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How To Repair An Ives Standard Gauge Toy Train Motor

Updated on July 6, 2012
A look at the brush plate before cleaning
A look at the brush plate before cleaning | Source

The wonderful thing about electric toy train motors from the 1920's and 1930's is that they can be repaired and made operational regardless of what condition they are in after 80-90 years. In fact, there is really only one element of the motors, be they Ives, American Flyer, or Lionel, that will stop a repair cold: a broken armature. Even then, it may be possible to find a spare original or a reproduction on eBay or at train meets. This article looks at an Ives Standard Gauge steam locomotive motor from the later 1920's. Prior to cleaning, it would not run, and shorted the transformer whenever power was applied.

A look at the brush plate and outside frame before cleaning
A look at the brush plate and outside frame before cleaning | Source
Sparkling clean brush assembly, reverse lever and armature
Sparkling clean brush assembly, reverse lever and armature | Source
Clean the coil and field with electrical contact cleaner and a soft bristle tooth brush
Clean the coil and field with electrical contact cleaner and a soft bristle tooth brush | Source

Getting Started

I began by removing the motor and frame from the locomotive body. For this type of Ives motor, the frame is quite long, and the operational parts of the motor are situated at the rear of the frame. The motor parts - the field, armature, coil, reverse lever and electrical collector assembly - were all caked in old grease and dust. With the frame out of the loco, I disassembled all of the parts and placed them in a disposable foil baking pan.

With all of the parts off the frame, I gave them a bath of sorts in the pan using electrical contact degreaser. This is slightly different from contact cleaner in that it is formulated to remove heavy grease and oil from electrical parts. This was necessary due to the years of accumulated gunk on the parts. I paid special attention to the armature. The field and coil are mounted to the motor frame and cannot be easily removed. To clean these parts, I separated the two halves of the frame and cleaned the field and coil using the electrical degreaser and a soft bristle tooth brush. I also took the opportunity to clean the frame itself. For this I used WD-40, a tooth brush and a soft cloth, being careful not to get WD-40 on the field or coil.

Once the frame was clean, and I was satisfied that all the other parts had been sufficiently degreased, I cleaned the electrical components again, this time with the electrical contact cleaner. The electrical contact cleaner will remove and residue left behind by the degreaser and also any overspray from the WD-40. I cleaned the armature several times to ensure that it was fully degreased and free of residue, and also made sure to pay special attention to the commutator - the brass plates on the face of the armature. I used a cotton swab and contact cleaner to clean the plates. For built-up carbon on the plates, you can use a wire brush in a Dremel tool, but you must be careful not to catch any wires from the armature winding, as you can easily destroy an armature by breaking just one of these wires.

The reverse switch on these Ives motors is fairly simple. A moveable lever switches current coming from the electrical collector assembly to one of two brush connections. The lever is sandwiched between two layers of thick Vulcanized paper. One layer has screw terminals to which the brush wires, coil wire and the collector wire attach. One layer has brass brushes that press against the switch making connections. The brass brushes are hollow caps and have springs inserted in them. You must be careful not to lose the caps or springs when taking the switch apart for cleaning. Neither part is currently in production and you'll be making your own replacement parts if you lose one. I cleaned the components of the switch using contact cleaner and the Dremel tool with a wire brush.


With all the parts nice and clean, it was time to reassemble everything. At this time, I also put new heat shrink on the coil wires. Often when you take apart an 80 year old motor, the original insulating wrap has deteriorated significantly or disappeared all together, as was the case with this motor. I also needed to install new wires for the brushes and for the headlight feed. with everything back together and the new wiring in place it is time to test the motor.

A couple of things to note: I do not apply new lubrication to the motor before testing it for the first time. If it does not run, I do not want to have to clean all the parts again when I take it apart to trouble-shoot. Also, you may find the you have to give the armature a little nudge with power applied before it moves. After a few minutes of operation, you should not have to do this again. You may also find that you have to fiddle with the reverse lever a bit to get it in the right position for operation. Often the top and bottom layers of Vulcanized paper are warped, which tossing things out of alignment just enough to require a tweak or two.

With everything back in place, I attached my power leads and applied power. After a little nudge, the motor sprang to life. I tested the reverse lever to ensure proper operation as well.

Satisfied that the motor was functioning properly it was time to reinstall the gears, axels and wheels. After installing those components, I gave the motor a good lube. For lubrication, I make use a light oil on bearings and axels. This motor has two brass bearings that sit on the armature rod, which I lubricated. I use a silicone lube on the gears and a light oil on the roller bearings for the axels. After lubricating, I placed the motor on a loop of standard gauge track and let her run for about ten minutes in each direction. This serves to work the lubrication in to the moving parts and tells me if I have any shorts. I can also get a feel for how well the motor will perform and whether or not it is getting hot. after runner the motor, I add another drop of oil to the armature bearings for good measure. With my motor running, I can reassemble the locomotive and put her in to operation.

The super simple design of these motors makes them easy to service and repair. Most parts are available on eBay, through online parts retailers or at train meets like the TCA meet in York, should you be missing a component. To keep the motor running at peak efficiency, I will lubricate regularly and keep the armature and field clean. I know that this motor will run for another 80 years. Wish I could say the same for some of today's toy train with their circuit boards and computer chips!


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