Motor Tune-ups 

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Here are basic guidelines to help you take are of your model train motors.  These guidelines apply to all Lionel, American Flyer, Ives, Marx and all other AC model train motors.

Click on the topics below to quickly find what you need.   

  1. How do I properly oil and lubricate my motor?                                
  2. Cleaning the commutator
  3. Care and Feeding of Motor Brushes
  4. Solder Joints - Take care of those wires connections!
  5. Cleaning My Track
  6. Care And Feeding Of Smoke Units

How do I properly oil and lubricate my motor?

Too much lubrication is nearly as bad as not enough.   Too much lubricant will saturate wiring, insulating material and attract dirt and dust.  All of these will greatly shorten the life of your train's electrical components and harm performance. The greatest damage is usually done to the motor bearings, commutator and the brushes.  Once oil finds its way to the commutator, the electrical current passing between the brush and commutator will vaporize the lubricant and glaze the brush surface.  This will increase the resistance between the commutator and the brush.  This will result in higher voltages needed to operate the train and greatly increase the arching between the brush and commutator.  The end result is a damaged commutator and brushes. Always lubricate the train motor and gears with the manufacturer's suggested oil.  If you do not have the manufacturer's oil, a quality oil such as 3 in 1 oil will work well....just remember to use it sparingly.  Do not use WD-40!

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Cleaning the commutator

A clean commutator is vital to an efficient motor.  The commutator should appear copper colored with some dark areas where the brush contacts the commutator's surface. The cleaner the better.  One way of cleaning the commutator is to use an eraser used for inks.   Simply take the eraser and rub it over the surface of the commutator. 

Another effective means of cleaning the commutator is to take a 600 grit sandpaper and rub the surface until it is polished.  Remember, the cleaner the commutator the better the train will run and the more power the train will have.

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Care and Feeding of Motor Brushes

One of the most critical components in your motor are the brushes.  If the brushes are not properly contacting the commutator, high heat, arching and damage to the commutator will result.  One key to good brush performance is to make certain the brush face that contacts the commutator is FLAT.  The greater the surface area contacting the commutator, the more current can be delivered to the armature.  More current means more power.  If the brushes are worn, replace them!

Need new brushes?  The Doc can replace your worn brushes for you.

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Solder Joints - Take care of those wire connections!

A key point to keep in mind, poor electrical connections result in higher electrical resistance.  This means that when power is applied to the poor electrical connection, heat is generated.  Over time, this heat will damage wire insulation and wire enamel.  This is easily kept in check by regularly inspecting your wire connections.  All solder connections should be nice and shiny and have little solder.  A solder joint that is dull silver in color and "clumpy" is more than likely to create problems for your train.  This is a major problem for transformers (see my transformer page).

If a solder joint is questionable, take a soldering iron and apply fresh solder to the joint.  This will help improve the connection and keep your electrical system in top shape.

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Cleaning My Track   

I get a lot of questions regarding the best way to clean dirty track.   First, never use steel wool to clean track.  Why?  If you attempt to use steel wool, the fibers will break off and remain on or near the track.  Not only do you risk creating a short between the center rail insulator and the outer rail power circuit, you also will create a mess when these fibers attach themselves to the magnetic wheels on trains having "Magna Traction"...... a real problem!

So, what I have found to work, is to use those "green scrubby" pads used to clean pots and pans.  Do not use anything having soap imbedded in the pad.  I have used small amounts of rubbing alcohol on the pad and then gently scrub the top surface of the three rails.  

Remember to always use eye protection and gloves when cleaning!!

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Care And Feeding Of Smoke Units

Smoke units require a lot of attention if you want them to last a long time.  This is particularly true of the modern high-heat liquid smoke units found on newer trains.  You do NOT want these to run dry.....I have seen the end result and the charred remains!  If you like smoke, then you need to keep an eye on the smoke output of your trains.  Once the smoke starts to drop is time to add a few drops.  Note, I say drops and not dozens of drops.  Too much smoke fluid will flow into the train and, over the long-term, will make a real mess inside of your train.  

Also, when storing trains, it is a good idea to add 10 drops to keep the fluid pad moist.  Additionally, when placing trains back into service after prolonged storage, it is a good idea to place 10 drops in the smoke unit to reactive the smoke unit.

Now, if you have an older train that uses smoke pellets, these smoke units can be upgraded to the liquid smoke version.  If you would like this done, contact the Doc.  Liquid smoke performs much better than the pellets.

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Last modified: Monday January 11, 2021.

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