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Oct 6th, 2022

A few days ago there was a post on a Commodore forum that I saw regarding printers “back in the day”. One of the first things I bought with my own spending money for my C64 was my printer. It was a Star Micronics Gemini II dot matrix printer. I bought it at Canadian Tire, but I can't remember it's exact price. I do recall that it was a little more expensive than the standard Commodore brand printer. However, it had a few extra features over the less expensive printers. First of all, it had a friction paper feed, which allowed you to use single sheet paper to print on, not just tractor paper. And it had a NLQ (Near Letter Quality) print mode, which gave you a very crisp type-font. This made it look like your document was typed on a typewriter and not on a dot matrix printer.

Just look at this little beauty. Simple, yet elegant, with a very understandable control panel.

Star Gemini-II Dot Matrix Printer

I knew that a printer like this was going to come in very handy when I went off to college in the following year. I was right. I used that printer to do all of my hand-in assignments, as well as my correspondence and job applications in the years that followed after graduation.

Anyway, when I saw the question being asked on the forum, I wanted to show this person how good a job a simple Commodore 64 could do with the right printer. There were only two problems I was faced with. One, I knew that the ribbon cartridge I had for my Gemini II was buggered. Secondly, the printer has been in cold-then-hot-then-cold-then-hot storage for a couple of years now. I wasn’t even sure if it would power up after all of this time. But, I had to give it a try.

I got the printer into the house and gave it a look over. From what I could tell, apart from the ribbon cartridge, it looked pretty good. The outside case could do with a bit of a rub, but everything inside looked fine. But, what about that cartridge? The little gear inside, which spools the ribbon as the print head moves back and forth across it was broken. So, the ribbon wasn’t keeping tension any longer, nor could it be drawn through the cartridge as the print head moved, like it was supposed to. But, all I wanted to do was print just a few lines to demonstrate the print quality. What I finally did was tighten the ribbon by hand and then secure it down with tape on the ribbon in and out points, so it would hold tension. Then I put the cartridge in place and hoped that it would hold long enough to get a few passes with the print head, if the thing even powered up.

I plugged the printer into my C128’s serial port and powered everything up. And, wouldn’t you know it, it powered up and initialized just fine. Did it still print? With just a couple of BASIC commands typed into the computer, that print head was making that iconic sound that only can be made by a dot matrix printer. Fantastic!

Talk about reliability and durability! This printer is over 37 years old, been stored in less than ideal circumstances, and it still works like the day I bought it (okay, the ink in the ribbon isn’t as dark, but still legible)! They just don’t make em the way they used to. I certainly feel like I got my money’s worth out of this printer. If I could just find an affordable replacement ribbon for it, I might even just keep using it. I know of one place in the U.S. that has a ribbon for it, but the price he’s asking to send it to me makes it quite the pricey purchase for me. After shipping and the exchange rate, it would run me about $70 after all is said and done. I can't afford that, just to get the old Gemini going again.

I think it would be a shame not to keep using this printer… it just seem to have so much get-up-and-go! So, today I was determined to take another shot at trying to fix this ribbon cartridge and get my Gemini II printing documents again.

After closer examination, what I determined was that it wasn't the gear mechanism that was broken, but the spring that held one of the two gears in place. It looked to me like the little plastic peg that the spring used as a lever (to keep tension on the gear) was broken off. So, I fashioned a replacement peg out of a piece of wire I cut from a safety pin. Once I figured out how to secure it into the proper place and got the spring reattached, it was just a matter of getting the gears aligned and the ribbon re-threaded.

After a lot of fidgiting around, I finally got everything back together and, low-and-behold, the ribbon cartridge was working once again! Before closing everything up, I also gave the ribbon a couple of shots of WD-40 to help rejuvenate the ink. After running a test page (yes the Gemini II can print it's own test page), here are the results:

Gemini-II Self Test Page

At long last, I can finally use my dot matrix printer again! I was very pleased, not only with having the use of my printer again, but also in the fact that I didn't have to spend $70 to do so. I'm not sure how long this little repair job on the ribbon cartridge will last, but I'm going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

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blog/2022-10-06.txt · Last modified: 2023/11/12 22:05 by David