Re-wiring a Lionel ZW

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  • Member since
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  • From: Eastern PA
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Re-wiring a Lionel ZW
Posted by steamwhistle on Thursday, October 05, 2017 8:53 AM

I recently purchased a post war Lionel ZW.  I have a new power cord, rollers, diodes and a breaker, but while I'm in there I noticed the insulation is not the best.

So my question is . . . for those who re-wired their ZW's, what gauge wire is the original and what did anyone use?

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Posted by cwburfle on Thursday, October 05, 2017 10:27 AM

What insulation is not the best?
There are a few sections of "hook up" wire here and there inside a ZW transformer.
Many of the wires come from the core transformer and have sleeving placed over them.
Older ZW transformers may also have a length of nichrome wire covered by a sleeve that looks like asbestos to me.

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  • From: Eastern PA
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Posted by steamwhistle on Friday, October 06, 2017 7:27 AM

To my eye, the hook-up wires.  After a closer look, it appears to me that most of the wires have just a sleeve, and not really insulation.

They only really look frayed toward the solder joint.  I attached a photo of what's typical of the wiring.

Should I even mess with it?

 ZW Wiring

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Posted by TrainLarry on Friday, October 06, 2017 10:21 AM

The photo link is bad.

As long as the insulation/sleeving is intact, and the wiring is not touching each other or any metal part of the transformer, the transformer is OK.

Larry

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Posted by steamwhistle on Friday, October 06, 2017 10:25 AM

My apologies for the photo.  I've never tried to attach one before and obviously failed.  I will try and figure out what went wrong.

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Posted by cwburfle on Friday, October 06, 2017 10:28 AM

Your picture link is not working for me.

To make a specific accurate comment, I'd have to see the photos. But I will make a couple of general comments.

It is not uncommon for the ends of the sleeving that is placed over the wires that are integral to the transformer's windings to be a little frayed on the ends. They would have to be badly frayed / exposing a lot of bare wire before I'd even consider replaced the sleeving. The wires themselves really cannot be replaced.

Generally Lionel used wire with "pushback" insulation as hookup wires. The insulation on pushback wire also gets frayed on the end. This wire can be replaced, but inless there is a hazard, I wouldn't.

I have serviced many Lionel and American Flyer transformers. I cannot recall a time where hookup wires or sleeving had to be replaced due to fraying. Power cords almost always do need replacing due to dried out insulation. Even when the cord does not appear to have any cracks, just give the cord a sharp bend, and the cracking starts.

I don't like to encourge people to do their own work on transformers. IMHO, only people who are very comfortable working around house voltage, and experienced soldering and desoldering should even attempt it. 

I don't think I've ever seen a list of all the things that should be inspected when servicing a ZW transformer. The Lionel service manual is a good start, but I don't think it covers everything. I think they assume a certain level of starting knowledge.

Maybe if enough people chime in on this thread?

I'll start:

Make certain that both whistle controls move smoothly and snap back to their center position when released.

 

 

  • Member since
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  • From: Eastern PA
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Posted by steamwhistle on Friday, October 06, 2017 10:43 AM

Ok, trying the photo link again . . .

ZW Wiring Photos

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  • From: Eastern PA
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Posted by steamwhistle on Friday, October 06, 2017 11:01 AM

For me, soldering and electrical work are not a problem.  My hesitation is as with anything old being restored for what I'll call "holiday" use is . . . how much is enough?

My checklist:

  • Replace the AC cord - almost a must.
  • Replace the old circuit breaker - almost a must.
  • Replace the whistle discs with diodes - just my preference.
  • Replace the rollers and clean the windings of carbon build-up.
  • Clean the other contacts with a good electical contact cleaner.
  • Inspect the wiring.

 

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Posted by cwburfle on Friday, October 06, 2017 12:04 PM

If you cannot test the original circuit breaker, I guess the next best thing is to replace it. Regardless, you should be aware that the internal circuit breaker is only designed to protect the transformer itself, and there are many ways to accidentally create a short circuit that does not pass through the breaker. Therefore, many people, myself included, recommend using a seperate external circuit breaker on each power terminal, "A", "B", "C", and "D".
I use Postwar Lionel #91 adjustable electromagnetic circuit breakers. There are many other options.
If you are running modern stuff with electronics, most also recommend the use of "TVS" devices.

Please be certain to check your whistle controls. I recently had a ZW on my bench that had a whistle control stick partway. This caused an internal short and the transformer got hot enough to smoke. (not protected by the internal breaker)

Your picture is now visible. The only frayed wire insulation that is apparent to me is the one covered with white insulation. That is the resistance wire for the whistle control circuit. I am fairly certain that the covering is asbestos. I would leave it alone, and avoid disturbing it as much as possible.
The yellow sleeving, which is frayed a bit, is covering one of those wires that come directly out of the core transformer. It looks fine to me.

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