Here are a few guidelines for performing cleaning and routine maintenance of your model trains. Regardless of whether you have a Lionel set or any other brand, performing maintenance helps avoid trouble later on.
For Lionel set locomotives, maintenance checks can be performed by removing the cover to see the inside. To remove the cover on steam engines, you must first remove the screw located underneath the smokestack. For diesel engines, remove the body by spreading at the sides so that the pins will be released then pull upward. Then flip the locomotive upside down to clean the wheels. You can use an X-acto blade to peel off the layers of grime. You can use an eraser pad to finish removing dirt and debris from the wheels of your model trains.
In addition to clean wheels, locomotives need oil applied to the moving parts to keep them lubricated and working properly. It is recommended to refer to your owner’s manual for instructions on applying oil. When applying the oil, keep a close watch to prevent over-oiling since excess oil has the tendency to drip out and can disrupt the electrical conductivity if it drips on your rails. Thin oil is recommended, such as 3-in-1.
Another part of the locomotive that requires cleaning is the commutator and the brushes. If these parts are not cleaned, dirt and dust can build up preventing the motor from picking up electrical power. Eventually, the locomotive will fail to operate. However, this cleaning is only needed about once a year with normal use. A technique for cleaning the commutators is to have the locomotive run slowly without the body. Then apply Rail-Zip cleaner to a rag and use that to clean the commutator as it spins. The brushes also need cleaning. These can be cleaned by spraying them with television tuner cleaner, which can be purchased from electronics stores. Allow the cleaning solution to drip of and wipe the area dry. After cleaning you are ready to put the body back on.
The wheels of freight cars also require routine maintenance. Even with shining rails and running locomotives, every Lionel set still needs clean wheels to run smoothly. An easy way to get the wheels cleaned is by mounting a straight section of track onto an 18-inch, 2×4 board. Then put a paper towel or rag and place it over the heads of the rails and drip rubbing alcohol onto the rag. Next, trickle a few drops of Goo-Gone onto rails before running the cars on the rails a few times. Continue running the locomotive back and forth over the rails until the wheel look clean and shiny.
Lionel train sets are built to last. Customer satisfaction levels are among the highest of any brand of model trains. Nevertheless, even the best train sets and locomotives require maintenance and cleaning to continue to operate smoothly. Following these procedures can ensure years of happy railroading.