Prewar lionel repair struggles

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Prewar lionel repair struggles
Posted by Sweetchuck on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 8:58 AM

I recently inherited my grandfathers 385e lionel train. According to my father it has not been run in over 50 years (when he was ~10). I've done my best to clean it out, replaced the wires that had crumbled apart. Fixed the plug on the transformer. However I have hit a roadblock and could use some help.

When I use a 9 volt battery the motor spins pretty well and the 2 lights come on (which is amazing they still work). When I hook it up to the transformer (Trainmaster R type which I used a DMM to confirm is putting out AC) the motor seems confused as to which way it should spin for a second or two and then just stops. I tried to look into if this train requires DC and it doesnt seem to be the case, but I'm burning up 9volt batteries testing it so I need to figure out what is wrong...

I have no experience with model trains, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

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Posted by Firelock76 on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 7:05 PM

That is very strange, by all rights a 385E should run on AC voltage but you say it runs fine with DC.

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, that 385E was made for a part of the country where DC voltage was in common use, and not AC.  Prior to World War Two that wasn't unusual.  Aside from that, I'm stumped.

Lionel did make DC to AC inverters for homes with DC voltage, but when they started doing so I don't know. 

A hint, instead of killing batteries try running it with an HO transformer, those are DC output.

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Posted by ADCX Rob on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 9:38 PM

Sweetchuck
...I've done my best to clean it out, replaced the wires that had crumbled apart...

It sounds like you have shunt wired / parallel wired the field and armature/rotor. This will let the motor run on DC with a considerable current draw... killing 9v batteries very quickly.

Rewire the motor so the the field and armature are in series, and it will run on AC OR DC.

Here is a simple diagram of a typical Lionel AC/DC series wound motor:

 

Switch the brush connections to run in the opposite direction.

Rob

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Posted by Firelock76 on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 9:45 PM

Does that man know his stuff, or what?

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Posted by lionelsoni on Thursday, September 28, 2017 8:37 AM

I've never heard of a Lionel inverter.  Before the war they did sell voltage reducers, number 107 for 110 volts and 170 for 220, which were essentially giant asbestos-insulated potentiometers and could be lethal.  Although Lionel denied it, they could be used with either AC or DC; but they would not change DC to AC nor AC to DC.

 

Bob Nelson

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Posted by Sweetchuck on Thursday, September 28, 2017 9:04 AM

Thank you all for your responses! I can tell I came to the right place.

Firelock76: I almost ordered one on amazon last night after reading your comment (and may still just for testing), but after taking the train apart again it ran for a few seconds on AC. This makes me think ADCX Rob may be right, there could very well be a short in the circuit I repaired. 

ADCX Rob: This is perfect, If im interpretting it correctly, i can just bypass the e-unit while i diagnose the issue? I'm thinking that is where the short is. 

lionelsoni: I'm pretty sure it is an AC train. My grandfather would have had a dc transformer (unless the through it away) it seems if that was the case. Half of the reason I'm doing this though is for my 8 month old to have a fun Christmas tradition with the train, so I certainly hope this is not an asbestos model. 

 

Thank you all for the continued feedback, this project runs a fine line between exciting and daunting each night!

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Posted by rrswede on Thursday, September 28, 2017 9:30 AM

Am not familiar with a 385E but here is a link to Olsen's wiring diagram for it.

http://olsenstoy.com/cd/b123/000219.pdf

swede

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Posted by rlbarnard on Thursday, September 28, 2017 10:11 AM

Regarding Inverters:

This is from a 1941 Lionel manual -

"For homes having Direct Current, Lionel manufactures two Inverters: No. 171 for 110-125 volts D.C., and No. 172 for 210-250 volts D.C."

Take care,

Dick

 

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Posted by lionelsoni on Thursday, September 28, 2017 10:38 AM

Very interesting.  I thought that if such a thing existed, it would need to be a motor-generator set to run toy-train loads.  But it seems like they used a vibrator, which were was the way that automobile radios got enough plate voltage for their vacuum tubes when I was a kid.

Here is the parts list for the things:

http://pictures.olsenstoy.com/cd/1942%5Ca082.pdf

And here is a not-very-revealing picture:

Bob Nelson

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Posted by Firelock76 on Thursday, September 28, 2017 2:02 PM

rlbarnard

Regarding Inverters:

This is from a 1941 Lionel manual -

"For homes having Direct Current, Lionel manufactures two Inverters: No. 171 for 110-125 volts D.C., and No. 172 for 210-250 volts D.C."

Take care,

Dick

 

 

A DC toAC inverter is pictured in the 1936 Lionel catalog, the "No.171 DC to AC Inverter."

A black, boxy thing that looks like something out of a high school science lab the catalog says:

"At long last, boys living in districts supplied with direct current may now enjoy all the advantages of alternating current- the Lionel whistle, remote control reverse, automatic switches, etc."

I won't go any further as the page of that '36 catalog is reproduced in reduced size in my pre-war Lionel train guide and I have to do the Ben Franklin thing of sliding my glasses to the end of my nose and squinting over them!  My head's starting to hurt!

Oh, price of the unit at the time was $12.50.  Not cheap for that era.

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Posted by lionelsoni on Thursday, September 28, 2017 5:16 PM

Dick sent me a pdf of that 1941 manual--thanks!

I disagree with the blurb from the 1936 catalog.  The only feature itemized that wouldn't work on DC is the whistle.  Reversing and switches should work just fine.

Bob Nelson

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Posted by Firelock76 on Thursday, September 28, 2017 6:03 PM

lionelsoni

Dick sent me a pdf of that 1941 manual--thanks!

I disagree with the blurb from the 1936 catalog.  The only feature itemized that wouldn't work on DC is the whistle.  Reversing and switches should work just fine.

 

I'm sure you're correct, but whoever wrote the blurb for the '36 catalog is dead by now and beyond caring whether he got it right, so it really doesn't matter at this point.

I just remembered, American Flyer made an inverter as well, saw one pictured in a CTT magazine maybe a year ago.  I think it was in a "What IS This Thing?" question column.

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Posted by Penny Trains on Thursday, September 28, 2017 7:46 PM

rrswede
Am not familiar with a 385E

They used the standard Lionel supermotor.

A waking Lithium Flower just about to bloom

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Posted by Firelock76 on Thursday, September 28, 2017 9:09 PM

Man, that's one fat little engine!

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Posted by ADCX Rob on Monday, October 02, 2017 8:58 AM

Sweetchuck
... i can just bypass the e-unit while i diagnose the issue? I'm thinking that is where the short is...

That's the easiest & quickest way to get the motor running and start isolating the issue.

Rob

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Posted by Sweetchuck on Monday, October 02, 2017 9:28 AM

ADCX Rob

 That's the easiest & quickest way to get the motor running and start isolating the issue.

 

 
Thank you! I bypassed it and worked a little harder to clean the brushes (they will definetly need replacing) but it is running now!!! it may have been getting stuck, or it may be a bad/shorted e-unit. The light bulbs work intermitently (I'm thinking dirty switch on the backside of the train).
 
I may just leave it like this for a little while so I can enjoy it, but I suppose the next step is buying a new e-unit. Is there a way to test mine with a dmm? 
 
Thanks again for all the responses. 
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Posted by Firelock76 on Monday, October 02, 2017 7:00 PM

Testing an E-unit with an electric meter is pretty easy. With power to the track check the "in" voltage to the E-unit, then go to the "out" wire from the E-unit.  If no juice is getting through there's your answer.

I had an E-unit die in a shower of sparks on a post-war 224.  I wasn't sure where the light show came from and checked the E-unit in the manner I described. Yep, blown unit. I removed the unit and wired the pick-up direct to the motor.  It runs just fine forward-only and doesn't miss the E-unit at all.  One day I'll replace the unit but I'm in no rush.

I should say it runs forward now.  First time I tried it I messed up and it ran backward!

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Posted by phrankenstign on Thursday, October 12, 2017 4:51 PM

Firelock76
I won't go any further as the page of that '36 catalog is reproduced in reduced size in my pre-war Lionel train guide and I have to do the Ben Franklin thing of sliding my glasses to the end of my nose and squinting over them!  My head's starting to hurt!

 

One time, I was finding it impossible to figure out what the tiny text stated on a battery.  After struggling for awhile, I decided to try putting it on my scanner.  I ws surprised at how easy it was to read the text once I zoomed into it.

A different time after that, my son was trying to read some text off something.  He has an iPhone, so I asked him, "Why don't you take a picture of it, and then zoom in.  He tried it, and he had the same success I'd had with my scanner.

That ended my struggles of trying to read tiny text.  If it doesn't fit on my scanner, I I must acquit.....wait.....I mean I use my son's iPhone.  Otherwise, the scanner it is!

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Posted by lionelsoni on Friday, October 13, 2017 9:15 AM

Chuck, do you have the means to post a few close-ups of the e-unit?  We may be able to notice something wrong with it, or at least suggest some tests for you to try.

Bob Nelson

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