American Flyer Smoke Unit - Replacing the Wick and Coil

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American Flyer Smoke Unit - Replacing the Wick and Coil
Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, November 04, 2010 7:00 PM

As I indicated in a previous message that I posted about two weeks ago, my 62-year old American Flyer steam engine was no longer producing smoke.  Every time I added a few drops of smoke fluid, I would get a little smoke for a few seconds, then nothing.

 

I went onto the Portlines web site and read their write up on repairing smoke units.  The first sentence read, “The primary problem with smoke units that work fine when first filled, but quickly quit, is that the wick is hardened”.

 

When I open the bottom of my smoke unit and looked at the 62-year old wick, it looked and felt like a taffy bar.  So, I ordered a new wick, coil, and threading tool from Portlines.

 

The instructions for removing and replacing the wick and coil on the Portlines web site are thorough and easy to understand.   At first, it seems daunting because there are 20 steps in the process.  But, these 20 steps are really only 5 main steps: open and clean smoke unit, insert wick and coil, solder coil to lugs, test for smoke, close and re-assemble smoke unit.

 

I followed these steps, and the result was awesome, more smoke than I even remember as a kid.  I tried to photograph the smoke, but the results were poor.  So, I will video it later and post the video.

 

Anyhow, here are some photos of the entire process.  Incidentally, this is a smoke in boiler unit.

 

The first 5 steps involve opening and cleaning the smoke unit.  That dark brown stuff inside the top chamber of the smoke unit is insulation so the wire coil doesn’t short out on the metal frame of the smoke unit.  I used a can of aerosol air to blow away all of the debris that I had to scrape off.

 

Here is the top of the smoke unit.  I cut the wires to the headlight to make it easier to work.

 

 

 

Here is the top of the unit with the cover off.

 

 

 

Here is the bottom of the unit with the cover off.

 

 

The next 6 steps involve inserting the wick and coil in the smoke unit.

 

Here is a photo of the wick with the coil wrapped around the center portion.  The wick is 12 inches long.

 

 

 

Here is a close-up of the coil.

 

 

This photo shows the ends of the wires with the probes of my ohmmeter touching them.

 

 

Resistance of the uncut wire measured over 100 ohms, too high to produce smoke, so I cut it down because the ends of the wire coil were too long anyway.  That got me to 80 ohms.  Then, I removed 3 windings and that brought the reading down to 36 ohms, right in the 35 to 40 ohm range recommended for good smoke output.

 

I then used the threading tool from Portlines to pull the wick through the holes in the smoke unit between the top and bottom chambers.  Here is a picture of the threading tool.  It is nothing more than a plastic handle and a wire loop.

 

 

I wet the ends of the wick first and twisted the ends tightly.  As Portlines suggested, I cut off the ends of the wick, about two inches on each end, leaving me with about 8 inches of wick.  Then, I put the threading tool through the hole and, in literally a few seconds, I had the wick completely pulled through.  That threading tool was magic.  Here is a photo.

 

 

The instructions on the Portlines web site say to drill the holes larger if threading was a problem, but I had no such problem.  I left the original holes alone.

 

The next 4 steps are to feed the ends of the wires through the solder lugs on the top cover and then solder them in place.  I did that with ease but you have to be sure to pull the ends of the wire all the way through without lifting the entire coil too much.  At first, I accidentally wedged the wire between the smoke unit and the top cover, which would have shorted out the wire, but I caught my mistake in time.

 

If you are counting, that is 15 steps down and 5 to go. 

 

The next step is to test the smoke unit before re-assembly.  I skipped that step.  It either was going to work or it wasn’t going to work.

 

The last 4 steps are the re-assembly of the smoke unit.  The instructions caution against jamming too much wick in the lower chamber of the smoke unit, so I cut another 1 inch off each end of the wick.  So, the original 12 inch wick wound up being 6 inches installed - - the same length as the original wick installed back in 1948, in my case.

 

Here is a photo of the re-assembled smoke unit.

 

 

 

This entire 20-step process was a lot easier and a lot faster than I expected.  One word of advice, though, and that is to purchase the $3.50 threading tool.  There is no way it could be done without such a tool or at least something similar.  

 

As I promised earlier, I will make a short video of the smoke production and post it a little later.

 

Hope some of you will find this helpful. 

 

Rich

 

 

 

 

Alton Junction

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Posted by Sturgeon-Phish on Thursday, November 04, 2010 7:57 PM

Rich,

I've replaced 4 or 5 units and your pictures are right on.  The threading tool would make it a lot easier.  I agree to get one if you are ordering the wick.  If memory serves me, that looks a lot like a sewing needle threader that may be sold at a sewing store like Jo Ann fabric or the like.

Thanks for the pictures, you taught me a couple of things!

Jim

  • Member since
    January, 2010
  • From: Bayville NJ
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Posted by AF53 on Thursday, November 04, 2010 10:13 PM

Nice job, thanks!

Ray

Bayville, NJ

 

Life is what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans - John Lennon

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Posted by Timboy on Friday, November 05, 2010 7:37 AM

Rich:  Nicely done!

Timboy

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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, November 05, 2010 2:56 PM

Thanks to all for viewing the post and for your kind words.

This was my first attempt and I was certainly pleased with the results.

I will have up a video in a few minutes.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, November 11, 2010 8:57 PM

Rich,

           Thanks for posting this.  I used this as a refresher before I tore into a 302 last night to do a smoke unit rebuild.  I drilled the two holes out with a 1/8" bit, which is as big as possible without disturbing the surrounding area.  This should remove the restriction in the wick and allow fluid to flow faster.  I forgot to order the threading tool, so I used one of those plastic floss threaders from the dentist.  It looks real similar to the loop end of the threading tool, and made pulling the wick through to the lower chamber very easy.

  • Member since
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  • From: Dearborn Station
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Posted by richhotrain on Friday, November 12, 2010 7:33 AM

green97probe

Rich,

           Thanks for posting this.  I used this as a refresher before I tore into a 302 last night to do a smoke unit rebuild.  I drilled the two holes out with a 1/8" bit, which is as big as possible without disturbing the surrounding area.  This should remove the restriction in the wick and allow fluid to flow faster.  I forgot to order the threading tool, so I used one of those plastic floss threaders from the dentist.  It looks real similar to the loop end of the threading tool, and made pulling the wick through to the lower chamber very easy.

Jim,

Good to hear from you. I wondered where you were on this thread.

I agree that a 1/8" bit would be the max to drill out those two holes.  I had a 5/32" bit on hand, but it appeared to be too big and would reach into the side wall of the smoke chamber. 

I never thought about the dental floss threaders.  We have a bunch on hand at home that we get free every time we have our 6 month teeth cleanings at the dentist.  I think that I will call Doug at Portlines and demand my $3.50 back.  LOL

Rich

Alton Junction

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