KONGMAN lives again!

A classic 1980s Tomy Kongman game pays a visit to the workshop, for some much-needed TLC.

Every now and again, a little gem drops right into my inbox and I think; Christmas has come early. My eyes light-up! It’s nice to get something different to work on, and hopefully repair, especially when it involves motors, batteries, ball bearings and a gorilla.

A customer contacted me after rediscovering Kongman in his attic, not literally you understand, but the 1980s hit toy from Tomy. The toy was in wonderful condition, despite being a little dusty. A new battery had been installed, but upon switching it on, nothing happened. Not even a peep.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, June’21, Kongman box

I should really kick this thing off by saying what Kongman (the game) is. Kongman is an animated vertical game with the objective of getting a small metal ball bearing from the bottom of the wall to the top. The player must defy gravity and move the ball up-stairs, across a bridge, along several steps to a magnetic swing and then into a lift. The zenith of the game is reached with a quick flick of the ball on to Kongman’s magnet hand, which then gets dropped down a hole, ringing a bell on the way down. Fun really doesn’t get any better. If you’ve ever played Screwball Scramble, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about. Did I mention that this infuriating game can be set against the clock too? Bonkers!

Tomy’s Kongman comes from a time just before kids games started to contain many electronic gizmos and wizmos within, parts that when kaput, render a toy useless, forever. Luckily, Kongman uses an electro-mechanical animation movement; elegant and clever. Old, but good.

Kongman is powered by a single D-cell, 1.5V battery and the motion of the toy is actuated with a reassuringly simple little motor, connected to a compact gearbox driving a series of levers and rods, which make up the games’ animation. On a slightly different note; are D-cell batteries an endangered species? I mean, really, ‘what the 1980s torch’ takes D-cell batteries any more?!

Make and model: Tomy Kongman, circa 1981

Fault reported: Not working

Cost of replacement machine: £40.00 if you can find one working

Manufacturer support (in the UK): 0/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): £0.99p

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Small knife, pliers, small screwdriver

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, contact cleaner

Repair difficulty: 5/10 (fiddly)

Beverages: 2 teas

Biscuits: 2 custard creams

So, on to the repair.

The toy wouldn’t run and after checking the basics like battery contacts and proving that the local wiring from the battery compartment to the main gubbins was OK, it was time to dive in.

One of the things that makes this already difficult game to complete, is the fact that as a player, you’re up against the clock. This seemed to be the next logical place to check.

The timer seemed to be part of the gearbox which is responsible for driving the rest of the game’s motion. I found this a most practical application of sound and efficient design. You can trace the DNA of this toy back to early pinball machines and jukeboxes, something I also love. Anyway, I seem to be getting romantic, not the workshop way.

The gearbox was easy to remove, just a few screws, and it was out. The timer’s switch contacts were situated within the ‘box and came apart with a gentle prod of a small screwdriver. This allowed me to apply a small amount of additional tension to the switch’s spring and to clean the contacts with cleaner. Reassembling was pretty much the reversal of the disassembly.

With the gearbox back in, it was time to turn some attention to the mechanism, to ensure smooth, reliable performance. With nearly 40 years’ worth of dust to contend with, it was time to clean all of the game’s nooks and crannies with a small brush and treat some of the sliding parts to a little silicone, plastic-friendly, lube.

With the D-Cell battery installed, a deft twist of the timer’s knob, and the game sprang to life.

I’ll be honest with you now. I tried several times to get the ball the whole course to ring the bell, against the clock, but alas, I failed. I did complete the game, but only with the timer set to ‘auto’… which provides as much time as you need, or at least until the battery runs out.

Until the next time…

Tone-deaf VTECH Singing Nursery Rhyme Book

VTECH kids toy gets a little help.

We love a musical singing book toy, don’t we.  They’re great for encouraging children to form words, read and follow a narrative.  We have a few of these and they’re all great fun, all the time the batteries hold up.

We’re not so fond of musical books when they seemingly start by themselves, at one o’clock in the morning, when there’s no one else in the house.  Very creepy.

Make and model:  VTECH Electronics Singing Nursery Rhyme Book

Fault reported: Poor sound quality

Cost of replacement:  N/A

Cost of parts:  £0.00

Hours spent on repair:  About 10 minutes

Tools needed:  Small file, cleaning cloths

Sundry items: Contact cleaner

Repair difficulty:  1/10

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, July’19, VTECH Singing Nursery Rhyme Book.

This toy was a hand-me-down and had enjoyed a few years of use already, before it came in to our household, but it was in good condition and still has many more years left in it yet.

Recently though the singing emanating from the book was becoming a bit off-key and to be frank, rather than bringing joy the noise coming from the toy was enough to induce nightmares.  I keep a ready supply of rechargeable ‘AA’ batteries in this house and after popping out the old ones, the new ones fitted, I assumed all would be well, but not so.

Despite fresh power, the singing was still horrible and wobbly.  A quick test of both sets of batteries (old and new) revealed that the original batteries were fine and that something else was at play.

Time to delve a little deeper.

Galvanic corrosion can occur when two different metals in close contact with each other, chemically react.  The corrosion forms a barrier, in this case between the electrical contacts of the toy and battery to form a resistance.  This means that the toy, with the corroded contacts, wouldn’t get the full power it needed.

There was some minor corrosion on the contacts that needed a quick clean with some cloth and contact cleaner, something I keep on the shelf for such an occasion.

This did the trick and with the original batteries fitted, the toy was back on song once more, ready for another performance.

Elna SP foot pedal went bang

Elna SP foot pedal to the metal

On the back of a previous article about a repair I did on the rather wonderful Elna SP sewing machine, a reader got in touch.  She was a genuine sewing aficionado and had several top of the range current machines, but she used the trusty Elna SP for many smaller jobs, where the other machines didn’t quite cut it.

All Elna SP machines are getting on a bit and parts are either re-manufactured, scarce or secondhand, if you can find them.  Having said all that, a well-maintained Elna will run for many years and last much longer than new metal on sale now.

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FixItWorkshop, Worthing, November’18, Elna SP Special, in action

The foot pedal on this machine had gone pop, bang, finito.  It smelled terminal.

Knowing that parts for this machine are rarer than hens teeth and I do like a challenge, I took on the job.  I’m based in Worthing, West Sussex and the machine was located in Scotland, so after a short wait, the knackered pedal arrived in the post.

The pedal is held together with four small self-tapping screws and came apart easily.  The reason for failure was two-fold.  The copper leaf contacts had arced excessively and caused major pitting in the contact strip (see slide show) and the probably ensuing resistance had caused the main resistor to overheat, causing the winding to fail.

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The contact surfaces were easy-ish to fix, or rather breathe new life into as all they needed was cleaning and re-shaping.  The resistor was a bit trickier to mend.  Getting hold of a replacement was going to be near impossible, so the only thing to do was to try and repair it.  Without that particular style of resistor, of that value, it wouldn’t work again.  Luckily, there was some excess resistance wire on the thing and I managed to twist it in to the broken section.  Soldering was not an option, since the wire was an alloy that wouldn’t take to solder and in any case, these things get hot in normal service.  I twisted both ends of the break to form a new section, while maintaining the same length of windings on the resistor, essential if I was to match or get close to the original specification.  Difficult.  Luckily, after a few goes, I managed it and the applied a little heat-conducting (and therefore dissipating) paste to the join.

With the pedal reassembled, I was only able to test it with my meter, since the sewing machine was far too heavy to post.  The pedal tested as a closed circuit (OK), which was a result.  I then had to wait for the pedal to be collected, taken back to Scotland and tested.  Fortunately, my fix worked and the machine sprang in to life, without a hitch or missed stitch.

Now, a word of caution with this one.  This is NOT the best way of mending something like this and all I’ve probably done is prolong it’s life a little longer.  There are generic sewing machine pedals that would work with this machine and will be fine, when this one fails in future, but that’s not the point.  The main thing is that something that was broken is now working and even if it’s not the best fix, at least it will run for a bit longer.  Happy days.

Cost of replacement: (generic part) £15-30.  Cost of repair, my time, a bit of solder and several cups of tea.