Category Archives: Toy trains

All about the Lionel ZW

The Lionel ZW is Lionel’s most iconic transformer of the 1950s and 1960s, and perhaps one of its most iconic products, period. Everyone wanted the two-handled, football-shaped, 275-watt powerhouse that was the ZW. It was one of Lionel’s more venerable postwar products, lasting on the market for 18 years from 1948 to 1966. It replaced Lionel’s former top-of-the-line transformer, the Z.

Finding original ZW instructions or an original ZW manual online is a bit difficult, but there’s plenty the original instructions don’t mention.

Continue reading All about the Lionel ZW

Lionel KW diode installation

Lionel transformers use a selenium rectifier disc to produce a jolt of DC voltage to activate their train whistle. These discs degrade over time, so a decades-old transformer often produces a pretty anemic whistle–even one of the bigger transformers like the 190-watt Lionel KW. Replace the disc with a diode for a cost effective and reliable fix for that wimpy whistle. Here’s a step by step guide to a Lionel KW diode upgrade.

Continue reading Lionel KW diode installation

Repair Lionel ZW binding posts cheaply

If your Lionel ZW or VW transformer lights up and hums but doesn’t output any voltage on one or more of its pairs of binding posts, there’s a good chance one or more of the binding posts is bad. It’s possible to repair Lionel ZW binding posts cheaply.

By far the most failure prone part of the Lionel ZW and VW is the binding posts where the wires connect to your track. Fortunately, there’s a workaround that works sometimes. But if you want something better than a workaround, a proper repair is cheap and not difficult.

Continue reading Repair Lionel ZW binding posts cheaply

Keep Marx sliding couplers from hanging up

In Marx’s cheapest sets, it utilized cars that had sliding couplers with only a twist holding them in place. The end of the coupler had a couple of tabs, and a twist secured them without any additional parts.

The problem is, sometimes this twist catches the slot wrong when going around a turn and gets stuck. Then the cars derail as the train comes out of the curve. That’s probably not what you want.

Here’s a cheap, easily reversible modification to keep them from hanging up.

Continue reading Keep Marx sliding couplers from hanging up

Tin buildings for train layouts

When it comes to trains, I prefer older ones made of tin, rather than plastic. And I like tin buildings too. Any time I open a magazine featuring someone’s train layouts, the buildings all look the same. I want something a little different, so I look for tin buildings to go with my tin trains.

Many companies through the years made food containers with printing on them that look like buildings. The tins tend to be about six inches wide, around 8 inches tall, and two inches deep. They tend to resemble the two-story commercial buildings you used to see in downtowns, with a storefront on the first story and offices or apartments on the second floor.

You can use these tins to put together a very timeless commercial district for your train layout. If you know what to look for, you can find coffee shops, bakeries, candy stores, florists, and plenty of other stores to make your town a nice place to live and work. And the buildings usually aren’t terribly expensive, either.

In this post, I’ll cover buildings made after 1970. For pre-1970 buildings, see Vintage Tin Litho Buildings.

Continue reading Tin buildings for train layouts

Vintage tin litho buildings

Years ago, I decided I wanted to take a different approach with my trains. I heard about a guy in Springfield who has a traditional toy train layout with no plastic on it. I wanted to see if I could do something similar.

At the time, information about this approach was rare. So I’ve collected here what I know about tin buildings made prior to 1970 (the approximate end of the postwar era). You won’t find everything you want in pre-1970 buildings, so if you need something more modern to fill in the gaps, see my other post tin buildings for train layouts.

Continue reading Vintage tin litho buildings

Fasten Lionel track to foam board

Foam board is nice for building train layouts, since it’s lightweight and versatile. It’s easy to cut and shape into mountains and valleys and rivers. It’s also inexpensive. The problem is that screws won’t stick in it. So it’s tricky to fasten Lionel track to foam board. It’s difficult to fasten any other kind of track too.

Here are two ways to do it.

Continue reading Fasten Lionel track to foam board