Category Archives: Maintenance, Repair, and Restoration

Maintenance, Repair, and Restoration

Improving Your Locomotives Performance

Improving Your Locomotives Performance

Couplers: Older rolling stock and locomotives were typically equipped with primitive coupler devices (known as ‘horn’ couplers in HO and ‘Rapido’ couplers in N) that do not look realistic and never functioned particularly reliably. Also many modern trains with ‘knuckle’ style couplers have flimsy devices that eventually break. you need to replace that equipment with modern spring loaded knuckle couplers to keep your cars together. Some require specialized parts and are more difficult to install. With a few basic tools and a little patience, you can do this yourself.

Wheel sets: Nearly all older trains and more than half of modern trains have plastic wheels. These work fine in N scale (although metal wheels are better) but for HO and O scales, they should be replaced with metal wheels for better performance and a cleaner track.

Trucks: Many trains, old or new, have flimsy ‘trucks’ (the thing that holds the wheels and attaches to the bottom of the train car). For better performance and appearance, these can be replaced by upgraded trucks (which also typically include better wheels). This is often a very simple operation that the consumer can perform at home but it does require the correct truck set. Sometimes installing an improved truck is more challenging and better left to us. Typically a new truck set can be installed for $10.00 even in challenging cases.

Lights: A great many locomotives, most in fact, come with some sort of working headlight. ditch lights, number board lights, reverse lights, cab lights, flashers, and more. Costs vary depending on what is being installed in the model.

Power Pickups: Older trains often don’t have very good electrical pick-up systems to convey power from the track to the motor and other working parts. You can improve the pickup systems. Costs vary depending on the model but estimates are free. Expect to spend at least $40.00, so not every model is worth this modification.

Motors: Many older trains, especially old hand-built brass models, don’t have especially good motors in them and would be greatly enhanced by the installation of modern ‘can’ style efficient motors. Costs vary depending on the model.

Maintaining Your Trains

Maintaining Your Trains

New Trains:

Most locomotives made since 1995 (and many made before then) are nearly maintenance free and need only light lubrication of the axles and motor bearings along with a good cleaning of the wheels and removal of accumulated debris from the moving parts. Once or twice a year for casual users and once a month for heavy users is usually sufficient. This type of maintenance can easily be performed by the customer with the proper equipment and materials. However, improper materials or techniques can damage or destroy a model. If you aren’t sure, ask…

“New Trains” usually take about a half hour to clean and ready for service. We can sell you the equipment: the primary equipment is some sort of wheel cleaner and fine plastic friendly oil. We use the Woodland Scenics Roto-cleaner and Hob-E-Lube Lite Oil for most HO and N scale equipment (other than Marklin). O scale equipment us best cleaned with a cotton swab and alcohol (but not on the traction tires!) and lubricated with Labelle Medium Oil. Some modern trains require regular greasing of the gears and gear boxes (see your manual).

Older HO and N Scale Trains:

Many locomotives made before 1995 and most made before 1970 have ‘open face’ motors which can be (and should be) disassembled for maintenance and which have replaceable motor brushes. These types of motors need regular cleaning and eventually may need replacement of the brushes as well. On most locomotives, the brushes last a LONG time, possibly decades, but they should be inspected when the locomotive is serviced. Older trains also usually require regular greasing of the gearboxes.

Note that some motors have ball bearings so extreme care should be taken when opening them. The bearings are important and can be repacked in grease after service.  Older trains that have been run until they stopped operating. Most of the time, extensive cleaning and re-lubrication will return them to service but it is best for the locomotive if it is kept in good condition all along.

Traction Tires:

Many trains both new and old are equipped with ‘traction tires’ (essentially rubber bands on the tires to improve traction). These wear out over time and have to be replaced. On many models this can be done by the owner and some locomotives include instructions for this procedure. However, some dis-assembly is typically required and some replacement procedures are not obvious.

Locomotives designed with traction tires should NEVER be operated without them!

Traction Tire replacement can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes or longer for a set. Rail Tales has access to most available factory and after-market replacement tires.