Lionel engines can run very well, once you eliminate the problems of
sitting and wire insulation deterioration. Soldering skills
When I buy Postwar, I make sure there are signs of light wear. About 60% of the time they wont run well. There are basic reasons for this.
The primary cause for poor to no running is the brushes have gunk build
up holding them in place. Or the contact plate on the armature has a
lot of gunk. What causes this gunk? Old oil, carbon
buildup and over-oiling. Too many people think oiling where Lionel
did not intend oil to be fixes everything right? When I take the
engine apart, I take off the brush plate from the motor. This may
require some soldering of wires. A little mineral spirits on a Q
tip. Clean the contact plate. The brushes themselves and the
brush holder. OK a lot of Q tips in some cases. Make sure it
is all dry and put it back together. 99% of the time they run great.
E unit troubles may also cause problems. examine the fingers on the e-unit. Do they all look alike, same bends and length. If one is bent funny or short, it may be worn or making poor contact. Is the drum still in place, sometimes the little ends that hold it in place break and the drum moves out of place. In a few cases when the finger contact was the problem I have tried to save the "original" by massaging and cleaning the parts. But it fails eventually. Once an E-unit has trouble, just best to rebuild with new fingers/wires and a new drum. I find the pre-war drums have often fallen apart as that generation plastic did not last 80+ years.
The old pellet style smoke units can last a long time. I find that many previous owners got too anxious and overloaded the unit with pellets. Same thing with the liquid smoke units. When I carefully take them apart, the packing filler under the resister coil itself is a blob of hardened waxy goo. I take out the old packing and throw it away. Clean the unit, put in new packing and put it back together. Warning, this is not easy to do if you are trying to avoid damaging the resister coil. You will have to replace the resister coil if it gets damaged. They usually work ok after that. I even had an engine that someone had used motor oil in. The smoke could make you sick. Took apart the smoke unit, cleaned it, new packing and it worked like new
Check the wires. Is the insulation still good? Wiring before 1960 could be suspect. Many times the original insulation on the wires has hardened and cracked. If it is no longer flexible it usually needs to be replaced. In some cases the insulation is so hard and brittle it easily cracks off. I have found that new shrink wrap tubing of the right size can be used to replace the insulation when replacing the wire is too much of a problem. Usually I just replace the wiring.
Last update Nov 22 2021