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How to Change Traction Tires on a Lionel Steam Locomotive

Updated on July 2, 2012


Side rod and side rod screw
Side rod and side rod screw
Traction tires
Traction tires
Rear-most wheel has the traction tire on most steam engines
Rear-most wheel has the traction tire on most steam engines
Use a small blade screw driver to free the tire from the wheel and to hold up the side rod for removal
Use a small blade screw driver to free the tire from the wheel and to hold up the side rod for removal
Installation is simply the reverse of removal
Installation is simply the reverse of removal

Changing tires

If you're not a reader of manuals, you may not realize that your Lionel or MTH locomotive comes with a set of replacement traction tires. Traction tires are rubber bands that wrap around the drive wheels on a steam or diesel locomotive. Virtually all gauges of toy train locomotive have traction tires. They may take eons to wear out, depending on how often you run your trains, but they do wear out and it is simple to change them.

Start with putting the locomotive in a safe place. I use a foam cradle specially designed for train repair. This article will focus on steam locomotive replacement and it uses a Lionel "baby" Berkshire - Polar Express to be specific. The same methods are used for steam engines made by MTH, Williams by Bachmann, and any other manufacturer that equips their locos with traction tires.

Locate the tires on the drive wheels. Using a small nut driver or small pliers, remove the screw holding the side rod in place on the wheel with the tire. On most locos, this will be the rear-most drive wheel.

Use a small blade screw driver to remove the tire from the wheel. Use the screw driver to gently pull the side rod away from the wheel, just enough to get the old tire out. Next, with the rod still held away from the wheel, slip the new tire under the rod and position it to be install. Use the screw driver to help in getting the new rubber tire around the wheel. With the new tire in place, reinstall the side rod screw and move to the other side.

Diesel Locomotives

Changing the traction tire on a diesel is similar. You need to loosen or remove the side frames for the trucks (that hold the traction wheel sets). The side frames are typically 2-piece assemblies that screw in to the underside of the power trucks. With the side frames out of the way, use the screw driver technique to remove the old traction tire and install the new one. Once you have the new tires installed, reinstall the side frames.

Have You Checked Your Tires?

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  • All manufacturers of modern O Gauge locomotives ship spare traction tires with their engines.
  • Pre-War and Post-War Lionel and American Flyer locomotives did not use traction tires; Only engines manufactured in the last 35 years use traction tires .
  • When changing a tire, change all the tires on the engine to ensure all tires have the same wear.
  • If you have a loco that appears to have a grooved wheel, you're likely missing a traction tire.
  • Most manufacturers sell traction tire replacement parts direct.
  • Check your tires on a regular basis, especially if you run your engines frequently. A worn tire can cause problems operating and a tire that comes off while an engine is running can get caught in the motor or gears.
  • Keeping your traction tires in tip top shape will ensure countless hours of operational fun.


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