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Maintaining Your Vintage Lionel Steam Engine

Updated on September 10, 2014

As an avid model train enthusiast I spend plenty of time maintaining an repairing train engines.I purchased this Lionel 8602 Steam Engine on ebay along with some rolling stocks cars and was so happy when they finally arrived.But, as with all older trains I needed to do a little bit of maintenance to get this engine in running order. Here's what I did!

The Problem with the Lionel Steam Engine

I immediately took the steam engine to my O gauge layout in the basement to test it out. The steam engine ran but made a high-pitched squealing sound as it went down the track that changed in intensity with the speed. Time for some maintenance!

Retro Lionel Steam Engines need maintenance

Since this steam engine was built in the late 1980s it should come as not surprise that it should need some cleaning and lubrication after almost thirty years. Fear not! I will show you how easy it is to get an old Lionel steam engine back into tip-top shape!


The first thing we need to do is disassemble the steam engine for cleaning. We start by removing the front wheel assembly. There are two screws that hold this assembly in place. See area circled in the picture for screw placement.

Removing the front wheel assembly

Removing the screws to the front wheel assembly should allow you remove the motor and gear mechanism that drives the wheels. Be careful not to loose spring circled in the picture.

Careful, light bulb is fragile

Also be careful not to damage the bulb that illuminates the front of the steam engine.

Remove pushrods from wheels

Next you will need to remove the pushrods from the wheels.

The notorius E-unit

Here is a picture of what is known as the e-unit. Only Lionel steam engines that can run on AC current have them. They switch direction of the motor when AC current is disrupted momentarily. Typically this device requires no maintenance.

The motor/gear assembly

Here is a picture of the motor/gear assembly. The motor in my Lionel 8602 steam engine is an open frame type that can run on either AC or DC. Lionel steam engines with an enclosed can style motor and no e-unit can only run on DC current.

Cleaning the steam engine shell

The first thing I do in my cleaning/lubrication is to thoroughly clean the steam engine shell with a toothbrush. Take care not to brush too hard on the numbers painted on the side of the steam engine. I then dry the steam engine shell with an automotive chamois.

Do not lose the tiny parts!

Make sure you place all of tiny parts in a bin so that you don't lose them.

Hair and carpet fibers bad!

There were a lot of hair and carpet fibers on the gear shafts and axles so I used tweezers to remove this debris. Note, it is not a good idea to setup a train on a carpeted area the oiled gears and axles will pickup carpets fibers.

Q-tips are not just for your ears!

I then used Q-tips to remove all of the excess oil that was splattered on the motor/gear chassis. You have to be careful when using the Q-tips not to introduce cotton fibers into the works.

Lionel Train Sets on eBay

You can always find great deals on vintage Lionel Train sets on eBay!

Clean them dirty wheels

I also used Q-tips to clean the dirt/debris from the wheels.

Cleaning the wheels and pickup rollers

Next it is time to clean the wheels and pickup roller with contracts the center rail. It is important that the wheels and pickup rollers be clean so they make good electrical contract to the track. I place a small amount of Rail Zip on a paper towel, put the paper towel over the track and push the locomotive motor/gear assembly over the track. You should continue to do this until the wheels do not leave any black marks on the paper towel.

Lubricate the armature bearing

Next it is time to lubricate the armature bearing. I recommend using Labelle 107 medium oil; it is meant for hobbyists and doesn’t damage plastics. Place one drop of oil the armature bearing on the side of the motor where the brushes are located. Do not over-lubricate a single drop of oil will do.

Lionel Lubrication and Maintenance Set

Lionel Model Train Accessories, Maintenance Kit
Lionel Model Train Accessories, Maintenance Kit
This is a great product. I purchased this shortly after I created this Lens. It has everything you need to maintain a model railroad.

Lubricate the armature bearing at gear drive

Also place one drop of oil on the armature bearing where the drive gear is located.

Lubricate the gear shaft

Please a small amount of oil on the gear shaft.

Lubricate the wheel axles

Finally place a drop of oil at each point where the wheel axle is in contact with the gear/motor frame.

Grease the drive gear

Next it is times to apply a small dab of grease to the drive gear. I recommend Labelle 106 grease, it is made for hobbyists and does not harm plastics. Once you place a dab of grease on the gear slowly move the wheels to work it in.

Grease the intermediate gear

Next it is time to apply a small dab of grease to the intermediate gear. Once you place a dab of grease on the gear slowly move the wheels to work it in.

Clean the wheels on the front wheel assembly

Next it is time to clean the wheels on the front wheel assembly. Once again I put some Rail Zip on a paper towel, place the paper towel over the track and move the wheels back and forth until the wheels do not leave any black streaks on the paper towel.

Lubricate the axles on the front wheel assembly

I put a drop of oil where the axle contacts the front wheel assembly.


Time for reassembly, turn the steam engine shell upside down and slide the motor/gear assembly into the slot at the rear. The front wheel assembly has a part that extends to hold the front of the motor/gear assembly in place. See area circled in the picture.


All done, time to retest the steam engine on your layout. I bet the high-pitched squealing sound has gone away and your locomotive is running like new. With a little patients and time you too can get your vintage Lionel locomotive to run like new!

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Hi - I have a question for you. Is it possible to replace the black plastic gear that is located between the two main wheels? It's the gear you are oiling in the image labeled, Lubricate the gear shaft. And where would I find a replacement. Thanks.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      6 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Very nice work here! My brother still has the train we grew up with, a 1952 Berkshire engine, it still runs today!!

    • Tricia Deed profile image

      Tricia Deed 

      6 years ago from Orlando, Florida

      We have a Lionel train. I think your instructions were very clear. Good job.

    • divacratus 2 profile image

      divacratus 2 

      10 years ago

      I liked the way you described everything so clearly along with pictures! Really interesting.


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