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Parts, Service and Repair of Antique Toy Trains - Factory Experience
Hints and Product Info
- Dr. Tinker®'s Train Repair Hints
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Lionel Postwar Train
Modern Era Lionel Trains Use Capacitors on Their Pullmor Motors
Lionel started using motor brush capacitors on their Pullmor Motors starting with the MPC era and continuing into the present day. These electronic devices you see on the brush plate are used to minimize the "noise" generated by the AC motor which can effect the proper operation of the “new” electronic sounds when operating the trains. This effort was largely successful but as in every fix, there is a drawback. In this case, the capacitors do have a limited shelf life. Engines may stop running if the capacitors fail or worse, someone trying to replace the brush cap may improperly replace the capacitors. It is best that operators unfamiliar with the inner workings of these trains have their trains serviced by professional service techs with the talent and equipment to properly trouble shoot such problems.
Another cause for stoppage occurs when the battery life expires for those engines that have sound systems. This is especially true for MTH and Lionel. There have been many articles published in the toy train magazines addressing the issues of under voltage batteries. The fix for that is to replace the battery or recharge it. Most engines, steam and diesel, use an 8.4 Volt battery which can be purchased through a vendor who specializes in toy train equipment or through the manufacturer. However, the problem that some operators have with this situation is that they are not comfortable with the idea of going into the engine to remove and replace the battery. The solution to this is to replace the battery with a so called “super battery” that uses a small electronic circuit with a super capacitor unit, thus ending the dependence on a battery. There are two types of batteries and operators must know which one to purchase. You should also understand that once your old battery is replaced with a super battery, the engine must be left standing under power for one minute before operations commences. This does not have to be performed each time you operate the trains. This procedure should only be done when the trains have been stored for a period of time. As stated previously, if you have never taken and engine apart, please have your super battery installed by a trained repair person.
Modern Era Parts Lists
1970 to Present
For modern-era Lionel trains, those made from 1970 through today, parts information is available and free if you have access to a computer and the Internet. Lionel has illustrated parts listings called supplements on its website at www.lionel.com. From the site's home page, take the links to Customer Service and then Parts List & Pictorial Diagrams. These supplements include information for researching modern-era Lionel equipment. Download the PDF files for all 47 supplements from your computer. They cover a number of the Lionel products produced after 1970.
No. 97 Coal Elevator
Dear Dr. T:
Fourteen years ago, a friend gave me a No. 97 Coal Elevator that sounded worn out but still elevated coal. Seven years ago, I asked if you have No. 97 Overhaul Kits. You advised me to look for a younger No. 97. The advice would have been fine had I been able to find one at a younger price.
After 14 years in my possession, the machine got so bad that it was popping the breaker. I took it to the bench, turned it upside down, and noticed that a gear shaft ran through a hole in a sheet metal tab. I powered it up and the No. 97 made an awful noise. I gripped the tab with a small pliers and very very slowly bent it, thus displacing the hole, thus displacing the shaft, thus displacing the gear interfaces. I figured that if the noise got worse, I would move the pliers the other way. But in a few moments, the 97 was purring like a kitten and the buckets moved with alacrity at a modest voltage.
It's embarrassing to be preaching to the teacher but I feel compelled to share my stroke of good luck since this is a subject on which we have corresponded in the past.
Thanks for the hint.
- Dr. T.
Replacement Boiler Front Rings
We often get calls for replacement outer Boiler Front Ring assemblies. Unfortunately, the outer ring castings are not available separately for postwar and prewar steamers. These were never sold from the Lionel Corp. and the repros are not an exact match for the original boiler front doors.
This means that you must replace the entire front assembly when the original breaks. Originals are very hard to find in good condition and we have paid as much as $100.00 for an early 726 replacement. The repros are quite acceptable, however, and I usually recommend that you purchase a repro until you can find an original, which can take some time. Replacing the marker lanterns on the outer rings is not a practical solution for those who might want to try this.
Early Knuckle Coupler Trucks
Find Exploded Diagrams Online
You can find exploded diagrams, parts lists and supplements online at www.lionel.com. Click on "Customer Service", then "Parts List and Exploded Diagrams", and type in the product number.
Instructions for Retrofitting
Liquid Smoke Generator
In Lionel Pill-Type Smoke Units
I. Remove the metal cover (it will not be used) and thoroughly clean out the smoke pot, the vertical air spout, the housing cylinder and the smoke piston. (It may be necessary to use a thin wire to unclog the vertical air spout. A paper clip works fine.)
II. Slide the white fiberglass wick #8141-56 over the resistor #8141-55.
III. Put the shrink tube #2029-15 over one lead and heat-shrink close to the resistor body.
IV. Carefully bend both leads 90º close to the resistor body. Insert the leads through the holes in the black cap #2029-16. The insulated lead goes in the larger hole.
V. Put the new fiberglass liner #671-212 in the smoke pot and seat the cap and heater assembly in the pot. The resistor must not touch the air spout. Early 671 and 675 pots are smaller. In this case, the cap fits outside the smoke housing and you will need to clip the internal "fins" to allow proper seating of the cap.
VI. Next, extend the insulated lead (if you need to). You may wish to use another piece of larger shrink tubing to insulate this connection. This lead should be connected to a center rail pick-up wire (E-unit or headlite wire, etc.)
VII. Now connect the ground lead to a convenient
place. You can solder this lead to the smoke housing itself, or you could solder
a lug to it and attach it to the locomotive frame with a nearby screw (Example -
smoke unit support screw).
VIII. Finally, place the felt smoke gasket
#671-181 or alternate #726-57 on the top of the smoke unit before inserting
motor and smoke unit assembly into cab. This gasket prevents smoke fluid leakage
and further insulates the hot lead from the locomotive body.
Smoke Lever for 671/681
Pack Trains for Shipment in Double Boxes
Received the 671 Steam Turbine yesterday in the single box and it was loosely packed, but not broken fortunately. I am taking this opportunity to point out how risky it is to pack an Engine loose in a single box in this manner. Ninety percent of the damage that we see comes from improper packing for shipment. Trains that originally needed a little or no serious repair work end up as parts engines as a result of the damage sustained in transit to us.
This may seem like a small matter at the onset, but please let me assure you, this is a major problem for us, which means it's a problem for you and your customer as well. When I have gone through this one and returned it to you, please make a note of how we double box it for the return shipment. The secret to successful packing is two fold. First, the Engine should be packed tightly in an inside box so that it does not move or rattle. Secondly, this box should then be packed tightly in an outer shipping box. Allow one to two inches all around the inner box and pack it tightly so it cannot move around during its travel. I use balled up newspaper, foam particles and even balled up plastic grocery store shopping bags.
I hope this info will be of value when you send the next Trains for repair.
Twin Motor Trouble Shooting
Postwar Lionel Twin Motor Engines like the FM, F3 and GG-1 present a special problem to the repair person. These Double Motor Engines must be uniquely coordinated for trouble free long term performance. When servicing these engines, both motors should be dealt with at the same time, in the same manner. In other words, if you replace the Motor Brushes in one, you should do this to both motors at the same time.
The reason for this has to do with balance. If one motor is pulling better than the other motor, this imbalance will eventually work a hardship on the slower motor and the better motor will actually have to work harder than necessary in order to compensate for the weaker one. Performance of both motors will eventually be reduced, if one is serviced and one is not. Always clean and lube both motors in the same way so one will not have an advantage over the other.
#455 Oil Derrick Heat Switch
These circuit boards are now available from Dr. Tinker at $5.00 plus shipping, while supplies last. Click here for more information.
Just like the old ones @ $15.00 per bottle plus shipping and handling ($9.00) by popular demand. Make check payable to D. Laughridge.
Brushes for Scout Motors
Dr. Tinker stocks all the lubricant you will need for servicing your Lionel trains, including Lubriplate and LaBelle, plastic gear compatible products. Call 781-862-5798 for details.
Reader Repair Questions
I have never needed any special tool to remove the horseshoe washers. A pair of small household pliers works fine for me. I do insert a piece of thin card stock under the ends of the horseshoe so as not to scratch the floor of the car. I hope this helps you a little.
Dear Dr. Tinker,
I have a problem with the "new" plastic MPC/LTI couplers. They won't stay closed. I ordered new armatures, the ones with the metal thumbtack, but they break very easily when I try to install them. Is this normal? What are they (Lionel) doing to make the couplers so frustrating?
I bought coupler armatures from several different parts dealers, and got some directly from Lionel. The only ones that really worked were the ones I got from Lionel. Can you offer any insight on this continuing problem? I miss the old postwar design.
We have all experienced the problem you mention, with the replacement # 9050 series Nylon Coupler parts. There are a number of forces at work on this, which should be considered.
First, we do not have a high regard for the design concept, but have resigned to try to make the best of what seems to be a flawed concept. That said, beginning with the products that came out through the 70's, those seemed to work marginally. Memos from the factory showed us how to bend the Nylon Plunger, AKA "Armature", so it would work better which suggests that there were problems from the onset. And now, in the new scheme of things, products from the Orient, in the year 2002, by and large, don't have this type of plastic assembly. But that doesn't help us on the # 9050 Plunger replacements. You are correct. The Lionel Plungers seem to fit and work fine, even though I have had a few, purchased from the Michigan plant, that were brittle. Early parts went into the two guide holes with no problem, but Plungers made from the brittle plastic will break when forced into place, if not pressed straight in. The harder plastic (Nylon?) part has better springiness, but the trade off is that they break easily when improperly inserted. With practice, you will develop a technique for installing the replacements.
However, the problem gets more complex when the look-a-likes from K-Line get into the picture. Frankly, if you should get some of those from a parts dealer, save them for K-Line truck repairs, exclusively. Some guys have told me they can make the K-Line parts work in Lionel trucks, but I have had poor luck with them.
We long for the good old days, when parts could be interchanged, every time, without surprises. There was a time when production standards and consistency ruled. That still is in there somewhere but just where is hazy, in 2002. If you get any of the Plungers that don't snap right into place, chances are you have a non-Lionel part that looks correct, but isn't. I sympathize with you on this. We have all struggled with these crazy variations for the past 25 years, or so, and now it looks like we can expect more of the same with parts and trains being produced all over the planet. This is why I prefer to stick with the good stuff that was produced on. US. soil.
Good luck to you.
David Laughridge/Dr. Tinker
If you have Lionel questions, email Dr.Tinker at firstname.lastname@example.org for a timely reply.
Why 3 Prongs?
Letter to Dr. Tinker
Dear Dr. Tinker,
Older Trains Require Higher Output
A customer call to a local train store in regard to a pre MPC/LTI transformer like the RW and others, produced a revealing perspective on how shops that want to sell new trains, view the business. Transformers produced since 1970 have lacked the higher output needed for the older trains, which require as much as 18 Volts, and more, to function properly. The only way one can hope to power many of the Prewar trains is by means of an old reliable 18 plus Volt output capability transformer. These could be found new up to around 1970. Now, one has to find good repairable transformers at shops selling used trains, at train shows or on the Internet. The store clerk had asked the customer why anyone would want one of these "old pieces of junk", pretending possibly, not to be aware of the deficiencies of the new, post 70's power units, in hopes of selling a new transformer to the caller. It follows, for those with older trains, that it is important to look for transformers with the higher output markings. The output is always clearly marked on the dial on the older units. You can find them with 18 Volt output, up to 24 Volts. And these Units are not usually expensive. Many need to be serviced by a qualified repair person. Qualified is the key word in this regard, as there are many imposters out there. A word of caution: Transformers with the Prewar cloth wrapped power cords should not be used. Look for units with Variable Voltage Rheostats and rubber or synthetic rubber sheathed power cords and molded plugs. That's a good way to ID the better equipment. If you have any doubts about a piece, feel free to call for help in purchasing older transformers. There is some "junk" that you will come across, but there is also plenty of good stuff to pick from. The old adage, buyer beware is very good advice.
Train Self Destructs
A fellow brought a new broken imported Tender to me at a recent Train Show for repair and service. The Tender was very heavy, I noticed. The cast truck frame was broken and the fellow wanted a replacement of the truck frame. The company does not sell the parts for these but they are pretty good about replacing broken parts, if the proper procedures are followed. I suggested he call or write Lionel to see what they would do for this car.
When I asked the guy how the truck got broken, he said it fell over going around a corner and broke. I believed him. If that Tender fell on me, I would break, too. We think that the Chinese are paid on the basis of tonnage. The heavier the train, the more they can charge Lionel for the train shipment. But wait. Does this make sense? Can the engine pull a car that is so heavy? There should be a way to tell the manufacturer that it doesn’t make sense to make cars that are so heavy. This Tender was so heavy, it apparently fell over and literally broke itself from its own weight. A touch of common sense would be a welcome addition in a case like this. There is an appropriate amount of weight required for most cars. There is no point in exceeding that weight, not to mention the presumed danger of lead content in the products. A letter to the offending companies would seem to be in order for the train folks that are concerned in this area. The New York address is:
Gerard Calabrese, CEO
Lionel Electric Trains
171 Madison Ave. Suite 1100
New York, NY 10016-5110
Maintaining the Website
From time to time we break away from the mail order parts business and repair work to do a little writing. This is one of my favorite exercises, actually, and since we stopped publishing the articles in OGR and CTT, and the “Coupler” Newsletter, a great big void has existed in my life. For this reason, I am always looking for a few minutes to jot something down that might be of interest to others who enjoy fixing up old Lionels. Initially, we felt that having a nice website would help people decide whether or not to have their old trains serviced. Also, knowing just how to order replacement parts is a discipline in itself, so this area is covered here as well.
However, the chance to communicate with others on this facet of the hobby is the fun part of having a website even though maintaining it requires some effort. This year, we hope to spend more time on commentary and repair hints, especially regarding the postwar Lionels. This seems to be the area of most interest to our friends out there. Trains produced after 1990 have become somewhat complex, so we tend to concentrate on U.S. made Lionel trains in this effort. Thanks for allowing us to ramble on a bit about our experience in train repair over the past years.
Good Advice for Train
"On Napping" by David Jacoby
When we were young, the 'tall' ones told us when to slow down. When the demands of the world became too great, their powers of reasoning proved maddeningly accurate. 'I think someone's tired,' they observed. And off for a nap we went. Ten minutes later, our dreaming faces had put us back in good favor with our exasperated parents. When we woke, the word somehow made sense again. What kind of truth might a napping child impart to us? Now we are the tall ones, living in a complicated world with no one to tell us when to slow down. The slumbering little one knows the value of not having the last word, or accepting a minor defeat. It's so simple. Miss out on something. Put yourself back in your own good favor. The world will wait.
Kalmbach Sends Dual Message
Many of you younger train people have a great hunger to experience the Lionel Train adventure. Some want to build a layout and run the trains, while others enjoy collecting. Some want to do both, sooner or later. Regardless, one aspect that ties the Lionel scene together is the repair, servicing and maintenance of the trains. The repair segment does not lend itself to everyone, but it is a huge part of the hobby and is often overlooked by the manufacturers, especially nowadays, with all the importing going on.
The ease with which one can go into a shop and purchase almost anything is mind boggling. However, there is a tradition of keeping the trains running that is being overlooked by many in the hobby. Some of us enjoy working on the trains, almost as much as owning or operating them. For example, in my case, many assume that I am a collector automatically. Nothing could be further from the facts, however. The only reason I acquire trains is for a customer or for reference. I often tell people that I’ve had just about everything Lionel ever built at one time or another. I’m not about to stop being inquisitive, but accumulating things has never been high on my list. I crave train knowledge. Understanding how it works is my thing. So, we continue to build our inventory of train parts for repair jobs, but not the trains themselves.
Many of the new trains, since around 1990, have not seemed to be readily repairable to many of us, and getting the parts to fix them is not easy. For this reason we have elected to concentrate on the trains from our time, which is basically trains produced from around 1930 to 1980. This includes some Prewar trains, some Postwar trains and “Modern Era” trains, produced up until importing got into full swing at Lionel. This is the period that we are most familiar with and therefore it’s the area we are happy working with. The “repairable” trains are of great interest to most people. It is indeed unfortunate that the manufacturers, marketers, and the publishers of related current production train equipment and materials do not recognize this fact.
To ignore the Lionel traditions, of servicing and repairing trains is understandable, but not wise. In my view, it shows a lack of understanding on the part of the new marketing people. It may be a fine way to generate money, but it does not do much for the longevity of the hobby. It is reassuring, however, to see that Lionel has finally produced the #45 repair supplement for those who wish to repair some of the newer trains. The supplements encompass about 30 years of train production, which takes us from the MPC period (early 1970’s) up to the Import period, which is now. Where the hobby goes from here is anybody’s guess, but I think repair people will always be interested in how the trains work and how they can be fixed when they break.
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