The Polar Express Doesn't Smoke

I got a Polar Express set for around the Christmas tree, and found that I
don't get any puffing smoke. Everything else seems to work fine. It's been
34 years since I had a train and I had forgotten how fun they are just to
sit and watch.
But the smoke isn't working properly. No puffing smoke, no smoke at all,
when the train is moving. If I put the train into neutral I can see smoke
creeping out. So whatever heats up the oil is working.
Are there any easy answers for this? Or is it just a warranty issue?
On another note, maybe everything else isn't working fine. Forward,
neutral, and reverse usually don't work the way the manual explains they
should. With the CW-80 transformer, it says to apply the throttle and the
train will go forward. Briefly cut the throttle and reapply and the train
will be in neutral. Briefly cut the throttle again and reapply and the
train should go in reverse.
This sometimes works, but not very often. Most often the train will go from
neutral to forward again. Sometimes, in neutral, I cut the throttle and
reapply it and the train will remain in neutral. Cut and reapply again and
the train goes forward.
It seems like hit or miss. Note, with both these issues I have verified
that the switches on the locomotive are set on. I've checked all the track
and wiring connections and they seem to be good.
On another topic: what do people think of the ZW transformer? I am having
so much fun with the trains (I had originally built an HO set for under the
tree) that I think I'm going to build a permanent layout. I'd like to have
at least two O scale trains to make a large layout interesting. I don't
think the CW-80 transformer will handle that kind of load, especially with
lighted cars and accessories.
I'd like to have a working freight line, and a passenger line. The layout
can be large enough to handle the Polar Express also. I'll get some books
on the technology and layout concepts. E.g. what is the difference between
O-27, O-36, O-54, etc. Is it just the minimum curve of the track, or can
these tracks not run together?
But not knowing the history of trains, I have no idea what kind of
locomotives to choose. I'd like an older style steam locomotive for the
freight line, and a newer diesel locomotive for the passenger line. But I'd
like them all to smoke. I don't want to set off the smoke alarm, but the
odor of the smoke brings back good childhood memories.
Is this all a matter of personal preference, no matter how eclectic the
layout might look?
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If you just like the smell of "model smoke" so much, why don't you just pick up one of those stationary smoke generators, put it on your desk, turn it on and let it smoke away. That way you won't have to worry about setting up the tracks, etc.
I think SEUTHE makes such smoke generators. Thar run off the accesory output on the power pack and they are desigend to be used in items such as factory smoke stacks or models of buildings on fire.
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Peter W.
These should help:
Lionel Trains, Inc. (info about track diameters, etc.):
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Tinplate Trains FAQ:
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e-Train, on-line magazine of the Train Collectors Association (see menu bar near bottom of page):
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A helpful book, "Getting Started with Lionel Trains":
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"The Big Book of Lionel" (The Big Book of Lionel: The Complete Guide to Owning and Running America's Favorite Toy Trains), by Robert Schleicher:
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These books are up to 32% off list price and most orders include free shipping and handling on orders over $25.
Bill Bill's Railroad Empire N Scale Model Railroad:
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History of N Scale:
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Railroad Books, Toys, and Trains:
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to 1,200 sites:
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Couple of things to try. 1. Double check that your model is supposed to smoke. Back in the old days lesser Lionel steamers lacked the smoke unit, only the bigger and fancier steamers had smoke. Somewhere on the packaging or the instruction manual it should say "with realistic smoke". 2. Assuming that Polar Express is equipped with a smoke unit (the likely case) you can try taking the locomotive apart. The shell (boiler and attached stuff) ought to have a couple of concealed screws somewhere. Unscrew them and it will come off. Used to be you had to remove the shell just to change the headlamp bulb on Lionel steamers. Once off, inspect the smoke unit. There ought to be a little bellows arrangment driven by the wheels that puffs the smoke up the stack. Run the engine slowly with the shell removed and you ought to be able to see the bellows working. Could be a pin or a link has fallen out or anything. Look for something dropped into the down the stack into the smoke unit.
Lionel goes back before decent rectifiers and decent permanent magnets were available, so the motors were/still are AC motors which are troublesome to reverse. To reverse an AC motor you have to reverse the connection to the field coil relative to the armature. Lionel accomplished this with the "E-unit" a clever electromechanical relay. Each time the E unit is powered up a solenoid pulls in and gives a drum shaped switch a partial turn. The drum switch is wired forward-neutral-reverse-neutral-forward.... You ought to be able to watch the e-unit working with the engine shell off. A momentary loss of track power (bit of dirt, loose track pin,what ever) would cause the E unit to step, resulting in a locomotive suddenly switching from full speed ahead to neutral. Lionel used to provide a locking lever that bypassed the E-unit and locked the locomotive into forward. The symptoms you decribe (skipping cycles) could be caused by a sticky e unit that sometimes fails to drop out when track power is removed. Dusting and lubrication may fix it. Or, intermittant electrical contact might be causing extra e unit cycles.
The ZW used to be top-of-the-line with enough juice to run four trains at once. It had four independant throttles. Way back when, the ZW was the envy of all boys. My friend had a ZW, whereas I had to get by on the smaller two train only KW. Let us hope that the ZW of 2006 is still as good as the ZW of long ago. How many operators do you plan on? For a single operator a multitrain transformer like the ZW is cool. For multiple operators (say some children) it is nice to have a transformer for each operator. In that case each transformer need only furnish juice for a single train.
In the old days Lionel came with "0-27" track or "O-track" The 0-27 rail was lower to the ground and the curves were sharper. The O rail was much higher off the floor and had broader curves to accomodate the larger steamers and longer passenger cars. You could mate O and 0-27 with a bit of forcing of the track pins and a shim under the 0-27. Then some other broader curved track lines were introduced with which I am unfamiliar, although I would expect one could intermate all of them one way or another. I always liked the Gargraves track. It has realistically spaced crossties and comes in various radius and there is a 37" flex track as well. Gargraves in still in business and has a web site
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David Starr
First rule of model railroading. It's your railroad and you can run it anyway you like. However the real history in the US has steam locomotives pulling nearly all trains up until 1950. Between 1950 and 1960 the railroads converted over to diesels. After 1960 the conversion was conplete and working steamers were scarce. Many folk model the transition era in order to enjoy both steam and diesel operations. Lionel diesels didn't have smoke units, so it you like smoke you want a steamer.
David Starr
Reply to
David Starr
David you've been away from Lionel toooooo looooooong........
Bottom of the line entry models all smoke now.
It is...
you can try taking the locomotive apart. The shell (boiler
4 screws, actually, and not very concealed.
This is still the case...
Not for years now. No more E-units - they are all electronic. And mostly DC permanent magnet can motors, as in this case. Still AC on the tracks, though.
To reverse an AC motor you have to reverse the
No more E-units in Lionel.
Lionel used to provide a locking lever that
Still can do this, but it is a slide switch on the floor of the cab, to the right of the smoke on-off switch. You can lock it into any position.
No more E-units in Lionel.
Better. 760 watts output now instead of the old 190 watts(the 275 watts ZW was rated at the plug - it's output was about 190 watts max) and has bell buttons, & command control / wireless remote capability built in.
On the OP, make sure the track is clean & the reverse unit is "on", the smoke unit is "on"(the left switch on the cab floor) , also, if you are using the CW-80, make sure to have cars w/
lights on the track with the engine, as the CW is a switching power supply & does not go to 0 volts unless there is a reasonable load on the circuit.
Reply to
I has written an email to LIonel tech support and got a reply stating that they installed a white block resistor to prevent the smoke unit from burning out and that the resister "works too well." They suggested opening up the locomotive and bypassing the resister to make the unit smoke better.
Opening up the locomotive, I found two white block resistors. So which is which? Not that it matters since altering circuit boards is something I have no clue of how to do.
It might just be getting used to the touch. It seems if I play around and time the off cycle just right, the forward, neutral, reverse cycle works as it is supposed to. Of course the direction button on the transformer has always worked flawlessly.
One operator for now. My son just turned one, so it will be a while for before he can understand how to play with an electric train safely. Safely meaning not breaking daddy's trains... ;)
But hopefully early exposure will get him interested in the hobby, even if it just amounts to letting him pick which trains pull which cars and such.
I like the look of the Lionel Empire Builder set. It seems like a great way of getting a lot of what I want. A really nice locomotive, the ZW transformer, a huge layout of track, etc. But the locomotive requires a minimum O-72 curve.
Maybe that isn't a big deal. That would seem to allow running O-27 routes inside of the larger O-72 curves.
Well that means my idea for a military line with the suspended alien boxcar would fit right in.
BTW, in the Lionel catalog they have some diesel engines that do use smoke fluid. I'm now aware of the exhaust system of diesel engines, but the smoke fluid is added to a receptacle about midway on the engine.
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It seems to smoke reasonably well now. After taking it apart per Lionels instructions, I decided to run it without the body just to see how it works. After a bit of running, smoke started coming out better. So I let it run until there was hardly any smoke coming out, then added smoke fluid and it started smoking consistently.
Perhap I initially added too much smoke fluid.
Reply to
Touch has a lot to do with it. If the direction buttons work well, the locomotive is OK.
In the old days Lionel was amazingly rugged. Rolling stock that was played with by yours truly and two younger brothers way back when still runs and looks good today.
Depends upon how much space you have for a layout. If you can fit in the 72 inch curves you are golden. Model railroading is a tradeoff between wide curves which look better and allow long rolling stock, and tight curves that allow more track into a smaller space.
Progress. Now the diesels smoke too? Smoke would be most appropriate on the ALCO PA diesels which were joking called honorary steam locomotives due to the humungous cloud of black diesel smoke they threw up.
David Starr
Reply to
David Starr
I have 8' ceilings, and 16' of bare wall. So I'm leaning towards building a hinged floor layout that can be flipped up and secured against the wall.
This works out well since I really like laying on the floor while operating the train. I fact I sometimes fall asleep while doing it. Who needs a white noise generator when you have a train set?
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I have to. Not just because it's a habit, but I fear that if I don't, I will someday die for no reason at all.
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