Question About 1988 Lionel 8902 Pennsylvania AA Alco

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Question About 1988 Lionel 8902 Pennsylvania AA Alco
Posted by dsb914 on Monday, November 18, 2019 9:35 PM

Hello, everyone:

I'm new here; I originally posted this in the Model Railroader General Discussion forum, but I was informed they don't often discuss Lionel there, so this would probably be a better forum to ask my question. I hope you don't mind if I pick your collective brains with a question. This post will be long so I can give all relevant details; I apologize in advance. A little background: I've had a Lionel 8632 PA Flyer since the 90s, so while I'm not exactly a total newbie, I'm also not fully up on all the lingo for various train parts and whatnot.

I recently inherited two other Lionels upon the death of my grandmother. One is the Lionel 681 with the 2046W-50 Pennsylvania whistling tender from the 50s that was my grandfather's when he was young. It still runs great, including working headlight, except the smoke stack doesn't seem to be working (I think it might be clogged--it has build-up--and I also need to buy the smoke tablets, if they're even still manufactured). So my question isn't about the 681. The other Lionel I inherited is an 8901 (& 8902 dummy) Pennsylvania Double A Alcos (I'm assuming you can probably guess which state I'm from, lol) from 1988. This is the one my question is about: After I hooked everything up, it seemed to run great, except it was locked into forward, so I couldn't go into neutral or reverse; easy enough, I flipped the E-Unit switch and all seemed good. However, after two or three days of seemingly running fine, now any time power is interrupted for any reason, whether it's because I turned it off, there was a car derailment or I press the direction button on the TrainMaster KW transformer I also inherited, the locomotive simply will not move for a period of time. It's like it gets stuck in neutral, which also means no more reverse. I hoped if I switched the E-Unit switch back so I can only go forward--I figured only forward was better than it just sitting in neutral any time power was interrupted--but of course no luck. In fact, the locomotive will only go forward with the switch on one setting; if I flip the switch now, it just stays in neurtal with the headlights on, but not running. And even though I can still go forward some of the time, like I said, if I stop the locomotive for any reason, when I turn it back on, or press the direction button, it does nothing but sit in neutral with the headlights on. I have to let it sit for a while--sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes a half hour or more, and then when I try it again, it will go forward (until, of course, power is interrupted, then it has to sit again for a while before it will run again). Do any of you good, knowledgeable people perhaps know what is causing this? Is it a faulty E-Unit or perhaps a short in one of the actual motors? I've also noticed in the past week or so, even when it does run, sometimes it really struggles. Even if I turn the KW transformer up to 20v, at times it's quite slow. However, I don't believe it's an issue with the electric current in the track nor coming from the KW transformer itself, because I currently have 2 oval track layouts, and it does it on both tracks (though I don't have a voltmeter, so I suppose it's possible, but the others run okay). And the KW transformer also seems to run my 681 and 8632 fine, so I don't believe it's that, either.

I hope I've supplied enough relevant information, but if there are any specific questions, I'll do my best to answer (but please remember: I'm surprised I even know what the E-Unit is, so if it's very technical, I may be lost, lol). Thank you very much for any advice you can offer.

-Dwayne

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  • From: Henrico, VA
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 1:49 PM

Welcome  aboard Dwayne!

A couple of things.  First off, you may have a grouchy E-unit in your ALCO.  I'm assuming this is the old-style electromechanical E-unit.  Assuming there's nothing mechanically wrong with it it may just need a good cleaning.  I've used electrical contact cleaner spray, available in most hardware stores, and had good results, the E-units I've used it on came back to life with no problem.

For the other performance issues I'd try cleaning the wheels and pick-up rollers.  Both can get gunked up over time for various reasons.  I've had some goofy-acting locomotives come right back after a good wheel cleaning.

Goes without saying lubricate the axles and gears.  There's a drive worm gear on the motor that may need fresh grease, but if you don't know how to remove the motor to get at it don't try.  See below.

There may be some motor issues, a possibility since the locomotive is 30 years old.  I'm not going to describe how to do a tear-down and cleaning of the motors and risk getting you in trouble.  It's not hard to do IF you know how to do it or have someone looking over your shoulder who does, but if you don't...

Check with a local hobby shop (if you have one) and see if they have any Lionel repair guides.  If they don't, there's an outstanding Lionel repair video available from TM Books and Videos.  https://www.tmbv.com  Search "Maintenance & Repair Guide for Lionel Electric Trains & Accessories."  It's $9.95 and worth it's weight in gold, trust me!  Everything you need to know, including E-unit repair, but to their credit they don't make E-unit repair look easy, 'cause it ain't!  It's a last resort as far as I'm concerned although others may tell you differently.

Try the cleaning route first, that may be all that's needed.

Good luck!

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Posted by TrainLarry on Tuesday, November 19, 2019 7:18 PM

This seems to be the locomotive you have. It has an electronic 'E' unit, which sounds like it has gone bad. Replace the unit, part #103-1 and proper operation will return. Do the cleaning and lubrication as noted above and you should be all set.

 

Larry

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 7:56 AM

You could be right Larry.  Dwayne won't know for certain until he removes the shell and sees what's under it.

And Dwayne, if it's the electronic E-unit DON'T use the cleaner spray!  You CAN try replugging the connectors, sometimes that works.

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Posted by Penny Trains on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 6:51 PM

Welcome aboard!

I agree with the solid state circuit theory, I believe Lionel had dropped mechanical E-Units as standard by 1988.

As far as the 681 goes, stack looks something like this?

Bust through it with a pointy stick and rub away as much of the build-up as you can and you should be fine.  To clean the wick, put a few drops of acetone or acetone based nail polish remover on it and let it run.  The wick will heat up and the acetone will burn off any build-up.

Becky

Big Smile  I'm Cuckoo For Choo Choo Stuffs!  Big Smile

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Posted by Billwiz on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 7:07 PM

After cleaning the smoke stack you can use smoke fluid instead of pills. 

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Posted by sir james I on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 7:55 PM

Sorry Penny but NO NO NO pointy anything. You can cut the heater core. The crust will melt with heat. Turn it upside down and try a lighter, smoke fluid can be used instead of pellets.

"IT's GOOD TO BE THE KING",by Mel Brooks 

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Posted by TrainLarry on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 8:03 PM

Be careful using a pointy stick down the smokestack. Go too far down and you can break the thin, fragile nichrome wire of the smoke element. Use a blunt end wooden stick. Put the loco in neutral and turn up the voltage. If the heater is good, the pellet material will melt down into the smoke element. When it is melted, run the loco and you should get plenty of smoke.

Be careful using acetone around our trains. It will melt many plastics and dissolve the paint on them. I use and recommend Naphtha. It is an excellent cleaner and degreaser and it is safe for use on all surfaces.

 

Larry

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Posted by dsb914 on Wednesday, November 20, 2019 11:03 PM

Thank you everyone for all the suggestions and guidance.  And yes, Larry, that is exactly the AA Alco locomotive I have. I had previously removed the shell to check if there were any visibly loose wires or anything when I started having these issues and it does, indeed, have the electronic E-unit as shown in that diagram. I have tried using a little track cleaner liquid I have to clean the pick-up rollers, but it didn't make a difference. I'm going to go to a local hobby/train shop tomorrow to get some gear & wheel lubricants and perhaps some other kind of cleaning fluid, so with any luck I can get them to test run my locomotive and see if they have any ideas (I'm pretty sure they do repairs).

Also, yep, Penny, the 681 smokestack looks similar to that, but not quite as bad. I'll try some of the suggestions to unclog it, avoiding anything pointy, and put some of the smoke fluid from my 8632 into it. I didn't know if I could use fluid instead of the pellets, so I appreciate the info. Thanks again everyone for the suggestions. Much appreciated! -Dwayne

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Posted by Penny Trains on Thursday, November 21, 2019 5:54 PM

Sorry, I neglected to mention that the shell should be removed and handled separate from the smoke unit itself.

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Posted by dsb914 on Friday, November 22, 2019 2:57 AM

TrainLarry

This seems to be the locomotive you have. It has an electronic 'E' unit, which sounds like it has gone bad. Replace the unit, part #103-1 and proper operation will return. Do the cleaning and lubrication as noted above and you should be all set.

Larry

I have a little bit of an update, if anyone is still reading this thread & interested! Smile I went to a local train/hobby shop today with hopes of purchasing a replacement bulb for my 8902 dummy AA Alco locomotive (which, thanks to the link of the diagram of parts for "Twin Motored Alco Units, 1-8901 & 1-8903" Larry provided, I know is replacement lamp #161-300), but naturally, as my luck would have it, he didn't carry the bulb, but can order it for me. However, while there, I also purchased a squeeze bottle of Excelle Lubricants NLGI #2 PTFE Grease and XL Light Conductive Model Penetrating Oil. And even though you fine people told me I didn't need to (and I do believe you), I did purchase a bottle of smoke pellets (not Lionel; made by Trainz.com in Buford, GA), because he had them, so why not. He said they're not always easy to come by, and not cheap ($15 for a small bottle, which I don't think is expensive), so he doesn't always have them in stock. I told him several very train-knowledgeable people told me I could just use the smoke fluid from my 8632, but he cautioned me not to do it. I assume he just wanted to add another item to my sale, lol.

Lastly, his store is not listed on Lionel's website as an authorized service center, just an authorized dealer. His own website didn't even mention service/repairs. However, I held out hope, so before I left, I packed up my '88 Alcos in their original box and set out. This time, my luck turned around: he said he does, in fact, do service/repairs. I told him I have one of my locomotives out in the car, could I go get it so he could see if he could tell me what he thought is wrong with it? He said sure; I got it from the car and he hooked it up to his workstation/display track. I told him my suspicion that the E-unit is bad, he said that's quite common. He turned on his transformer and it started going forward. Then the kiss of death: he put it into neutral before trying to reverse, so of course, nothing happened. He turned it on & off several times in a row, but alas, it just sat there, headlight on. I said, "now you see the problem." He readily agreed that the E-unit is bad and it likely overall needs a good cleaning, but said he, himself, does not work on "newer" Lionels (it's almost 32 years old, not exactly "new," lol), but that he has a guy who does work for him (I think he said the guy picks up trains needing repairs once a week...or was it once a month? I don't remember). However, because of this, he wouldn't be able to work on mine until sometime after Christmas. So, opinion time: Would you all discourage me from just purchasing a replacement E-unit and installing it myself? I have previously removed the shell several times; it doesn't look like it would be very difficult at all to replace the E-unit myself, but as I've said before, I'm far from an expert. What say you all? Again, thank you to everyone who has replied thus far, for all your advice & guidance. It is much appreciated!

-Dwayne

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Posted by TrainLarry on Friday, November 22, 2019 1:10 PM

If I recall, there are 6 wires on the board. Most need to be soldered, and I believe one has a small wire nut for connection. If you can solder, you can replace the board. Pop the old board out of the plastic carrier,  pop the new one in, solder the wires and you're done.

 

Larry

 

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Posted by dsb914 on Saturday, November 23, 2019 12:18 AM

TrainLarry

If I recall, there are 6 wires on the board. Most need to be soldered, and I believe one has a small wire nut for connection. If you can solder, you can replace the board. Pop the old board out of the plastic carrier,  pop the new one in, solder the wires and you're done.

Larry

Hey Larry, thanks for the reply. I can solder. In fact, I just bought a soldering iron a few weeks ago, because the 2046W-50 PA whistling coal tender I received had the wire from the whistle motor to the pick-up roller broken off. I soldered it back on and it came right back to life. Yes, it does, indeed, have 6 wires connected to the actual board: one black, one red, one brown-ish grey and one actual grey; and then a blue wire & white wire from the board itself to the e-unit direction switch. The soldering isn't a problem, I'm more "worried" about the wiring itself, because there are, it looks like, 10 wires total under there, but only those aforementioned 6 on the actual e-unit board. I know two of them are the headlight, but I'm not entirely sure what the other two are for, so maybe after I watch some YouTube videos or similar on Lionel wiring I'll better understand and feel more confident attempting to replace the e-unit myself. I know I technically only need to solder the existing wires onto the new board in the same configuration they're attached to the current board, but I'd still like to know what everything does. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Larry.

-Dwayne

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Posted by sir james I on Sunday, November 24, 2019 8:50 AM

As already written You DO Not need smoke pellets. A few drops of smoke fluid is all you need. Watch as the pellet heats, it turns into a liquid. The guy just added to his sale. If you have any ability at all replacing the E-Unit is an easy do.

"IT's GOOD TO BE THE KING",by Mel Brooks 

  Charter Member- Tardis Train Crew (TTC) - TCA  - Detroit3railers-  Detroit Historical society Glancy Modular trains- Charter member BTTS

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