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.
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:
Hope this helps. Gary Q
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
Thanks for your help and good night.
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
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
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.
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.
Head Rust Scraper
KL&B Eastern Lines RR Museum
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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