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How to Clean a Lionel Train Locomotive

Updated on July 2, 2012

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Service Your Locomotives

Basic maintenance will help keep your fleet of locomotives running smoothly. I perform maintenance on all my Lionel and MTH engines every six weeks. You may not need to do it more than once every two or three months, depending on how much operating time they get. I do the “scheduled” maintenance on the whole fleet regardless of operating time so I know that everything has been serviced and is ready to run. In addition to the regular six week once over, I do an annual deep cleaning, which is more involved and will be covered in another post.

Basic maintenance involves cleaning the rollers, oiling the axels, checking power connections and cleaning the smoke unit. If I know of a specific issue with an engine, like a burnt lamp or worn traction tire, I take care of it at this time.

Begin by removing the loco shell and diving inside. I go straight for the smoke unit. After removing the cover, I clean out the smoke fluid reservoir and replace the wicking material if necessary. You can replace the material with pieces of tiki torch wick or absorbent foam material. You’ll want to avoid using cotton balls or anything that may easily scorch when heated. (An old timer I know used to cut out pieces of fiberglass ceiling tile to replace smoke wicks. Unusual choice, but it worked.)


A drop of oil will do just fine
A drop of oil will do just fine
My preference
My preference
A clean smoke unit is a happy smoke unit
A clean smoke unit is a happy smoke unit
A foam cradle helps protect delicate parts
A foam cradle helps protect delicate parts

Clean The Contacts

After I’ve cleaned out the smoke reservoir and replaced the wick if needed, I check all of the connections in the loco. I make sure all the boards are seated properly and make sure all of the wire harnesses are plugged in tight. I will also replace the 9v battery in Lionel locos if the engine is equipped with RailSounds. (MTH locos with ProtoSound get a good charging.) I also check to make sure that there is nothing inside the frame that could cause a problem like dust, smoke fluid, oil, and clean out whatever foreign junk I may find. With the inside done, it is time to put the shell back on and lubricate the trucks.

I turn the loco over in my cradle and examine my trucks next. Using some electrical contact cleaner on a cotton swap, I clean the roller pickups and the wheels that do not have traction tires. I also like to check the gears for gunk and stuff that should be there. Engines with can-style motors generally do not have free turning wheels, so I will apply a little bit of power (using leads off a transformer) to turn my wheels and get a good look at the gears. You can easily remove old grease and gunk from gears with a toothpick. I do not spray contact cleaner directly on to the truck, wheels or gears as it can run down and in to the components inside the engine, which could cause problems. always spray the cleaner on something else, like a cotton swab, before using it on the engine. With the wheels and gears cleaned and checked, I use a drop of No. 7 light oil on the drive axels and on the outside of the roller brackets where the pin the holds the roller in place protrudes. Never put oil on the roller or to the inside of the bracket as you will hamper your electrical connection. I will use white lithium grease applied with a tooth pick to grease the gears. When she is all greased, I turn her over and get her ready for a test.

I use a cardboard tube as a test stand. You could use anything that will allow you to keep the loco elevated, give access to the trucks and rollers, and keep her steady while under power. With my loco on my tube, I attach ground and hot leads off the transformer to the trucks and pickup rollers. I add about 15 drops of smoke fluid to my freshly cleaned reservoir. (I wait until she is right-side-up to do this so I don’t get smoke fluid everywhere.) I apply low power for about five minutes to move the grease and oil around. If the loco doesn’t stall, and everything sounds right, I increase the power for another five minutes to get the smoke unit going. Once I am satisfied she is smoking and running fine, I turn off the power and send her on her way.


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      Sandra 3 years ago

      privet alanchik! nigdkoa tebya tak ne nazyvala, no seichas pochemu to ochen zajotelosb4. spasibo tebe za ssylku. mne vsegda nravilosb4 kak ty pishesh. y moi edinstvennyi comentarii SUPER! prochitala chto ty v bolnitse. zajotelosb4 tebya uvidetb4. letom planiruyu priejatb4 domoi. s muzhem. uvidimsya. seichas v madride. skoro sobirayusb4 v kitai. pochti god budu zhit v shankhae. ty popravlyaisya! krepko obnimayu! madina totoeva