I saw a 1959 Philco Predicta Pedestal on eBay and thought it was the coolest thing ever. I had to have it. The only problem – it was selling for about $1500, and I didn’t really need it THAT badly. On the other hand, I figured if I could pick up a used or non-working model, I could probably restore it pretty easily.
If you’re not familiar with the Predicta Pedestal or as it was affectionately known, the Barber Pole, here’s a picture of it to the right. It was really ahead of its time as far as design goes. In a world of big boxy consoles, this futuristic design really stood out.
Here’s the restoration story:
I searched eBay for about two months and finally came across a Predicta that was in decent shape. I bought it for $400 (US) and had it shipped to California. The guy only charged $60 (US) for shipping which kind of surprised me for a TV that weighed well over 80 lbs. It was the first large item I had purchased from eBay, and I never gave the shipping any thought.
When the TV arrived, it was packed in a giant cardboard box, which I imagine started off the trip as a rectangle, but by the time it got to me was more of a parallelogram. Below is the only picture I have of the shipping box. The reason? About 30 seconds after I ripped open the box and pulled the TV out, I was attacked by an army of spiders, who apparently did not enjoy the trip across country in a cardboard box.
When I got back from changing my pants, I hosed down the cardboard box and dumped it in the recycle bin. I never thought to take a picture of the box. So total cost as of this moment, $460 (US), one pair of underwear, and most of my dignity.
As it turns out, the TV was bounced around and damaged enough that I decided to strip it down and use it for parts. This was ok with me as this particular model was the blonde version (light colored wood with green trim), and I really wanted the mahogany version anyway.
So even though the blonde version was a bit more rare, I parted it out, stripped off the paint and varnish, and hopped back on eBay to find a replacement.
I found a suitable TV a few weeks later for $400 (US), and it was local, so I went over and picked it up. Cosmetically it was in reasonable shape, and while the insides appeared to be quite dirty, as far as I could tell, everything was complete and original. My restoration project was ready to go.
The first thing I did was take a shop vac to the whole thing and do my best to remove the dirt and grime that had accumulated. I then began taking the Predicta apart. I snapped a ton of pictures to help me remember where all the pieces belonged, as this was my first TV project.
The first and most obvious thing I noticed was the speaker had come loose from the grill. Now when I say grill, I mean the piece of heavy cardboard that the speaker was screwed to that sat behind the enclosure.
My first thought was this shouldn’t be a problem as I have a spare grill from the blonde Predicta. Unfortunately, it was not in very good shape either, as you can see on the right. It looked like I would be creating a new speaker grill for the TV sometime down the road.
I continued removing pieces from the inside of the TV. The main circuit board, while very dirty and dusty, seemed to be in good shape with no noticeable cracks. The smaller circuit board that controls the video functions looked good too. With a thorough cleaning, the only parts I would have to replace would be the paper and electrolytic capacitors.
The plastic pieces like the CRT housing and the knobs, while scratched and dirty, were not chipped or broken, so they could be renewed.
Now that I had a laundry list of issues, it was time to go to work.
I work on computer motherboards all the time, but a circuit board was something new. I read as much as I could about restoring TVs and radios and felt that I had learned enough to give it a whirl. The biggest problems of the vacuum tube era appeared to be bad tubes, loose socket connections, bad capacitors, and broken or poor soldering.
The very first thing I did was give the big circuit board a good cleaning. I know there are a lot of commercially available cleaners, but I did it slowly and methodically using alcohol and Q-tips. Aside from cleaning, this gave me a chance to really examine the connections and soldering. When I finished, there was quite a difference.
Next on the list was to replace all the bad capacitors and re-solder any loose connections. This took me about a week, as I had never done it before, and once I had finished, I kept going back and correcting it. I wasn’t very good at it, so I ended up having it professionally done.
The worst thing for me about this particular TV is the wires; they’re everywhere. I’m used to a motherboard where wires are normally bundled together and run in channels.
This Predicta looked like a plate of spaghetti. To be honest, some of the wires were neatly wrapped and routed, but for the most part it was an episode of “Jersey Shore”.
Three weeks after I began, it was time to power up the TV. Since these TVs have no transformers, just basically current right out of the wall, I made sure to wear rubber gloves, take off my watch, and to be really, really careful. With the TV components spread out on my workbench, I located the power button and fired it up.
This small round piece is a thermal resistor, or a “thermistor”, and its job is to make sure the current comes up slowly. When the picture finally filled the screen, except for some rolling and jittering, it looked great. While I attribute some of this to my careful soldering (lots of practice), a big part of it seems to be that the internals were in satisfactory shape when they arrived.
Using the PhotoFact, I was able to stop the rolling and the picture looked pretty good. I was also lucky that the picture tube itself was in good shape; still bright and clear.
Another thing I noticed is just how delicate this TV really is. I accidentally brushed the circuit board just a bit while walking by it, and when I came back, the picture looked awful. Twenty minutes later, after checking all the video-related tubes, I found that one tube, depending on how it sat in the socket, could cause the picture quality to degrade. I tightened down the socket immediately.
So using two small screws, I attached a fan to the bottom of the pedestal and powered it with an old Tyco train transformer, which could vary the power and speed of the fan.
Now it was time for the cosmetics. I started with the metal pieces since they were the easiest. They were dull, pitted, and rusty. I took them to a local plating shop and had them gold plate the neck, arms, and arm caps. They turned out pretty well.
Next came the dials and the knobs. Although they were fairly dirty, I polished them up and ran them though the dishwasher in the top rack. Our dishwasher has a pre-steam setting, so I steamed them first, and then sent them through the rinse cycle. I spent the next night on the couch when my wife found out I had been running 50 year old TV parts through the dishwasher.
I was able to polish the CRT enclosure, but I didn’t really like the dark color, so I lightened it up a bit. Yeah, I painted it. So much for keeping things original. You can see the color differences to the right.
The screen cover was a whole different ballgame. Everything else had been easy up until this point. The screen was amazingly cloudy and had several deep scratches. Getting it to look good was so frustrating, that I didn’t take any pictures of the process!
In a nutshell, it involved sanding the screen with progressively finer sandpaper. After each sanding, I buffed the screen cover with a heavy duty scratch remover, then moving to a light duty scratch remover, and finally buffing with plastic shine.
It took almost a week, but what I ended up with was really clear and smooth screen cover.
The Predicta logo at the top of the screen cover needed to be painted, but I had a better idea. I used a gold paint marker and simply filled in the logo. Since the logo was recessed, the paint spread out perfectly within the logo.
Now came the final part of the restoration – the cabinet. I stripped the entire cabinet down to the wood, and sanded it for hours. By the time I was done, it was smooth as glass. I painted the inside a flat rust color to match the original coloring, and stained and varnished the rest of the cabinet. The outside came out ok, but I ended up taking it in and having it professionally done.
The Philco lettering on the front of the cabinet, as well as some warning decals, were casualties of my sanding. Before I did the sanding however, using the original logos, I re-created them in Photoshop. I then printed them on rub-off paper and transferred them to the cabinet before the final coat of varnish.
As for the back of the cabinet, it was a laminate, so other than some simple cleaning and polishing, there wasn’t a lot for me to do.
Finally, there had been a paper tag on the inside of the cabinet that was turning to dust, but I was able to scan it before it disintegrated. I “aged” it in Photoshop and printed out a replica for the inside of the Predicta.
It worked like a champ!
In fact, it came out so well, that I “restored” a Philco Continental after this one.
Here’s how they came out: