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Regular maintenance on Atlas DC diesels -- what's involved?

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  • Member since
    February 2021
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Regular maintenance on Atlas DC diesels -- what's involved?
Posted by crossthedog on Saturday, July 8, 2023 9:39 PM

I have a bunch of yellow-box and Classic Atlas diesels made in Japan and China. They run really well and I want to make sure they keep doing so. I know how to oil the worm gear on my steamers, but I've never been great at taking care of any of my locos. I'm probably lucky they still run as well as they do.

What do you do to keep your Atlas diesels (or Athearn or Bowser or Bachmann or whatever you have that's similar) in good health? And how often do you do it?

Thanks for any and all responses.

-Matt

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by PRR8259 on Saturday, July 8, 2023 10:17 PM

They typically require only very minimal maintenance.  If the motor shaft bearings start to make noise (usually a squeal), then they get just a drop of oil.  Likewise, the shaft bearings at the top of the gear towers.  (With more recent diesels, I let my ear guide me; I listen for strange noises and try to catch any bearing noises before they become a loud squeal).

In that yellowbox era many of the gears are actually delrin, which is naturally self lubricating, and that may be why you've never had much of an issue with the diesels in all these years.  Especially the Japanese mechanisms made by Kato that are in some yellowbox diesels are among the best ever in HO.

Most people dramatically overlubricate their diesels, which can attact dust and dirt and cause more problems than not lubricating them would cause.  Most manufacturers now have very clear instructions on what to lubricate where.  Bowser often includes a very specific diagram of what to lubricate--but it's basically what I've already described.  Other manufacturers often have diagrams that illustrate the same, so I would say read the instructions if you still have them.

Also, axle bearings get just a drop of oil periodically, too, when I think they need it.  You do not want excessive oil dripping off your trucks as that will definitely attact pet hair and other dirt.  We have a cat so I routinely pick off cat hair with tweezers after running so that it doesn't get wrapped around axles or sucked inside the gearboxes.

My local train store still has a few brand new in box Atlas yellowbox diesels.  They were never run.  I have bought one, taken it home, put it on the track--and it ran as well as they ever did 35 years ago.

I only lubricate motor shaft bearings or gear tower bearings when they make noise.  If you run a lot, that could be once a year, maybe...Most people don't run them that much.

Also--Walthers Proto diesels have graphite impregnated bronze shaft bearings on more recent engines made during the last 15 years or so (it's specifically labeled on the box or in the instructions).  They are self-lubricating and should almost never require additional lubrication.  Anything that has actual delrin gears--those gears theoretically never require additional lubrication (as long as the original grease is not solidified)

Older Lifelike Proto (or some other make) diesels have lubricant in the gearboxes that can dry out and become a paste such that the engine will hardly move.  Most people disassemble the gearboxes and remove all that and relubricate.  As for me, most of my locos are new Athearns, so I don't have to worry about dried up lubricant.

Being a musician, I let my ears be my guide--if I hear something abnormal, that is not typical for that engine, I turn off the sounds and listen more carefully for issues.  Lubricate sparingly.

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Posted by wrench567 on Saturday, July 8, 2023 11:44 PM

    Well said. Ditto to my fleet.

  When I aquire a new to me or installing a decoder, I will go through it and clean and lube.

     Pete.

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    February 2021
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Posted by crossthedog on Sunday, July 9, 2023 11:01 AM

Thanks guys. This is very helpful.

PRR8259
In that yellowbox era many of the gears are actually delrin, which is naturally self lubricating, and that may be why you've never had much of an issue with the diesels in all these years.

I should have clarified: I have not been running or even owning these locomotives for "all these years". Someone else was, or no one. I picked them up on eBay or at swap meets. Most were new in the box, but I have a yellow-box F7 that was made in Austria (by Roco, I assume), so it must be ancient, and yet it is surprisingly, shockingly smooth and quiet. I managed to wire up an LED into the long headlight tube inside it, so it no longer has that dim, Raymond-Burr's-cigarette-in-the-dark look when I run it but instead announces its emergence from my tunnel by throwing shadows all around the garage. I also put an underset Kadee coupler in the back, so we won't have a repeat of the incident where it was pulling a train around the loop and it lost its grip on the train while I wasn't paying attention, made the loop solo, and smacked lightly into the back of the train -- when I looked up, the engine was at the back quietly pushing the train around the loop. 

Anyway, long rambling yarn just to say I was running it last night and thinking how delighted I am with this old model, and it occurred to me that I would like it to run for a long time, and that I should probably ask how best to take care of it. It certainly doesn't sound like it needs any maintenance, but I was just wondering.

Thanks again, fellas.

 

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

  • Member since
    February 2021
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Posted by crossthedog on Sunday, July 9, 2023 11:27 AM

Here's a half-minute vid of this loco running the loop with all the lights out in the garage. Pardon the light leaks at the Perkins; it was still under construction at the time. Note: For most of this clip the train is off in the distance so it may be confusing at first. You can hear it but it takes a long time to come into the foreground.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cO7PI-DOO2YmU_yD53OyaVCVoePfFH1N

 

 

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

  • Member since
    May 2019
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Posted by BEAUSABRE on Sunday, July 9, 2023 12:27 PM

Cleaning the wheels with a Bright Boy (tm) or your choice of device for keep good electrical pickup going is something I do once a year. I take the shell off, connect up leads with alligator clips from my bench power pack to the motor, put her upside down in a loco cradle, turn the power on and hold the Bright Boy against the wheel until the wheels are nice and shiny

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Posted by Doughless on Sunday, July 9, 2023 1:09 PM

A few thoughts:

Back in the mid 2000's to about 2010, Atlas used Kato motors.  China built Red Box and Master/Classic series. When I bought a new loco from Atlas, I did nothing.  It ran perfect out fo the box.  I never had to lube it either even after I ran them for a few years.

I cleaned the wheels from time to time, running them over a alcohol soaked paper towel while keeping the loco held so it doesn't move.

Then Atlas went to the silver colored motor, which is not as good as the Kato.  And I think the tolerances on their drive trains also changed, because I frequently get locos that growl and/or chug a littl bit at slow speeds.

Invairably, this is due to poor motor lubrication at the factory, but way too much grease in the truck/worm gears ala Life Like/P2K back in the day.

So now with Atlas, I generally have to either remove the worm gear and clean out the excessive grease with a fine bladed screwdriver, or remove and disassemble the trucks altogether and clean them out.  

Then reassemble, and put one dab of oil on the worm bearing, and one on the worm gear, in addition to one drop on each motor bearing.  Run for five minutes to heat and distribute. 

After this procedure, its like the mid 2000's again where I do nothiung for years except occasionally clean the wheels.

I've never owned a Yellow Box Atlas loco so I can't speak to those.

- Douglas

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