Trackball Bearings

by Bob Roberts

Does time fly by, or what? I got an email the other day about a new trackball not responding well... veering off to one side & I imagine that it was sluggish, as well. My first thought was that I had just posted the answer to the newsgroup in regards to bearings, but then as I thought more about it, and started a search for it, I began to realize how much time has passed here in cyberspace. I'm thinking like a year ago, but as I go back further & further, I realize that many years have passed since I had time to read or post in the newsgroups, add to these help pages or to work on any of the hundreds of projects on my agenda. I've been a mushroom behind... or under ;)... this keyboard for almost 3 years now, and when I finally located the thread I was looking for, I was shocked to see it was in 1997 followed up by periodic sale posts in 1998 of trackball parts. Wow... 1997/8... I was young then :)

It seems that I have been answering the same questions over & over again in email, keeping them fresh in my mind, but not helping the majority of collectors all at one time. I am going to make an effort to put up more information here in the help pages somehow... I can't for the life of me figure out how some of you provide tech info, maintain websites, read & post to the newsgroups, do your email and fit in family time... let alone holding down full time *real* jobs! Whose playing these games in your collection... I don't see how you have the time to :(

Well, I guess I better get to the trackball info before I fall asleep at this keyboard since it is already three o'clock in the morning.

Trackball bearings come packed in oil and/or rust prohibitors for obvious reasons. Sometimes not all the bearings are as free spinning as they should be. Sometimes if they have been on the shelf awhile, the oil begins to solidify... well, gel up to an almost grease consistency... and sometimes some are just pressed together tighter than others and all these contributing factors mean that the bearings have to be broken in like a new car or a baseball. After installing a new trackball, or new bearings in an old unit, they will sometimes tend to be sluggish, drift to the right or left at the end travel or just basically not respond the way you would want them to. Some of the imports came in dry as a bone, but often with rust already taking a good foothold, and although some worked real well that way, they rusted up much faster due to the hand perspiration & even large spills of liquids on location. Those were the *grindies* and real easy to know that they were in a trackball prior to taking it apart. They would actually wear a flat spot in one of the rollers so that only two rollers would be turning :(

There I go drifting, again, so let me get back on *track* by saying that I read many a way to break in a new set of bearings quickly in the newsgroup, and thought some of them to be a tad bit strange, wondering if they could really work, or the poster was having some fun at others expense :(
Anyway, I'll tell you my strange way of tackling the problem when an op didn't want them to be broken in on location... usually one that was raking in the quarters pretty fast & regular, otherwise it was toss them in there & go! Let me preface this with caution, as I think it might be dangerous, but I have been doing it for many years & never hurt myself, yet, including doing a 100 sets today, so you can use your own judgement.

I take a high speed drill & insert a reaming tool in it. Now since the reaming tool cannot do it's designated job, because the center is riding on ball bearings, it has no choice but to grip the core & spin it ninety miles per hour thus breaking it in. When doing new bearings, I hold them between my thumb & forefinger as in the pic below. NEVER do this with a used bearing!!

I leave it entirely up to you as to your adeptness at handling a drill in this manner, but advise caution.... always respect power tools!

Once these bearings are installed, they need to be oiled & oiled periodically. Never use WD-40 as it gums up rapidly & you will be needing to redo your bearings in short order. Game manufacturers recommend removing the whole TB unit from the control panel, opening it up by removing the 6 screws that hold the case together, and individually oiling each bearing with 2 drops of light-duty oil such as 3-in-one oil every 3 months. Normally, I would say in home use that you may be able to go 6 months between oilings, but as I remember, my wife, her gal friends and my daughters kept Centipede pretty much going around the clock in my own personal home game room, so perhaps they may even need to be oiled more often :)

Now you know that no self-respecting operator is going to be taking his game apart every three months while it is still taking in quarters, so I did find a cheat that worked well for them & I also have always used it in the shop, as well. This product, called Aero Kroil by Kano Laboratories, comes in a spray can making it easy to go in thru the oil ports in the case by simply dropping the control panel & putting a small drop on each bearing. This solvent creeps into openings as small as one millionth of an inch. It dissolves gum, dried grease, oil and removes rust & carbon deposits without attacking the metal. It also provides lubrication & resists weathering. What more could you ask for! Their website is if you want to stop by & check it out. Tell them I sent you... maybe I'll get some lagniappe :)

This is probably going to sound wasteful, but what I did on mounted TB units, was to point the Aerokroil into the wastebasket & slightly depress the nozzle which would leave a small droplet on the end of the spray tube that I could put directly on the bearing using a flashlight to guide me. That way I did not have the trouble that ops had of overspraying them getting oil all over the rollers & the ball.... probably much more wasteful.

Here's another use that might please some... I know it has pleased many collectors over the past 4 years, or so... if you have a maxi TB unit & your bearings are rusty, you can do a variation of this method by soaking them in the penetrating oil overnight and then mounting them in a vise & use the drill/reaming tool in short bursts of power at first, to loosen the rusted parts. Once freed, then you can put it on full speed to actually pulverize the rusted particles inside the bearings. Another quick spray of Aerokroil & a few more spins will flush it out & lube it all at the same time. This can also be done if you are trying to save some of those old oddball sized bearings from a Wico unit. These will not be as good as new, but better than nothing at all :(

This reminds me of another repeat question... about interchangeableness [now that's a wordful] of the rollers & bearings. Happ bearings will fit 2" & 3" Atari/Happ TB units & the 3" enclosed copies made for Wico & Imperial. The 3" idler [short] roller will work in all the 3" TB units, but the encoder rollers in the other two brand names, while interchangeable with each other, have shorter protruding shafts than Happ's. I suppose if you had plenty of time, you could probably cut the Happ encoder rollers down to a matching size, although you might have to tap the thread a little deeper. The optic pcbs are also interchangeable between these two, but are very different in size & construction compared to the Happ.

Update August 26, 2008

In regards to what I have been saying for many years pertaining to cutting the long 3" Atari roller shafts down to fit the Wico or Imperial trackballs... it has finally been confirmed possible by Adam Pletcher. Here's what he had to say, "So it turns out, if you cut off 1/8" or so from the two Atari rollers with a dremel they fit the import TB units perfectly. The wheel screws even still fit. I just marked it next to the old one and cut." That should help many of you & my guess is that you could probably accomplish it with a hacksaw if you don't own a Dremel, as well.

IMHO there is nothing that can touch the Happ TB units... always have had parts available & have been very dependable with periodic upgrades to meet current times.

Happy Gaming...............

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