shaped tone arm) and pulls it to the edge of the record.

When you let go of the string, a spring-loaded plunger in the middle of the cone-shaped plastic speaker pushes the needle against the turning record--and it talks to you. (If your rubber governor belt is broken, there won't be anything to slow down the rotation of the record, and it will want to reel in the string at a furious pace. Don't let it.) When the spring winds in the last of the string and finally pulls the pull ring against the edge of the case (above) the string goes taut again and lifts the needle off the record.

The lever models just replace the pull ring with a lever and a couple of gears. The talkbox mechanism is otherwise identical. The photo above shows how the gears should mesh. (Note the sheared-off alignment pins.)

How does the talkbox know how to say the right phrase? Each phrase has its own groove, and all the grooves start at the edge of the record, spiraling together to the center of the record, parallel to each other. When you turn the selector arrow, you're also turning the record so that the needle will fall into the groove of the phrase you want to play. There's a lengthier explanation here, but don't believe everything the guy says--he thinks the spring is made out of brass, for instance.

You'll want to compress the negator spring as much as practical before disassembling further (pullstring and lever models both): Pad the jaws of a pair of forceps with tape. Pull the string out all the way, let it go back in about an inch, and clamp the forceps on the string against the case (above).

(See that brass rivet floating loosely on the string in the photo above? Keep that rivet in mind; you'll want to make sure it fits in its slot in the external case when you reassemble the toy.)

This is where you'll twist your paint scraper blade
to open the mechanism case--but don't do it before you've read the next steps. The four pins aren't likely to be glued.

Here the internal talkbox case has been opened about a quarter inch. See how the negator spring coil is starting to twist? That's because it wants to fly out of place and turn itself into a tangled ball of stainless steel spaghetti. You don't want that to happen.

Clamp the spring firmly in place. An X-Acto clamp (above) works great.

Now you can separate all four pins with your paint scraper and hinge open the mechanism case just enough to clean it up, replace the governor belt, check the governor pads and lubricate it (only if you have the right kind of grease). I don't know about the current See 'N Says, but these older full-sized models take the same belts and pullstring as the hard- and soft-bodied talkers. See the Parts Page.

Reassembly is the reversal of those steps. Insert the talkbox case through the open seam in the external case; fit it into its alignment notches. Be sure to install that brass rivet and the pullstring in their notches in the external case. If you have a lever model, refer to the photo above for how the gears should mesh. Make sure the toy is working properly before applying just enough model glue (from a fresh tube of glue) to the seam (and maybe the pins) to hold it closed. Clamp or weight it closed and give the glue at least a day to cure.

© Talky Tina Press, Medford, Oregon