Have you ever encountered a 'stuck' video/audio/data tape - one of those where the tape gets swallowed inside the machine in question? I have. More times than I can count. Oh, and the nearest authorized repair facility is halfway around the world (or worse, gone out of business)? I have - more times than I can count.
So what do you do?
You open up the darn thing and figure out how to extract the tape cartridge, that's what you do. I've also done this - more times than I can count. Usually it involves:
- disassembly of the drive mechanics, which resemble the inside of a Swiss (mechanical) watch - except the gears are plastic
- destruction of the tape cartridge, to get the pieces out of the way so that the mechanics can be further disassembled
- all of the above
Faced with this task yet again, I finally came up with a more clever way to accomplish the task. You see, the drive mechanics are operated by motors, which load and unload the cartridges. In order to operate the mechanism in the absence of motor power (which has obviously failed for some as yet unknown reason or you probably wouldn't be reading this), you usually need to take it completely apart. You can't just spin the plastic gears by hand, because they're all intertwingled and won't budge unless you physically remove the motor and then spin the first gear in the chain.
But what if you didn't need to take it completely apart? Taking Swiss watches apart and putting them back together again (without messing them up completely) is no fun. Trust me on this.
So how can we convince the motor to perform the unload task? There are two of them. One spreads the tape around the spinning head assembly. The other drives the actual tape swallower assembly. Both are usually simple DC motors. And therein lies the solution. We just need a little DC. Take a 9V battery and a few inches of speaker wire. Hold or tape the leads on one end of the speaker wire to the battery. Turn the power off on the device in question. We're going to bypass the built in power (and logic circuitry). That's what got us into this mess.
Now touch the other ends to the leads of the spreader motor. Didn't do anything? That's OK, you've got a 50/50 chance here. Swap the leads around the other way. Voila, the tape spreader starts the unload sequence. Keep them connected until the spreader has done its job and it hits the end - at which point it will stop. That's also why we use a 9V battery. It doesn't have enough torque to over spin the thing since the normal limit switches aren't able to limit us from damage. Don't hold the leads very long or you really could damage something.
Now move the leads over to the swallower motor and touch them there. Again, swap the leads if you get it backward the first time and nothing happens. Yippee! Here comes the tape! Right out the drive door and into your hand. Yay!
Can't figure out which motor is the spreader, and which is the swallower? That's OK too. Just start touching motor leads (briefly) and see what moves. You'll find them soon enough.
Now you've probably still got to figure out why the tape was stuck, but in the meantime you've got your tape back - intact; and the mechanism is unloaded and still in one piece. Chances are pretty high that something about the tape itself or how it was loaded is what made it stuck and things will just start magically working again. If not, oh well. I don't have all the answers. But if you're ever crazy enough or desperate enough to need to do this, you're probably capable of figuring out what to do next.