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I just couldn't leave it alone and had to try again... I can't let Epson beat me!!!
This time, I used aluminium duct tape to wrap the prongs several times, as the paper clip was too frustrating and painful to wrap tight enough. Most importantly, I found that the grey roller cover and white tray underneath it (1st pics in Step 10 and 11, respectively) can be [carefully] pried out, which makes putting the two plastic pieces back in SooooOoooOoooo much easier!!
I'm proud to say I was able to get this scanner back to 'normal' functionality. Kudos to this walk-thru and all the helpful comments. Regardless, I'm never buying this scanner again.
I bought three of these scanners maybe 10 months ago. The first one showed the problem after about 4 months. Thanks to this walkthru, I was able to get it working again and it's been feeding/scanning as it should ever since. Today, however, a second one started showing the issue. I found this walkthu much quicker this time! I followed the steps verbatim, but could not, for the life of me, get the problem piece back into its place! I tried JZZZ's suggestion about the front panel grey switch to free the gear, but still nope. Does the similar (non-splayed) piece go into place first, and then the "fixed" piece go in last? The only way I can fit the "fixed" piece in (step11) is if I slide it in from the side, which obviously doesn't leave enough room in the line for the first piece. Much thanks to the original creator of this walkthru. Anyone with specific advice on getting the "fixed" piece back in?