Polishing balls.

November 22nd, 2008

My latest project cabinet is a Missile Command upright, and my plan is to get it looking and working as close to new as I can. Step one: strip it down and get that big black ball rolling smoothly again.

The upright version of Missile Command was one of the few games (along with the first Atari sports releases) to use a massive four and a half inch Atari Trak-Ball. As these things take up a fair chunk of control panel real estate, most cabinets were designed with a smaller 2.25 or 3 inch trackball. Personally, I like the big ones.

PRO TIP: A 4.5 inch trackball is exactly the same size as a candlepin bowling ball, with similar construction. Feel free to swap out your beat up Trak-Ball for a candlepin ball with a skull embedded in it and save yourself a couple hours of polishing time.

PRO TIP: I didn’t even know candlepin bowling existed until last week.

Here’s the Trak-Ball, fresh out of the cabinet:
ball in hand

The ball and housing bits after a good scrubbing. Twenty-eight years of DNA and filth, all washed away. Goodbye, DNA and filth!
clean ball

While full rebuild kits are available, the bearings and rollers cleaned up well enough after a night’s soak in WD-40, so I decided to stick with the original components.

This is how I polish my balls:

I initially figured I could simply take the ball down to the local bowling supply store and have the guys toss it in their polishing getup. Unfortunately, candlepin bowling doesn’t exist on this side of the country, and neither do polishers for candlepin balls (and in a regular sized bowling ball polisher, my trackball would’ve just bounced around violently). Seeing my crestfallen reaction, the fine folks at K&K Bowling Services gave me some tips, a couple used 2000 and 4000 grit pads, and offered the Moon Shine polish in the neat bowling-pin-shaped bottle.

PRO TIP: Lay the pad on your palm, grit side up, hand cupped slightly. Rest hand against leg. Set ball on pad and spin, baby, spin. Start with the 2000 pad, and once the surface is smooth and clear of blemishes, move to the 4000. Then, once you’ve got the ball sporting a dull sheen, get yourself a cloth and follow the instructions on the polishing compound (apply, wait, wipe, basically).

PRO TIP: Find something to watch while you’re doing this, as the excitement wears off pretty quickly. I watched Marx Brothers: Inside the Marx Brothers. It was pretty good.

Look it’s my polished ball in my hand! How many jokes about polishing balls can I make? Who knows!! I’ll bet the guys at K&K are sick of hearing them, though.
My polished ball, in my hand!!

Rebuilt Trak-Ball

3 Responses to “Polishing balls.”

  1. Skipernicus on July 24, 2009 9:07 pm

    I’m doing a similar restoration of EXACTLY that trackball – but here’s my trouble: see that clear plastic piece? Mine is busted! You have a source for those things?

  2. Chris on July 25, 2009 10:50 am

    I’ve never come across reproductions (mine has a very minor crack as well, from someone tightening it down too hard in the past), although RAM Controls was working on something several years ago. Post in the parts wanted board on the KLOV forums, may run across someone who’s parted out a machine.


  1. Missile Command restoration | words

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