Lionel Help please

I recently acquired two late 40's eraly 50's lionel )27 steamies. I don't have any background in Lionel except for a transformer I have been repairing for a friend.

I don't know anything about the E-unit except that it exists and changes directions. Where can I go for information?

One of the locos is very quiet and smooth when the e-unit is off and kind of grindy sounding when it is on.

The other loco seems to be grindy regardless of the E-unit switch position.

Is this normal for this type of train?

I am very capable of doing repairs, but I would prefer to first have some information on what I should expect and what I may find. Thanks all.


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The E-unit buzz. You can reduce or eliminate this by wiring a diode in series with the E-unit coil.

This one sounds like a dry armature - lubrication needed on all axles(gear axles & armature too).


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The E-unit is a DPDT (with intermediate off positions) AC stepping relay. Turning power to a loco off and on repeatedly thus produces forward-stop-reverse-stop-forward... operation. Turning the E-unit switch off removes the ground from the E-unit relay solenoid, and keeps the train in the current operating mode. Because it is AC operated with a loose slug, the E-unit normally produces a mild electrical buzzing sound when energized.

It is not clear from your description whether the "grindy sound" is coming from the loco's motor or from the E-unit - do you hear it when the E-unit is on, but the loco is in the stop mode? Some motors can make a "grindy" sound (the 1946 "double worm" turbines, and the early F-3's), but this would be unusual for an E-unit, and an E-unit should make no sound when it is de-energized. It would help to know the specific catalog numbers (usually stamped on the cab sides) of your two locos.

I am not aware of a website with detailed Lionel repair information. There are several books with good repair info. There was a back issue of Classic Toy Trains magazine that had an article on E-unit repair (I don't recall the date), and the series of "Greenberg's Guides" by Kalmbach Publishing has some good books on the subject - see for example:

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Hope this helps. Gary Q

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Ok. This seems to be working correctly on both. So what then is the "direction" control on the transformer there for if I can change direction by simply turning it off and back on? I am using an old 1033 transformer that I have been fixing for a friend (with you fellas' help also. Thanks.) Using the direction control on the transformer works sometimes, but usually causes more awful grinding sounds out of the loco.

I will check.

It would help to know the specific catalog numbers (usually

224 - Plastic body, lightweight I think is from the 50's 242 -all metal, heavy and from the late 40's I believe

Last question for now. One of the locos came with a whistle tender. I am a little familiar with their operation from my recent work on the whistle rectifier on the transformer. DC from the transformer activates a relay on the tender, turning motor and causing whisle, right? I hear the relay click but no motor or whistle. Anything I should look at first? Honestly, I haven't had these opened up at all to even see their condition inside. Maybe they just need cleaning. Just thought I would ask for some direction before I started.

Thanks for your help and good night.


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To allow stopping a train without slowing it down by the throttle (most Lionel locos will coast due to their spur gear drives or low reduction ratio worm gear drives, and are massive enough that Isaac Newton provides the momentum effects for free), and to allow stepping through the E-unit sequence more rapidly than by moving the speed control.

This sounds like you have two poblems - a balky E-unit that does not sequence reliably, and a motor issue causing the grinding noises. Use a small screwdriver or probe to manually lift the brass "crosshead" at the bottom of the E-unit solenoid moving slug, and watch that the drum rotated

45 degrees each and every time. Fouled contact wipers, broken drum teeth, and interfering dirt or lubricants (NEVER lube any parts of the E-unit) can cause improper drum operation.

There must be a typo here - the 224 should be a die cast all-metal 2-6-2 that was a pre-war loco also used on Lionel's first production after WWII in


Did you reverse the numbers? The 242 was a plastic body / plastic motor

2-4-2 loco from 1962 to 1966. Note that the plastic motor does not have a normal E-unit. These "unitized" motors use a Rube Goldberg arangement where one of the motor field pole pieces can move when the motor is energized, which in turn through a lever and pawl linkage causes the pair of brush holders to rotate. The plastic brush holders have metal bands that are alternately contacted by metal wipers, providing the DPDT reversing electrical switching. This is classed as a two-postition reverse as there is no "off" position between forward and reverse. These motors are the devil to service, as the drivers must be removed to open the Bakelite motor case. You must use a small gear puller to do this, as using a center punch to even gently drive the axle out of the driver center can crack the Bakelite motor case.


The easiest is to see that no wires are broken in the motor circuit, and that the contact at the bottom of the whistle relay is clean and making good mechanical contact when the relay picks up. If this doesn't fix it, it is most likely dirty motor brushes and or comutator. Sometimes dirty brushes will "insulate" themselves from the walls of the metal brush tubes, so all the current passes through the small coil brush springs, overheating them and causing a loss of their springeyness.

Hope this helps. Gary Q

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Thanks Gary. You were right, I had the numbers transposed.

The report after an afternoon tinkering. The 224 is running nicely. It appeared to have been over-lubricated resulting in a messy E-unit and gearbox. A careful cleaning with papertowel and pipecleaners made the E-unit work very nicely. The motor was then working intermittently. Another inspection revealed that a wire that went from the E-unit to the motor coil was not connected well causing intermittent continuity. I removed the E-unit, soldered the wire, put some new shrinktubing on it an it was better. After a cleaning of the commutator and brushes and it was nice and smooth ( for a 50-some year old train!)

The whistle tender also needed a brush and commutator cleaning. That with a drop of grease on the ball bearing and some manual working it in and she started singing!

Alas, the 242 was not such a lucky venture. I figured out why it sounded grindy all the time, especially in reverse. It appears a prior owner may have tried to dismantle with a punch as you cautioned against or it had been traumatized some other way. The motor casing is badly cracked only holding together from the clips on either end. I know this loco is not worth much but my 4-year-old son has take a liking to it which makes it worth a lot to me. Any hopes of me finding another whole motor or the case itself? All of the parts sites I have looked at ask for a part number that I cannot find or a description that I cannot seem get right. And of course all of the exploded diagrams I have found online don't seem to go that far back. Any guesses as to what I might look\ask for?

As for modernizing, is it common to rewire old locos with new wiring? The existing wires seem to be awfully brittle and I intend to play with these locos from time to time with my boy. The real hassle that I see would be soldering new wires to the lower terminals on the E-unit as it appears they are all soldered from behind(inside).

Thanks so much for your help.

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Generally speaking, locos in the 233 - 248 series with the plastic cased motors aren't worth messing with. About the only parts available for them are motor brushes, brush springs, and the left hand "gear" of the reversing unit. For anything else you have to find a 'junker' at a show or TCA meet to strip for parts. And depending on the year of manufacture, the parts aren't always interchangable, even between units with the same cab number.

If the motor case is cracked it's simpler, and cheaper, to find a similar a similar loco with a working motor and swap the complete motor. And a working loco of this type is generally only a couple of dollars more than a 'junker' for parts.

As for rewiring the E-Unit in the 224 there are two choices, both involve removing the 'finger' assemblies from the E-unit. You can drop the existing fingers out and rewire them using new wire. Or you can purchase prewired upper and lower finger assemblies to replace the old ones with. Doing either is a lot easier if you have an ST-303 E-Unit Spreader tool. Reproductions are available from several sources, as are replacement fingers, for anywhere from $3.50 to $12.00. Just 'Google' "E-Unit", "tools", and "fingers" for sources.

Len Head Rust Scraper KL&B Eastern Lines RR Museum

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In addition to Len's good advice, be aware that Lionel did make higher quality all metal motors in two variations for the smaller 4 drivered locos. These have a distinctive triangle-shaped fiber brush plate on the side. The No. 249 and 250 2-4-2 locos used this metal motor with a double-wound field and the simplified 2-position SPDT reversing unit. The 2034 and 1130

2-4-2's (and the 1615 and 1625 0-4-0 switchers) used the same motor but with a single-wound field and a conventional 3-position E-unit. These motors have the same basic dimensions as the plastic-cased "Scout" motors, and can usually be fit into boilers of plastic motored locos. It will require cutting a new slot in the top of the boiler for the alternate E-unit lever. I found a couple of these in a Lionel repair station's junk box, put them in surplus plastic boilers of the #242 type, and use them for younger railroaders to play with. Gary Q
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